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Michael.S.
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Lol.........Wow ........MUST READ.

The Confessions Of an NBA Scorekeeper

I went into the NBA as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as I could get," Alex says. "I loved the game. I didn't want to taint it." Of course, that was before Alex did all those "bad, bad, bad" things.

Not long ago, we brought you the story of a stat-padding NBA scorekeeper who, one day in 1997, awarded 23 assists to Lakers guard Nick Van Exel, mostly for the hell of it. That was Alex. (He is now an officer in the Navy and asks that I not use his last name.) From 1995 to 1998, he headed up the Vancouver Grizzlies' stat crew. Alex is a numbers guy, and he came at the job from the perspective of someone who spent his childhood, as he says, "recreating baseball games with Dungeons and Dragons dice and baseball cards." So it was particularly galling for him to find that the seemingly cold and objective NBA box score was, on many nights, a self-serving fiction, subject to so much artful embroidery and deliberate manipulation that one might reasonably conclude that the boys from Enron were sitting courtside, counting dimes.

"I wanted the numbers to be meaningful and accurate, and I knew they weren't," Alex says, a lesson he soon came to know firsthand. "I was good at making them inaccurate."

Alex was hired by the expansion Grizzlies in 1995 while still in school in Ontario, where he kept score for his college team. That offseason, the NBA was in the process of switching over to a computerized stat-keeping system, and at some point during the summer, Alex found himself at a training seminar in Detroit with the rest of the league's stat crews.

"That was my first exposure to the subjectivity of NBA statistics," he says. "I had come from the ivory tower where everything was straightforward. ... In Detroit, they'd show us a little video clip, and we'd enter it on our computer. That's a basket, no assist or whatever. Everyone around me would be giving assists. I was like, 'Really?' The dude passed it to a guy on the wing, who did a headfake, took two dribbles and made a jumper. And that's an assist?"

Alex quickly found that a scorekeeper is given broad discretion over two categories: assists and blocks (steals and rebounds are also open to some interpretation, though not a lot). "In the NBA, an assist is a pass leading directly to a basket," he says. "That's inherently subjective. What does that really mean in practice? The definition is massively variable according to who you talk to. The Jazz guys were pretty open about their liberalities. ... John Stockton averaged 10 assists. Is that legit? It's legit because they entered it. If he's another guy, would he get 10? Probably not."

The bias is plain to see. Just look at the home-road splits. Last season, home teams leaguewide scored 101.58 points per game; road teams, 98.32. That's to be expected: Teams play better at home. What's surprising is that assists and blocks rise disproportionately for home teams — assists by nearly 8 percent, blocks by more than 15 percent. Last year's Nuggets averaged 25 assists at home, only 19.4 on the road. They recorded 7.3 blocks per game at home and just 4.7 outside Denver. (Hell, Chris Andersen swatted 117 shots in 38 games at home against only 58 blocks in 33 games on the road. It was as if he stepped into the Pepsi Center and suddenly turned into Larry Nance.) The reason? People like Alex.

* * *
In Vancouver, Alex ran the stat crew, which is usually a two- or three-person operation (and always the responsibility of the home team). Alex was the caller, which meant that he'd call out the game to someone tapping feverishly away at his computer and rarely even glancing at the floor. "I would sit there, and I would call out things like, 'Field goal, miss, Bryon Russell, 18-footer from the elbow.'" He'd note "location, shot type, whether it was missed or made, assisted if necessary, blocked if necessary," and all this information would coalesce into a box score that would wind up, in shrunken agate type, in your morning newspaper. The process allows for what Alex calls "two points of failure — the guy subjectively seeing the action on the floor and then calling it out to the inputters." Errors, deliberate or otherwise, weren't easily corrected, given the NBA's growing desire for "immediacy over accuracy" in the Internet age.

His first season in Vancouver, Alex was admittedly "very liberal," especially with his assists. At home, the Grizzlies — who, in those early days, essentially served as the league's discard pile — assisted on 67 percent of their field goals where league average for home teams was 63 percent (these numbers were crunched by a user on the APBRmetrics forum); on the road, that figure was just over 56 percent (league average for away teams was 59 percent). "It wasn't as though we had a player like Chris Paul or Mark Jackson or Magic Johnson, and we wanted to help that one player," he says. "It was a function of the impression I'd gotten from talking to other scorekeepers that assists were like candy and we handed them out." He grew stingier over time; by his third and final season with the Grizzlies, the team's share of assisted field goals was edging toward league average.

