That’s a year in which Russell was (reportedly) averaging about 8 blocks per game during the regular season — a number that probably improved during the playoffs.
Based in fact — or just a “Wild-Westimate?”
“How would you like to be guaranteed, and I mean, guaranteed, 20 rebounds and 8 blocked shots every game for 100 games?”
So said Jerry West to reporter Doug Ives during the 1968 NBA Finals.
Truth be told, it’s not clear the 8-blocks-a-game would stand up in a court of law.
But it’s also true that West’s choice of words didn’t come out of the clear blue sky.
"How would you like to be guaranteed, and I mean guaranteed, 20 rebounds and 8 blocked shots every game for 100 games?"
— Jerry West, 1968
— Celtics 24/7 (@celts247) February 19, 2018
In fact, Celtics247 reported in 2014, there’s been a discussion of Russell’s blocked shots statistics since 2010, and it’s had several important additions in the last two years.
Still, West was speaking in 1968. Did he just pluck that number from the air?
The answer, according to reports from the time and our own digging over the last few months, is a reasonably strong “no.”
Several reporters at the time — also including the late Leonard Koppett, more than one scribe at UPI and AP, and the LA, Boston, and Philadelphia press — began to track block shot totals. Some did their own reports. Some relied on team statistics.
In fact, Russell reportedly blocked his “average” — 8 shots — during Game One of that finals. The players often discussed both their official and the reporter-generated unofficial (but note, objective) stats in their post-game talks. More about that to come.
All felt, as Koppett put it, that “the people who appreciated Russell appreciated the future of the game.” A future of elegant athletes and advanced stats awaited.
Modern Analytics Guy… meet
In the 1973-74 season, the NBA itself (finally) began keeping an official blocked-shot stat of its own. This happened partly because of the creative journalism that had been taking place over the years. And partly because guys like Koppett agitated for it.
Modern day analytics guy would take the next steps early in this century. He stood on the shoulders, though — and the raw data — which these journalist provided. And called for more of.
(Part 3 of a series on Bill Russell’s uncredited statistical achivements. Part One, here.)