The legendary statistician passed away from long-term complications related to a January car accident.
Not just anyone can stop the NBA Draft in its tracks. But that’s precisely what happened last Thursday night in Brooklyn when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delayed announcing the Philadelphia 76ers’ first-round pick, Duke center Jahlil Okafor, to lament the passing of a man who’d been part of the league — literally — since its very beginning.
Of course, Harvey Pollack wasn’t just anyone. The 93-year-old Pollack, who passed away June 23 after hanging on nearly six months since suffering multiple injuries in a New Year’s Day one-car accident leaving a Center City parking garage, was an institution when came to compiling statistics. Known as “Super Stat,” for devising such statistical categories as the triple double, plus-minus configurations of a player’s value while he’s on the court, minutes played, blocked shots, steals and other aspects of the game that had previously gone unreported, those became fixtures in the box score once Pollack began to devote his attention to them.
But as Rabbi Elliot Strom of Shir Ami said at Pollack’s June 26 funeral service at Goldsteins’ Rosenberg’s Raphael-Sacks on North Broad Street, “Statistics can only tell us so much. Statistics can’t possibly begin to show the measure of the man. They can’t tell you about his creativity or innovativeness — his commitment to hard work, his selflessness and generosity.
“Harvey Pollack had the ability to make statistics come alive. But the measure of the man far surpasses any number.”
The man who once made the Guinness Book of World Records by wearing a different T-shirt for 4,260 consecutive days over a 10-year-plus span and who was a member of 13 different Halls of Fame — including the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. — was eulogized from all corners during the 75-minute service. The building was packed with hundreds of mourners, ranging from Hall of Famers Julius “Doctor J.” Erving and Billy Cunningham to former Sixers World B. Free and Ollie Johnson, along with several members of the franchise’s current front office, including Coach Brett Brown, general manager Sam Hinkie and CEO Scott O’Neil.
Numerous other dignitaries from both inside and outside the world of basketball were on hand to honor the man who became one of the fledgling NBA’s charter employees in 1946 — and never left.
Mike Sullivan, who sat next to Pollack the last 19 years on the Sixers’ statistical crew, started off the tributes by describing Pollack’s nonstop schedule. In a typical week, he’d work a couple of basketball games, review a play or two, attend a private movie screening and review a restaurant, taking great pride in usually not having to spend a dime on any of that.
“He taught us that getting old doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” said Sullivan.
Lara Price, 76ers executive vice president of business, who knew Pollack for 19 years, then told of his preoccupation with T-shirts. Often she’d come into his office and he’d proudly pull up his outer shirt to reveal that day’s T-shirt.
She added that he’d often pit Erving and Philadelphia Flyers’ owner Ed Snider against each other to see who could provide him with the most T-shirts.
Sixers’ executive advisor Sonny Hill, who continued to respectfully refer to him as “Mr. Pollack,” said that with Pollack’s death, all the old Philadelphia Warriors — including Paul Arizin, Tom Gola, Guy Rodgers, Joe Fulks, owner Eddie Gottlieb and Wilt Chamberlain — have now been reunited forever.
Erving spoke eloquently of their relationship, saying that the three words that best defined Pollack were “quintessential, iconic and classic.” He then read Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” in tribute to his friend.
Pollack’s lone granddaughter, Allison, spoke lovingly of her “Poppy,” revealing he was expelled from three different schools for hitting his teacher. Growing up, she admitted, she knew little of his work and how revered he was — except everywhere they went someone seemed to know him.
Telling how her grandfather was reluctant to adapt to modern technology, continuing to use a typewriter long after computers became the norm, she finally showed him how to use an iPad. “The first thing he Googled was Harvey Pollack,” she laughed.
Finally, Harvey’s son, Ron, said of his father’s 34,075 days on earth: “Death is normal. What isn’t normal is the way he lived his life. One number he never came up with is how many lives he touched.”
Indeed, over the course of his extraordinary life, Harvey Pollack just about did it all. In addition to all his contributions from a statistical end, he was active on a number of fronts. Known to his peers as “Octopus” and “Harvey the Hat” because of all the different jobs he had, among Pollack’s greatest claims to fame were dining with Grace Kelly, flying over Germany on V-E Day and interviewing Frank Sinatra while the legendary singer sat in his underwear.
Yet none of those had the lasting impact of a simple piece of paper with the number 100 written on it, which he handed to Chamberlain to hold up for a photographer moments after the “Big Dipper” scored what remains a single-game record 100 points versus the New York Knicks in 1962 in Hershey, Pa. For Pollack, who reported the game for both wire services and The Philadelphia Inquirer, capturing that iconic moment was one of his proudest achievements.
If only he’d remembered to hang onto that piece of paper. “That’s my biggest regret,” he said in January 2013, nearly 51 years since that March 2 night. “I didn’t save that sign.”
It was one of few regrets in a life that began in Camden, N.J., in 1922, before the family moved to Philadelphia six months later. Pollack would go on to attend Simon Gratz High, then Temple University, where he served as student manager on the basketball team.
Shortly after graduation, when the NBA came into existence in 1946, he was hired by Gottlieb as the Philadelphia Warriors assistant publicity director. He would remain in some capacity within the league the rest of his life, first as public relations director for the Warriors, then the 76ers who would replace them when the franchise moved to San Francisco, later as the Sixers’ director of statistical information the past 28 years.
In 1967, he began compiling Harvey Pollack’s Statistical Yearbook, a 24-page compilation of minutiae and statistics. That became an annual labor of love until this past season, having expanded to nearly 400 pages through the years.
Herbert Harvey Pollack is survived by his son, Ron, daughter, Linda Gottfried, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His wife of 58 years, Bea, passed away in 2002.