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Welcome to Pablo Torre finds out I am Pablo Torre. And today we're going to find out what this sound is.


These are the emotions I was going through, was. Wait a minute. It's all a lie.


Right after this ad, you're listening to.


DraftKings Network.


Cortez, I want to talk to you about the biggest story in the NBA right now, the Miami Heat.


And what Jimmy Butler did to the New Orleans Pelicans this weekend. Do not try and choke Jimmy Butler. It's not going to go well for you.


That is not what today's episode is about.


That looked far less intimidating than I thought for you.


Yeah, you have a bandaid on your pointer finger, just like limply gesturing at me. Yes. The story that is the biggest one in basketball right now is a continuation from the story that was the biggest one in basketball last season, which is that all of this, all the scoring, all of these points are. It all feels like an all star game. We need to fix.


Every game feels like an all star game. It's like a layup line. Everyone is just getting to the basket. No one is playing defense anymore. Well, except the Miami Heat.


In the all star game, 200 points were scored by one team. And this feels illustrative of just the way it is that NBA stars right now are just doing whatever they want. And it's actually historical, right? So, like since the 1960s, last season was the high watermark and this season has already shattered that pace.


I do want to point out, though, in the month of February, the Miami Heat have the number one defensive rating. So while this is a problem, it's true what you're saying. It's not a problem if you're playing the Miami Heat.


You're telling me that all of these guys who are routinely dropping 50, 60.


70, not one of them against Miami.


Heat, okay, not one so far. That is accurate.


Of course it's accurate. You think? Have I ever told a falsehood on this show?


I cannot begin to summarize all of the falsehoods you've told on this show, but what is true here is that Luka Doncic scores 73 points against the Hawks. Lucas flips a double, keeps a dribble alive all the way to the hoop. Scoops of the hoop for the foul point. 71 and 72. It's so regular now, so expected, that I forget when it even happened. That was last month.


It feels to me a lot like the no hitter in baseball, that we just don't care anymore because it's so prolific.


Indeed, had 70 Embiid coast to coast for 70. And he also, by the way, indeed also had 51. The month before that, Yanis had 64. Yanis, isn't this city history 64 points for Yanis? It's endless. Right now, as we're talking, someone out there is probably scoring 55.


Well, there's two camps to it, right? It's like, is the offense so great that this is what's happening, or is it that no one's playing defense? Right.




Could be either one or a combo.


Look, I grew up in the 90s loving basketball back then. The modern game makes me feel like a Fox News talking head complaining about rising prices in our grocery stores and gas and inflation. It feels like I am shaking my fist at how all these numbers are way too big and how all of this spending, all of these scores are out of control.


You're right.


This is the oldest I've felt as a sports fan. This is the most old man I've ever felt with a take. Because there was a period where I was really excited about the Pacers. They were putting up all these points, and I was like, man, that's pretty cool. And now I really hate it. I don't like the idea that.


Seriously? Well, yeah.


It feels like every game is like an all star game. People are just getting to the basket with layups. In all seriousness, part of what makes the heat special is that defense, is that choking of the team when the moments get big late in the fourth quarter and you can't score.


I just want everybody to know that, of course, Cortez is wearing his heat culture hat. He's in his home whites at the moment. But I want to bring back a story that I've been thinking about from last season because last season was know, super inflated, allegedly. And the explanation in the case of one very notable conspiracy was that this was actually an inside job to continue to sound more like a cable news political talking head. Right. It was the Jaron Jackson Jr. Story.


The blocks. Yeah.


I always appreciate a good conspiracy, and when it crosses over to the NBA, it's even better. So when I was alerted to this Reddit thread alleging some, quote unquote, fraudulent numbers for defensive player of the year Jaron Jackson Jr. I decided to take the case. Ad massive six six very accurately pointed out that Jackson's home and away splits are very curious as he seems to average twice as many blocks and fields at home than on the road.


You have the numbers?


Yes. Okay. At home. And this is from a Reddit user whose username was admassive six six. You reported that at home in Memphis, Jaron Jackson Jr. Has 66 blocks in 16 home games versus 35 in 16 road games. This was an 89% increase in Memphis at the point at which he posted this.


And the theory was like, the scorekeeper is cooking the books and, like, favoring him in this manner.




Yes. The home grizzly scorekeeper was inflating Jaron Jackson Jr's defensive stats. He was a defensive player of the year last season.


It seemed reasonable.


The NBA Internet couldn't stop talking about this. It went everywhere. And finally, this actually got placed under the microscope of the stat nerds. And so everybody, Kevin O'Connor, Kirk Goldsberry, all of these guys, all these dorks who I know, they actually watched every single block, and they're like, okay, so actually, this isn't real.