Certain players, Alex says, "got a lot of help." Look, for instance, at Shareef Abdur-Rahim's splits. Abdur-Rahim was the Grizzlies' first-round pick in 1996, No. 3 overall, and a great deal of the franchise's future was resting on his liquid, almost preternaturally cool game. To go by the box score his first two years, he was a different player in his own stadium. Here he is in 1996-97:

Note that he recorded 50 steals in Vancouver and 29 elsewhere, and that he blocked more than three times as many shots at home as he did on the road. Today, as he calls up the numbers on his computer, Alex laughs. He sounds almost embarrassed. "The blocks," he says, "are atrocious."

Here's Abdur-Rahim in his second year:

The steals leveled off, but he still got more blocks at home (53 to 23) and now more assists as well (133 to 80).

"He was probably the only guy who got a massive benefit," Alex says, though he also directs me to the home-road rebounding splits for Bryant Reeves, the massive 7-footer who couldn't be bothered to grab anything that wasn't under a sneeze guard. "The way to get a guy extra rebounds," Alex says, "is if a shot goes up and someone tips it and someone else recovers it, you can give it to either one. Rodman would get those all the time. Most callers will give it to the guy who actually gets possession. But that doesn't mean a caller can't give it to someone in a scrum who tipped it. What if Byron Scott retrieves it? Byron Scott doesn't need the rebound."

The guy who grew up making games out of Dungeons and Dragons dice and baseball cards was still freely mixing fantasy and reality. It was his job now.

* * *
On Dec. 13, 1995, the Grizzlies hosted the Houston Rockets, who were coming off their second straight NBA championship and still had Hakeem Olajuwon doing his Arthur Murray routine in the post. The Rockets won by 11. Have a look at the box score. "There will be something that jumps out at you fairly quickly," Alex says.

It's Olajuwon's line, a tidy 15-14-10:

"It's the one incident that stands out in my mind," Alex says. "That was the only time I was ordered to do something."

As Alex remembers it now, Olajuwon had a double-double with nine blocks at some point during the fourth quarter. "Someone in management came to me and said, basically, Thou shalt give Hakeem Olajuwon a triple-double. Come hell or high water, he's getting a triple-double. I'm like, uh, OK." The Grizzlies had small monitors on which they kept a running box score. Anyone could see if someone was closing in on a milestone. "If a guy is in vicinity of a record, people are tracking those things. I know those things," Alex says. "If a guy has an eight-game streak of getting 10 rebounds, I'll know that. Am I gonna help that? Probably." The Rockets game, though, "was the one time someone said, 'You'll do this.' And I did." (For the record, Alex is reasonably certain that the 10th block was legitimate. "If he got a bull&$#%#&@! block," he says, "it probably happened before the 10th one.")

He won't say who issued the commandment, other than that it was someone in basketball operations who helped compile statistical packets for the media. "It was a mid-level guy, not a GM or an assistant GM," he says. Alex believes the suit was acting on his own initiative, though the habit of fudging statistics upward was practically an organizational, if not leaguewide, imperative. "When you get a triple-double, that dramatically increases the potential of our game being shown on ESPN. 'Here are some highlights of Olajuwon, and oh, by the way, they happen to be in Vancouver.' A team like ours was getting zero national media coverage. There's some value in that, even if someone is lighting us up, for marketing and longterm growth."

Alex was new to the game, however, and the request pissed him off. "I was immature," he says, "I was 20-21 years old, and some dude was telling me I needed to do something."

Which is perhaps why, a little more than a year later, with Nick Van Exel and the Lakers in town, Alex decided to act out. "I was sort of disgruntled," he says. "I loved the game. I don't want the numbers to be meaningless, and I felt they were becoming meaningless because of how stats were kept. So I decided, I'm gonna do this totally immature thing and see what happens. It was childish. The Lakers are in town. We're gonna lose. &$#%#&@! it. He's getting a &$#%#&@!load of assists." If you were to watch the game today, you'd see some "comically bad assists." Alex's fingerprints are all over the box score. He gave Van Exel everything. "Van Exel would pass from the top of the three-point line to someone on the wing who'd hold the ball for five seconds, dribble, then make a move to the basket. Assist, Van Exel."

No one noticed. From his chair, Alex could hear the legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn calling the game. Van Exel's having a great game! He's moving the ball exceptionally well! And in the next day's writeups, Van Exel was of course the hero. Alex thought, What the &$#%#&@!?

"This is a bad analogy, but it's like a husband cheating on a wife in such a way as to guarantee he's going to be caught," Alex says. "There's nothing to justify it. It was stupid. And there were no consequences." He figured he'd at least get scolded. He wasn't. In fact, a management guy congratulated him. The game was sure to get on SportsCenter now.

