Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 30, 2003
BASKETBALL: Blocked Out
One of my recent interests has been simulated basketball on WhatIfSports.com, a site Bill Simmons got me interested in (on the baseball side) in its infancy some two years ago (my username is crank, for those of you who are denizens of the site). In typically backwards fashion, renewing my interest in basketball's statistical past has revived my interest to some extent in the current game, but that's a topic for another post.
One of the great imponderables in NBA history - with which the "WIS" site has to struggle, since it includes players going back to the Fifties - is the tabulation of blocked shots prior to 1973-74, when the league started counting them. There are few more frustrating unknown statistics in professional sports than Bill Russell's blocked shots; Russell's statistics (despite adequate scoring and assists averages and great rebounding numbers) are otherwise not really impressive enough to equal his reputation, but if we had shot-blocking numbers, there would be something closer to a quantifiable way to measure his defensive greatness. WIS pegs him around 5-6 blocked shots per game; I've heard people who saw him play quote figures as high as 10. That's probably Old Fogeyism talking, but then, there were an awful lot of missed shots in those days, and Russell was on the court for 44-46 minutes a night.
Anyway, one thing I noticed that was unique and repeated in several sources without an explanation of where it came from was the ABA's single season blocked shots record: 422 by Artis Gilmore in his rookie season in Kentucky in 1971-72, an average of just over 5 a game -- one of only two seasons of 400 blocks (the other is the NBA record of 456 by Mark Eaton in 1984-85) in the recorded history of professional basketball and almost 150 above Gilmore's next highest total. What's unusual is that basketball-reference.com has nearly no record for anybody else's blocked shots but Gilmore's for 1971-72. Yet, the NBA's official website cites the figure in Gilmore's bio; so does Gilmore's own personal website; so does ESPN.com.
If anyone knows the true story of how they came up with this figure, I'd love to hear it.