They debunked it. There was no scorekeeper inflation.


I think they were off maybe by two or three blocks. It was really negligent, the difference that they found. I mean, it was true what the scorekeeper saw.




And so Darren Jackson Jr. Like, addressed this himself, got asked about it locally on Memphis radio. And I bring all of this up now in this era of unprecedented statistical inflation this season, because I recently got a call, Cortez, and you know how much I love getting calls.


You're an old man in that sense. I do appreciate how much you love a phone call.


Hate it when it's Levitard. Love it when it's someone with a tip. And the tip I got from somebody that we both know and respect was that as much as that grizzly scorekeeper scammer scandal from last season was fake, was debunked, was a fabrication. There was an actual bona fide scorekeeper scammer scandal involving the grizzlies from another time. That actually is incredibly important for us to understand in the present tense.


So they were scamming. They just weren't doing it like recently, they were doing it in another era.


So at the risk of sounding like everything I hate, a conspiracist who is getting hopped up on Internet rumors, this one is an Internet conspiracy that turned out to be incredibly real. And we got to get to the guy who broke the story. After the break. Is a pleasure to have you in the flesh at this desk with revelations to present to me.


Happy to be here, Pablo.


You being a protagonist of this story matters because this story begins, really, in my life, at the Sloan sports analytics conference, which we just call Sloan, as if people know what that is.


Typically, it's very embarrassing when you're at, like, a cocktail party, or you're at an event and you're just like, yeah, I'm going to Sloan next weekend, or, I just got back from Sloan, and people are like, what are you talking about?


Right? In our defense, Sloan became a thing that got mentioned in season nine of the office. Hey, so Wade wants to send people.


To the Sloan conference.


We got to compile a list of.


Our target clients already on there.


But in reality, what this is, is a giant nerd fest where the celebrities there in the vip room, which is very well guarded, by the way. Those celebrities include people like you. We'll get to the big names in sports, but you made your career on, right? Like, forgive me for simplifying your life, but I have always considered you, like, basketball analytics expert Tom Haberstro.


I grew up loving basketball, playing basketball, baseball, football, and just loving the math side of the game, and then kind of broke into ESPN. Being a stats researcher, the biggest break I could ever imagine is at 25 years old. I'm going down to Miami to cover LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosch in 2010 at a time when their analytics wasn't a word.


So you were, like, putting these historical performances into statistical context as. As a matter of the beat that you were on, right?


Like when Skip Bayless is saying, oh, LeBron doesn't have a clutch gene, I actually go into the data and I say, like, actually, here's what the data says. He's much more efficient than Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen. And I was covering the team, the biggest team in sports, with an analytical lens, using statistics to tell stories.


Right? And so when we go to Sloan, which is a thing that started at an MIT lecture hall, by the way, that has since bloomed, mutated into something that takes over, like the largest convention centers in Boston, as it will this Friday, actually, what we're doing is going to a place where you, Tom Habristro, are something of a celebrity. And both of us have moderated panels at Sloan, which is. What a brag. This is the panel I'm moderating because, as Charles Barkley put it, I couldn't get girls in high school. So thank you.


Welcome to basketball 100 panel. We're supposed to look into the future and tell everybody what it's going to look like in 25 years. So good luck with that.


At a certain point, to be a kid in America who loves sports, went from, I want to be an athlete to I want to be a general manager, and this is like the power center where that stuff actually seems possible, because you see the people who count as heroes and idols to sports nerds.


Yeah, well, there's. Daryl Mori is the head of Dorcapalooza, which I think Bill Simmons coined is that he is Dork Elvis of Dorcapalooza, which is the Sloan conference. I'm not so sure how Daryl feels about that nickname that fits, but he is the face of it.


The guy who claimed, famously, that, empirically speaking, James Harden is a better scorer than Michael Jordan.


If you looked at data at the time, once he had the ball in his hands, and it's still true to this day. And I get a lot of, you know, someone asked me, who's a better scorer, him or Michael Jordan? And it's just factual that James Harden is a better score than Michael Jordan.


Based on the math.


Based on literally, like, you give James Harden the ball, and before you're giving up the ball, how many points do you generate? Which is how you should measure offense. James Harden is by far number one.


So obviously he's now running the Sixers.


Yeah, running the Sixers. And then there's Alex Rucker, who is a stats nerd who rose in the front office of the Toronto Raptors, who figured out sport view data and camera tracking and how to arrange the defensive players optimally, and rose to become the executive vp of basketball operations for an NBA team.


