We All Count Numbers But Do All Numbers Count?

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Two weeks ago, Ichiro Suzuki of the New York Yankees rapped a first-inning single to left field off Toronto pitcher R.A. Dickey, briefly interrupting a game at Yankee Stadium that barely had begun and sparking a lively discussion among baseball insiders and fans.

The hit was the 4,000th of Ichiro’s remarkable career, which has been split between Japan’s highest professional league and the major leagues here in the U.S. Specifically – and bear with us here, this post will eventually be put in NBA context – the Yankees’ right fielder had 1,278 hits in nine seasons with the Orix Blue Wave from 1992-2000, before amassing – in 13 seasons with the Seattle Mariners (2001-2012) and New York (2012-13) – an astounding 2,729 through Wednesday night.

No one doubted that Ichiro had reached a milestone and made history of a particular sort. But was he on his way toward a record? Most folks agreed he was not. Pete Rose remains MLB’s “Hit King” with 4,256 and Ty Cobb – despite losing a couple of hits off his famous total of 4,191 due to clerical corrections through the years – is next at 4,189.

Predictably, the pugnacious Rose bristled at the interpretation that Ichiro was closing in on his mark. “He’s still 600 hits away from catching [Yankees teammate] Derek Jeter, so how can he catch me?” the 17-time NL All-Star, still barred from Hall of Fame consideration by his lifetime ban for gambling, told USA Today. “Hey, if we’re counting professional hits, then add on my 427 career hits in the minors. I was a professional then, too.”

But in their appreciation for Ichiro – who was 27 when he got his first crack at AL pitching – some witnesses blurred the line a little between hits here (as in MLB) and hits anywhere.

“This is something, you don’t have to be from Japan, you don’t have to be a U.S. player, you don’t have to be a Canadian player, a Dominican player,” Ken Griffey Jr., his former Seattle teammate, told MLB.com. “You can just look and see how much time and effort and the things he’s done to perfect his craft. This is something that three people will have done, to have 4,000 hits. Those are Bugs Bunny numbers.”

This, of course, is NBA.com and that is the point of this exercise.

With the explosive growth of professional basketball around the globe, with the acknowledgement almost every summer – whether in EuroBasket competition, the FIBA World Cup or the Olympics – that some of the game’s greatest players will spend part or all of their careers outside of the NBA, it’s a question worth asking: Should stats from leagues elsewhere in the world be counted in a player’s lifetime totals?

Look, this isn’t a matter of re-writing a record book. It’s not as if Luis Scola – who started playing professionally in 1995-96, logging 12 seasons overseas before hitting the NBA – or anyone else is bearing down on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time points record (38,387).

But maybe basketball fans would have a better sense of, say, Arvydas Sabonis‘ greatness if his “career” numbers weren’t limited to the 5,629 points, 3,436 rebounds or 964 assists he’s given credit for in his seven NBA seasons. All of them came after age 30, by which time the dazzling 7-foot-3 Lithuanian was a hobbled, heavier and lesser version of his youthful self.

Maybe Drazen Petrovic would be recalled in more discussions about the game’s greatest shooters if the Croatian marksman’s international stats were lumped in with his modest NBA numbers. (Maybe not, given Petrovic’s tragic death at 28 in a car accident in Germany clipped his career here at the other end.)

And it seems weird that an established NBA player like Andrei Kirilenko would have a hole gouged in his resume just because he opted to play the 2011-12 season back in his homeland, for CSKA Moscow, while the owners and players here hashed out their lockout squabble and patched season. Kirilenko was named Euroleague MVP and averaged better than 14 points and seven rebounds, but from his file on NBA.com, you’d think he’d taken a sabbatical to touch llamas in Tibet or something.

One problem with counting statistics from foreign leagues is that, well, those leagues aren’t so good at counting them themselves. Reliable stats and records are hard to come by, such that Sabonis’ and Petrovic’s entries at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and on its Web site don’t have full and accurate numbers.

Another beef is that non-NBA competition doesn’t measure up, so stats compiled elsewhere might be inflated. That may, in some cases, be true. But it’s the same gripe that largely has kept the stats of the American Basketball Association (ABA) separate and not-quite equal 45 years after that rival league’s inception. More than a dozen Hall of Famers spent part or all of their careers in the ABA, and in the first post-merger All-Star Game (1977), 10 of the 24 players were former ABA-ers. But resentment of what the ABA meant, business-wise, to some old-school NBA owners lingered, in spite of the quality of many of its performers.

So what makes more sense: Listing Julius Erving as the No. 58 scorer in NBA history (18,364), just ahead of Glen Rice (18,336)? Or counting his ABA numbers and moving him to No. 6 (30,026) as one of the half dozen players who reached that 30,000-points level? In a sense, Erving is  the NBA’s equivalent of Ichiro, a mid-career pioneer who crossed some borders for his sport.