* * *
Everyone cooked the books, and the tendency, by and large, was to overcount — with a few notable exceptions. "Why would you underrerport? The only reason is to make your players look bad," Alex says. "Normally, you wouldn't want to do that. If the players look good, they're more likely to be All-Stars and generate trade value. You don't want to undervalue your own assets. But if you're a stupid franchise, and you don't intend to make deals, and you want to depress your own players' signability — well, which franchise is stupid enough to do that?"

In the latter half of the 1990s, the Clippers held down their own players' assists with an almost suspicious regularity. Between 1987 and 2009, home teams assisted on 61.8 percent of their field goals; away teams, 58.3 percent — a gap of 3.5 percentage points in favor of the home squads. Year after year, the Clippers reversed the trend. In 1996, the Clips' scorekeepers credited the team with assists on 47 percent of its field goals (with only Pooh Richardson averaging more than five assists per game); in other arenas, the same Clippers team assisted on 60 percent of its field goals, a difference of 13 percentage points. No team since 1987 has underreported its own assists by a larger margin. Second-largest: The Clippers in 1999, with a difference of 12.2 percentage points. Third-largest: The Clippers in 1998, at 12.1 points. Fifth-largest: The Clippers in 1997, at 9.1 points.

"The numbers are huge," Alex says. "It's pretty amazing. This is total conjecture. But do I think someone from management went to them and said, 'You need to underrerport stats'? There's no way — even with an organization as dysfunctional as the Clippers. That would expose them to civil liability, if they're intentionally diminishing the market for a player — that's almost criminal. But if someone goes to a statistician and says, 'We're being way too liberal on steals, blocks and assists,' that's probably legitimate. You can define that as, 'We want the numbers to be correct.' But as a practical consequence, your own players look worse on paper."

The question, ultimately, is whether this really matters to anyone beyond the people who had the misfortune of playing for the Clippers in the 1990s and those handful of figure filberts who've dedicated themselves to building a science on the whims of a few people sitting courtside. It certainly doesn't matter to the NBA.

"Teams have a legitimate, vested interest in stats being inflated, just like the league does," Alex says. "Ten assists is way more interesting than eight assists. As humans, those are more appealing and interesting numbers. The NBA benefits and every team benefits from bigger, flashier numbers."

In the end, the league has little incentive to address the issue, even now, in this tight-assed, post-Donaghy era, when the NBA wants desperately to convince you there are no magnets in the pinball machine. And so the scorekeepers will continue doing the professional equivalent of rolling their Dungeons and Dragons dice, perhaps saying, "&$#%#&@! it" now and again and giving a guy a &$#%#&@!load of assists, mostly for the hell of it, and Chris Andersen will go on looking like Larry Nance every Nuggets homestand. The NBA: Where Fudging Happens. "It is," as Alex says, "an entertainment thing."

AND

How an NBA scorekeeper cooked the books

In January 1997, the Lakers' Nick Van Exel handed out 23 assists in a 95-82 victory over Vancouver, a feat less attributable to his sharpshooting teammates than to the numbers-fudging Lakers fan working the Grizzlies' scorer's table.

Last month, someone on the APBRmetrics forum — an APBRmetrician, for the uninitiated, is a sabermetrician in a Wes Unseld throwback jersey — posted a friend's account of life as an NBA scorekeeper, mostly as an illustration of all the bias and sanctioned bull&$#%#&@! afflicting even the most straightforward basketball statistics. It's fascinating. This fellow says he was formerly the Grizzlies' head "stats accumulation guy," and, to hear him tell it, the teams and the league see their official statisticians almost as an arm of their marketing departments. Plump up some numbers, and SportsCenter might just bring itself to show a Grizzlies highlight.

At one point, the guy reviewed his colleagues around the league. He found that the typical NBA stat crew averaged about 20 unintentional errors per game — "missing events, wrong players getting credit unintentionally."

Anyway...on top of that ~20 errors per game, you have over double that in intentional errors. By intentional errors, I mean events that never happened (eg. loose ball rebound is deflected out of bounds by visiting team, instead of correct call - team rebound home team - you award the rebound to a home player in the viscinity...or fake blocks - among the easiest things to make up, next to steals and assists)...or events that are awarded to the wrong player (rebounds, steals, turnovers are the most common). The intentional errors are organizationally sanctioned/encouraged - they increase national media coverage/interest and increase your franchise's and player's visibility. There is also league pressure to protect/enhance the stats of the elite players. For example, I would guess that Stockton got between 1 and 2 assists per game for free.