Now, I used to kind of oversee analytics and the research and development, the data scientists, the computer geeks, if you will. And so now I oversee all the departments within basketball operations.


And then, of course, Mr. Moneyball himself.


My God, and he's at Sloan.


Yes. Billy bean himself shows up.


The game is really smart. In fact, I would say that baseball has become one of the most intelligent industries in the world, in my opinion. And you see it now with the use of analytics. The people running baseball teams are much different than when I started. I think it's a compliment to the intelligence of the game.


And so this conference now, as it's gotten more and more expensive and more exclusive and hard to get into, it's very clearly part business school, part Silicon Valley, big tech. And also, if we're being just very honest about ourselves and each other, it's also part Internet forum come to life.


Yes, Internet forum come to life. The reason why we're sitting here today, Pablo, is because of an Internet forum back in 2009. It all starts here in the APBR.


Metrics forum, which I did not know about until you called me up, like, deeply excited to explain what this is.


This is a meeting of the minds. It is the NBA Reddit before NBA Reddit existed. So I used to be in this forum all the time. Every day I would check in to kind of like see what's going to be happening in the future. It was a glimpse into, this is where the industry is going.




This is how to optimize the game. What's the most efficient way to score a basketball? Here's a study.


Before Sloan, you guys were doing this on this message board.


And then one night, Tuesday, July 14, 2009, someone posted the headline scorekeeper story with a bomb. The revelation in this that a poster had heard from a friend tell him a story about his experience as a stack keeper in the NBA. He's a stack keeper from 1997, the Vancouver Grizzlies. Okay, this is Peak Jordan era. I'm eleven years old, I'm reading this forum, and this scorekeeper is saying he was cooking the books for the Vancouver Grizzlies. I remember vividly Pablo sitting at my island Kitchen table watching sports center and Nick, the quick Nick Van Exel.


Yes, in the Laker game where he.


Has like a zillion assists, 23 assists. And this guy, this is what he said. 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.


So immediately I want to just start fact checking this, right? So when you look at this game, when you go back into the archive, Tom, and you go and see this game now with fresh eyes, what does it actually look like?


If you watch the film, the very first assist that Nick Van Exel has, it's not even on the screen. So the Vancouver Grizzlies just make a shot. Sharif Abdul Rahim, the star young player, makes a shot. Elden Campbell takes the ball out and passes it to Nick Van Exel. Ostensibly, but we don't actually see it on film because we cut away to Sharif Abdul Rahim and then suddenly on the left side of the court, Eddie Jones is dribling up and takes five dribbles on the left side and then pulls up for a pump fake three pointer way after the fact of maybe there was a Nick Van Exel Phantom pass. We don't see it. It's not on the tape. When you look at the box score, I couldn't believe it. But the timestamp of that play is reflected in the box score. And it says, van Exel assist.


That feels like an assist by neither the letter or the spirit of the law.


Yeah. And so there were 23 of these. Now, to be fair, there were legit assists here in this game. The idea isn't that he didn't have a good game, Nick Van Exel. It's that it wasn't a 15 assist game. It was a 23 assist game. And the key is you're more interested in 23 assists.


That's the only reason I remember it.


So I remember this moment, and now I'm learning it's all a lie.


So I should say maybe this is obvious. This is an enormous problem for the integrity of the NBA itself. And so where does the story go from here?


It doesn't get contained in that Internet forum. Tommy Craggs at Deadspin picks it up. This is Deadspin. We're talking about the peak of its powers. Craggs gets on the phone and talks to the stack keeper, but all I can think about is, who is this guy? And in the story, all we know is his name is Alex and he works in the Navy. And we also know that he worked for the Vancouver Grizzlies in the late.


Ninety s. What I'm laughing at already is just the idea that this is your message board, tom. You're a poster on this nerd forum, and here's a guy who is basically taunting you, guy who worships numbers, saying, by the way, turns out you can't actually trust the thing that you wanted to make your career around.


Yeah. And so part of me is just like, I need to know if this person's real. There is a mystery figure here.




And for 13 years, this story was dead until the Jaron Jackson Jr. Story happens.


Right. Okay, so this Jaron Jackson alleged conspiracy on Reddit, another Internet forum story, ends up being debunked. But it rekindles in your brain the actual conspiracy that you believe to be a lot deeper than people may on the surface realize.


Right. And so it dawns on me, I need to go to the Internet to find my answer of who Alex is. But I'm going about it the wrong way. I'm going about it on Google. I should have been going to eBay.


So when you called me saying that you went to eBay and you found something, I was personally a little worried for just your.