The Naismith Hall – as we’ll be reminded Sunday with the Class of 2013 enshrinement ceremony – embraces all levels of the game, from outstanding amateurs to foreign legends to NBA superstars, and looks at careers in full. This league rightly should maintain its record book however it sees fit, but citing combined numbers as milestones, accomplishments and bits of history is legit, too.

23 Comments

  1. @nba says:

    If we combine the ABA stats then we will have to start counting Euroleague stats as well? How do you figure? Are we going to adopt the Euroleague into the NBA and make it one?

  2. The Bird Man says:

    The ABA was soft. Numbers from a soft league should not be added to numbers from a competitive league such as the NBA.
    Nobody cares if Julius scored a million buckets in the ABA. He was one of the tallest guys in the whole of that league and they were known for not playing defense.
    Julius’s scoring average dipped seriously when he left the ABA for the NBA which was a far tougher league.
    So stop this nonsense about adding ABA numbers. We don’t want to hear that. the NBA is the pinnacle of professional basketball and if you only happened to score 5,000 points whilst playing there, then it is what it is.
    Tell Julius to grow some man balls stop crying over it like a wrong b**ch. Ain’t nobody got time for that

  3. Jim says:

    My point is that the NFL accepts the prior AFL stats, so the NBA could do the same with ABA player and team stats.

  4. Jim says:

    What about the NFL and the AFL? They were at one time two different football leagues and then merged in 1969 to form just the NFL. According to Wikipedia, “The NFL considers AFL statistics and records equivalent to its own.” Of course the difference with this and the NBA is that the NBA only accepted a few ABA teams. It was not a merger between 2 leagues.

  5. JBR says:

    No. They were 2 different leagues that used 2 different sets of rules.

    If people need to see ‘stats’ in order to believe in The Doctor’s greatness, that is their problem.

    The ABA was not the NBA until they merged, so ABA stats shouldn’t count as NBA stats.

    Just my opinion, of course…

  6. you are all ... says:

    If Bill Russell’s era of 10 teams and his 11 rings, and Wilt Chamberlin’s era of no 3 seconds in the key and like 5 players over 6’10 all stand good today then Dr J’s stats should also. I already rate him as an all time top ten basketball player.

  7. Dejan says:

    If you want to put this discussion into perspective, look at Manchester United and the Premier League. Man U had been the most successful team of the Premiership, as in the team with the most titles, but until a couple of years back it still trailed Liverpool as the team with the most titles in English football. The thing was that the Premier League did not come into existence until the early 90’s when Man U also came into its own. Still, whenever there was a discussion about the most sucessful football team in English footbal, a clear distinction was made between the footbal in general and the Premiersip, and in this discussion Liverpool was always in front.

    By that logic, if you are discussing Dr J’s numbers a similar distinction should be made, and when dicussing his achievements as a professional basketball player his ABA record should be acknowledged. Obviously, just on the NBA stage his numbers will diminish because he only played so many games of his career in this competition. The real question here is not if Dr J should be #58 or #6 all time scorer in the NBA – his NBA nubers add up to #58 – but if the NBA as the organisation that now stands for tha American professional basketball should start to acknowledge ABA records of players, since ABA was part of America’s basketball history, even if it was a rival competition. It would do Dr J and other players like him justice, since their time spent in ABA would not be swept under the carpet whenever their achievements are discussed, just because their league did not survive that era.

  8. M. James says:

    As a matter of team statistics maybe not, but as a matter of individual career statistics, yes. There’s no real dilemma here.

  9. Dieter says:

    A merger is what it is, both NBA and ABA stats should count. If the ABA stats don’t count, than the NBA stats before the merge shouldn’t count either, because it also was another league.

  10. Brian says:

    Julius entered the ABA in 71-72 season and played for 5 ABA season. From that point on the ABA was close to being on par with the NBA. The last few seasons it was on par for sure. The doctor was a huge part of the growth of the game and deserve to be seen as an equal to many of the NBA players of his era. At the time of his retirement he was third in North American Pro basketball history in scoring behind Kareem and Wilt. Julius would be 6th all time today if his ABA stats counted for something. He would also sit in 7th place in all-time steals leaders. Many players of the next decade say they were amazed and inspired as young teenagers by the great Dr. J

    This is a first ballet hall of famer that sits 37th in steals and 57th in scoring. For this Dr. J is being lost in the conversation of top all time players as all many people look at is the NBA totals. They have no idea that the Doctor scored so many points in his Pro career and would be sitting in 6th ahead of SHAQ and just behind WILT.

    Julius ranks behind players like Scotty Pippen and although Scottie is one of the great forwards of the 90’s I don’t think he was a big part of revolutionizing the sport. The Doctor, Ice, Issel, and many other HoF ABA greats deserve to be seen for the quality players they were. Dr J took the NBA through some tough post merger seasons and propped it up for Bird and Magic to carry on.