Which is how, one night in Vancouver, Nick Van Exel nearly tied Magic Johnson's team record for assists in a game.

Partly because I disagreed with the blatant stat manipulation (that I did) and partly because I'm a Laker fan, I gave Nick Van Exel like 23 assists one game. If he was vaguely close to a guy making a shot, I found a way to give him an assist. Afterwards, I fully expected someone to talk to me about it. Indeed they did. A senior management guy - "great job Alex, that'll get this game on Sportscenter tomorrow morning!" We (VAN) lost badly, of course.

This went both ways. The anonymous scorekeeper reports that he once penalized Dikembe Mutombo simply because he didn't like him. Man does not block in the house of the vindictive scorekeeper.

I also got &$#%#&@!ed out by an Atlanta management guy because he felt I hadn't hooked Mutombo up enough w/ blocks in a particular first half. (I hadn't - I didn't like him because he was partly responsible for beating the Sonics and because I thought he was a bit of a punk so I made sure he didn't get a singly block that I wasn't sure he'd gotten - which was one in that half.) I told the management guy that the box score reflected the game and if Mutombo wanted more blocks, he needed to earn them. About 5 minutes later, Deke walked out for pregame warmups, asked the official scorer (the person who enters fouls and points in the archaic official scorebook) who does stats, she kindly pointed him to me, and he proceeded to glare at me for about a minute (which is, imo, a really long time for a gigantic man to glare at you). I want to say he blocked three 2nd-half shots and after each one, he made a point of, um, ensuring that I'd gotten them.

Now, if any of this is true and as widespread as the guy suggests, it's obviously a problem for a league working assiduously to convince fans it's not some rigged carny game. Otherwise, everything gets called into question. Did Scott Skiles really hand out 30 assists? Did Elmore Smith really block 17 shots in a game? Did Don MacLean really have an NBA career, or was he just some scorekeeper's generous fudge?


Michael.S.
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I know it's long but you

I know it's long but you won't b disappointed.......LOL

Michael.S.
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COME ON need some reactions

COME ON need some reactions

xbadgerhustler
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just reinforces my distaste

just reinforces my distaste for stats. although since it happens for everyone, it kind of balances it all out so they are semi relative

Michael.S.
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tell me that ain't

tell me that ain't funny...........i mean that's pure comedy.......you read all of it?

xbadgerhustler
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that's the article off a

that's the article off a true hoop, right?

Michael.S.
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not sure.....i got it off

not sure.....i got it off the front page of this site

Michael.S.
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I didn't know at

I didn't know at all...........that's CRAZY

im gonna try to keeps stats one game this year and see if mine is the same as theirs

xbadgerhustler
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you should read truehoop.

you should read truehoop. it's a greattttt site, and i guarantee almost everything that gets posted on this site gets posted on there plus a lot more. i definitely read it everyday

Michael.S.
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HA i thought you meant the

HA i thought you meant the truehoop on ESPN.........I will check it out thanks

xbadgerhustler
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same thing, it used to be

same thing, it used to be it's own site and then espn bought it out, or became partners or something

Michael.S.
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wow you got me

wow you got me there...........just read the one on Jamal Crawford

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Michael.S.
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I read that one

I read that one earlier...............Only one i disagree on is J-Kidd, very overrated on D............and Bowen don't play basketball he plays jail-ball

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stats

A lot of NBA players used to think think that Jerry Lucas' stats were padded back in his prime because of his justification as a white star in a black man's game. I'm gonna go out on a limb here too, and say that Lebron rebound totals are definately padded sometimes, especially at home. If he's close to a triple double, it will just be given to him.

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It wouldn't surprise me if

It wouldn't surprise me if LBJ got the most help with his reb and ass stats- that's a good pt. CP3 also probably gets a lot of help too

Michael.S.
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I alway's thought Kidd got

I alway's thought Kidd got better stats than i thought

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All never knew this

All never knew this happened.....but do people still do the scorekeeping or automatic machines?

Michael.S.
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scorekeepers do

scorekeepers do it.............even if it was machines people still need to edit the stats into the machine.

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Then now that i think of

Then now that i think of it.....When kobe scored 61 In MSG they were betting that Lebron was going to do better or as good.

I really think that they gave him some assists and Rebounds. Lebron really gets the benefit of the doubt in these situations, because of his skill of rebounding and assisting but gets more then he proves sometimes.

Nice Post Mikenike

Michael.S.
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thanks, and even though

thanks, and even though LeBron is my favorite player , i agree anyways, i could see that not only because well..it's LeBron but because he is a very like-able guy

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