Yeah, yeah. But you know what is on eBay? A lot of old documents, one of which is what's called a media guide for the kids who don't appreciate the.


Institution of the media guide. Back in our day, they used to print directories and send them out to media members?




Like, hey, what are the statistics from last year? There's no basketball reference. You need to open up the media guide physical book. A book to look at, though. This person was the 13th pick in the 1992 draft.


Yeah. Here's the phone number for the assistant pr person.


That is where I needed to go. I needed to find Pablo. The 1996 97 Vancouver Grizzlies media guide.


How in demand was this lost artifact? What if literally no one but you, Tom Habristro, even gives the beginning of a shit about this?


There is one person who is not only giving a shit, but willing to sell that to anybody who wanted it for $5.


Tom, you've been dangling this reveal in front of me for so long.


This right here, it's, like, basically a.


Clip art cover, very glossy.


Look at this bear paw right here. A bear paw over an IBM mouse. This is so 1997. Look at this.


Yes. Brian. Big country reeves in the middle, holding a basketball with two giant paws, as it were.


We got Sharif Abdul Rahim, number three. Very excited. Sharif, by the way, and a literal.


Map of the NBA, in case you didn't know where the Indiana Pacers were located.


So I want you to do something.




Okay. I want you to open up to page real.


I've never held this before in my life.


How does it feel?


Oh, it's weighty.


I want you to open up to page 177. What does it say?


Vancouver Grizzlies courtside crew. Italics, tea lettering. San serif font. Yeah.


Okay. Lower on down. There is a title there. Gamecaller technical. The name next to that is Alex.




Alex Rucker. I'm telling you, Pablo, this felt like in usual suspects, when the reveal happens, the Kaiser, so say moment when he drops the mug onto the floor.


The media guide falls to the floor in my mind's eye, at your home.


And immediately.


Yeah. This voice plays.


I used to kind of oversee analytics and the research and development, the data scientists, the computer geeks, if you will. And so now I oversee all the departments within basketball operations.


In some ways, this was like an inside job on a number of levels. This is an analytics guy.


He should know full well about the sanctity of stats.


So what do you do with this information now that you know who Alex from the Navy actually is?


I call him.


I want to make sure that people out there who don't know Alex Rucker intuitively, Tom, understand why this name means something. Who is Alex Rucker?


So, Alex Rucker is one of the most well known figures in the NBA. Analytics movement. He was a pioneer of the sport view data. Sport view is the camera tracking data where we can now see where everyone is on the floor, how fast they're going.


The revolution was around the accuracy of what was being recorded.


If you want the most efficient way to put two points in that basket, start learning how to do these predictive models with camera tracking data. And Alex Rucker was at the forefront, and not to say he was the only one, but this is one of the more well known characters in this space. Yes.


And he used that to then, and I remember this intimately, to then follow his former boss, Brian Calangelo. He of the very normal collars find a new slant to the Philadelphia 76s, replacing Sam Hinky, of course, of the process, fame and my own personal neuroses. Alex Rucker was the vp of analytics and strategy, the executive VP of basketball operations.


In 2020, he's running the 76 ers alongside Elton brand, the GM of the team. This is a guy who is that well known, that respect.


There were headlines.


The Philadelphia Enquirer had the headline, Sixers team of NBA stats gurus is taking analytics to the next level.




And a big picture of Alex. Then Darryl Morrie comes in and he takes over for basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76s.


Always incestuous. The sloaneness of everything.


Here comes Dork Elvis.


Yeah, bigfooting the previous guy. But that's, by the way, that's where I left Alex Rucker in my brain. I didn't think about him until this story.


And until I picked up that media guide, I hadn't really thought about Alex Rucker. But I had to confirm. I had to go straight to the source. I don't know how long we'll go, but you let me know if there's a heart out that you need to be gone for.


No man.


And then we'll roll.


Happy to chat.


All right. Three, two, one.


So when you make this Zoom call, it turns out, which I imagine is fairly uncomfortable for Alex Rucker. What does he say when you confront him with the evidence that actually he might be the scammer who selectively edited NBA history?


Well, he owned up to it, first off, pretty quickly. That was me. But here's why that happened. He was 20, Pablo, 20 years old, running the stats for a professional NBA team.


I was immature. I handled things in a way that I certainly wouldn't today. But, no, that's just a part of my life journey. Right. It's funny as you kind of reach adulthood, to the extent that I've reached it, it's like every time I'll sit here and think back to how I was two or three years ago, and I always look back like, man, why did I do that? Why did I think that? And hopefully I continue on an arc of becoming a continually better person and refining who I am and having an impact on others in a positive and loving way. All due respect, you put a 1920 year old in charge of anything, and you're playing with fires, though.