  11. Dean Wells says:

    All the people saying they were different leagues or then we need to add the euro league should look into the history of the ABA and NBA. The NBA was very against expansion teams and those wanting to make teams were tired of jumping the hoops, so they made their own league, that competed against the NBA for years!
    Those saying that the ABA was less talented, the ABA won more interleague games from 73-75! sooo debunked.
    Lastly, the ABA brought tons of changes to the NBA like the dunk competition, three point line, presses and traps, and drafting of undergrads, which has brought in tons of amazing players into the NBA.
    With all of those why wouldnt players who went to a different league stats not count? If you want to maybe adjust the three point attempts by changing the 3 point shots made by ABA players to 2 pointers…

  12. Lawrence says:

    No, NBA Stats are NBA Stats and other leagues’ are their own (including ABA Stats, which should be counted as professional stats but should never be included in NBA Stats)

    Personally I think that the only number that really counts (and that will make a player happy with their careers) is the amount of championships they have. Why do you think Bill Russell always has a smile on his face, or Robert Horry, who is always happy ?

    Looking at Horry’s stats, they don’t look very impressive: http://www.hostnumber.com/robert-horry-stats.html But I am sure he will make it into the HOF, cause of his clutch shooting winning championships,

  13. Nba says:

    The NBA stats are for games played in the NBA. If we combine ABA stats then we will have to start counting Euroleague stats to. But when getting into the hall of fame all stats are looked at. But i do agree all stats should be available for view to give Basketball fans a better understanding of what kind of player it is your looking at.

  14. K says:

    I completely agree that ABA statistics should count towards a player’s stats in the NBA because of the simple reason that there was a merger between the two league. The ABA was by no means a”lesser” league and the players and the players from the ABA should be given the respect that is due to them. I would go as far as to say that the championships and MVP awards should be counted as well. This would make Doc a three time champion, a four time season MVP and a two time Playoffs/Finals MVP and put him a lot higher on the ‘Greatest of All Time’ list. A lot of players including Gearge ‘The Iceman’ Gervin, Rick Barry, George McGinnis among others, are underrated because of having spent a large portion of their careers in the ABA.

    While we are at it, why are playoff statistics are not included in a player’s career statistics? This doesn’t make too much sense to me either.

  15. sports fan says:

    If Dr J’s ABA stats were converted to NBA stats they would at the very least be worth 50% so they do count for something.
    They should just create a separate stat called “combined stats” or “multiple leagues stats combined”. Something along the lines of this, it’s so simple.
    It just has to be 3 listings of stats for players like Dr J, Ichiro, & many others.
    Dr j – ABA stats, NBA stats, combined stats
    Ichiro – Japan stats , MLB stats, combined stats
    To answer the question of the blog – Yes! All numbers count & should be counted but with the suggested viewpoint.

  16. MShep says:

    No. The ABA stats cant and better not be counted. NBA is NBA, ABA is ABA… Sorry the merger ruined stats but we cant go back and alter 100s of great players careers now… Thats insane…Many players are robbed of their real accomplishments, but times change and you can only move forward from here. So please dont dig up the old record books…

  17. skunk says:

    for me it’s pretty black and white; if he scored them in the nba then they count as nba numbers. in the aba then they don’t get counted. i mean, if we’re going to alter history because of what’s come after it, then we need to go all the way. how many more points would jerry west have if they had a three-point line back then? he’s one of the greatest long range shooters of all time and sits with a grand total of 0 3pointers made.

  18. BBallFANNYC says:

    If we are talking about an entire professional CAREER, irrespective of leagues/countries played in, then yes, include Doc’s ABA numbers. If we are talking just about the NBA, then just use his NBA numbers. Personally, I like the Naismith Hall BECAUSE they look at a player’s overall career, not just the numbers earned in the most popular/well known league. It truly embraces n the SPORT of basketball, and doesn’t take into account Race, Age, Gender, Nationality, Non-NBA leagues, etc etc. Also, Pete Rose is a jerk and needs to shutup.

  19. Juggernaut584 says:

    If the NBA adopted entire ABA franchises, then it should also adopt the ABA stats as well. Otherwise, the NBA should exlude all NBA stats prior to the merger. The NBA probably wouldn’t be the great league that it is today without the former ABA teams, and the contributions of the former ABA players. As far as overseas stats, I don’t think they should be included with a player’s NBA career totals. However, I do think that they should be considered when determining a player’s HOF eligibility.

    • Adrian says:

      You, sir, are one of the smartest people to ever comment on Hang Time Blog. Props to you. And I completely agree with your opinion.

    • Steve says:

      I would agree with most people that the stats should not be amalgamated. HOWEVER, there is one major difference between ; Suzuki’s league did not merge with the American Baseball league!

      The NBA is merger of the two basketball leagues in the US and as such Dr J’s stats and everyone else who came from the ABA into the NBA should be counted…there is that distinct difference.

  20. Simba says:

    I had no clue Dr. J had that many points in the ABA. Even if most NBA fans won’t consider those stats, I’ll most certainly refer to him as a member of the 30,000 club from now on after seeing that stat.