Herbert Harvey Pollack left us on Tuesday. Although he was 93 years old, his passing feels premature. Partly that is because we in the basketball world still need him. Partly it’s because Philadelphia needs his like and likeness to be with us still.
Think of all the basketball names that came to know Harvey Pollack. Then think of all the basketball devotees and professional journalists who came to depend on him. And, of course, think of all the times – good and bad – that Harvey endured and savored as the face of Philadelphia basketball.
Harvey Pollack was from and of Philadelphia. Others already have written of his life, career highlights and contributions. Although Harvey was a numbers man, he found ways to reach us that defied simple numbers and analysis of them. He represented the times.
Eddie Gottlieb. Wilt Chamberlain, Al Attles and the guys who comprised the Philadelphia Warriors. Dolph Schayes, Hal Greer, Chet Walker and the guys who first made the move from Syracuse to Philadelphia. Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham and the guys who brought the franchise its first Philadelphia championship. Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks and the guys who brought the second. Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo, Eric Snow and the guys who made it to the finals in 2001. Then there was everyone in between and since. Harvey was there for it all, putting the numbers in perspective. Just the facts, ma’am. No embellishments. Just the raw, real deal from the man who saw it all.
Harvey Pollack is credited with coining the “triple double” stat. He kept track of other statistics, such as blocked shots and offensive rebounds, before they became cool. His command of the statistics of the game contributed in no small way to the NBA’s growth. Numbers are now tossed about as pungently as they always were in Major League Baseball, which built its endurance upon the comparative, timeless strength of statistics of players and their teams. Harvey wrote the book, and kept writing it to the end.
I had the pleasure of a brief encounter with Harvey Pollack after the second of the Sixers’ consecutive home playoff victories against the Chicago Bulls in 2012. As the last of the happy crowd was leaving the Wells Fargo Center, he held forth with a few folks who discussed the big picture. The Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks were playing their series as well. Asked who would win, Harvey said “Boston” with the simple certainty that you had to feel punctuated every conversation with him. The numbers guy held it in his head. And he was right.
Players, coaches, general managers and owners come and go. We accept that. This loss is harder because there was only one Harvey Pollack.