So the very basic fact that a 1920 year old was in charge of these sacred numbers that we came to revere as just historical fact is already, like, jarring to me. How does somebody that young get the idea to even do this, to get away with this?


He gets the idea to do this almost immediately upon arrival in Vancouver.


When I first got the role, I'm bringing the computers home. I'm practicing by myself. I'm trying to develop these skills so that I can do the best I can. Once the first jump ball happens, my job is to create the most accurate historical record of what occurred in a game. And I learned very quickly that that was not the prevailing viewpoint. I went to the training in Detroit. Part of this training is they would show us video clips. They show a Stockton to Malone clip, and there's a discussion, and that wasn't an assist, it was a pass. And then Malone dribbled a couple of times, pump fake. Pump fake, and then made a tough shot. And that's great. But to me, there's no real connection. There's no causal connection between the pass and the basket. And the majority pin in by a mile was, oh, no, that's definitely an assist. I was like, what? Like, well, that's John Stockton. Yeah, I understand.




So I left there clearly understanding that, yes, we are supposed to create the most accurate representation we can, but the NBA is also an entertainment business, and it's up to us, in very small part, statisticians to support and reinforce stars and excitement and fun. And that message was definitely reinforced internally within the Grizzlies.


So what he says to you there, Tom, is to me, like, pretty important, right? This message was definitely reinforced internally within the Grizzlies. So the team itself was actually in favor of this happening.


It wasn't just Alex Rucker, lone actor here. This was something endemic. This was something understood that you grease the wheels or you pump up the stats for your guys. When he says, yeah, John Stockton, the assertion right there is like, we need John Stockton to be a star. So we're making that an assertion. Yes, but the Keith here is. This is the Vancouver Grizzlies. Right? They're the new expansion team. They're in Canada. People don't know there's a team in Vancouver. Right? So how does a stack keeper market the team or have a role in marketing the team? Well, it's that, it's what if Sharif Abdul Rahim has ten boards instead of nine boards? Because ten will get you on sports center. So how do you do that? You cook the books.


So the Nick van Exel thing, but that phantom assist, that wasn't even on screen. How did the Grizzlies feel about that? Because that's the opposing player.


He was actually congratulated after the game. Think about that.


By his employers.


By his employers saying, hey, good job out there. We're definitely going to be on sports center. Now.


That's incredible.


Like, that's how you market the team. Tom Haberstro in a, in a kitchen in Connecticut is now going to see that teal.


Vancouver Grizzlies heartbear the claws.


There's Bryant Reeves. That's where he ended up in the NBA, on the Vancouver Grizzlies. So that's part of how they marketed the team was through the stat keeper.


So when you adult, grown up, Tommy, look at the numbers, right? And you see Abdul Rahim's stats, how obvious is it that this was actually materially was?


This was pretty heartbreaking, because when you look at what Alex is alleging and then you look at the numbers on basketball reference and you search or you filter for his best block games. What I found out that was in Sharif Abdul Rahim's first two seasons with the Grizzlies, he registered three plus blocks, at least three blocks in 13 games. In all 13 games, he was playing at home. Okay, two plus blocks.


Not exactly subtle so far.


Yeah. How about multiple blocks? Okay. In those first two seasons, he had 38 games in which he had two plus blocks. 32 of them were at home.


So the invisible hand of Alex from the Navy, Alex Rucker, is pretty obvious in retrospect.


Yeah. And he, in so many words with deadspin, he admitted that a lot of the blocks and steals and assists, you could fudge a little bit. And Bryant Reeves and Sharif Abdul Rahim were part of that fudgery.


The fudgery as an incentive for, specifically a team desperate for attention. How obvious was this to you when you look at the record beyond Vancouver?


Yeah. So I looked at the data of just which teams saw a large disparity between their home blocks and their away blocks.


Yes, exactly.


Okay. So I went from 1984 now to the present. That's when blocks started getting charted in the NBA. Officially 1984, we had 1000 teams in NBA history that we have their block home away block record. The top four teams in disparity from home and away were the Toronto Raptors. The Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Raptors in this time period, three of the top 4200% inflation at home wild. The Toronto Raptors in 979899, 2000.


Like this era, the other expansion team in Canada. The thing that's almost offensive about this though is how unsubtle the expansion teams were doing this. Like, yeah, the canadian teams wanted people to know that they existed, which meant they needed to be on sports center like a top ten plays highlight reel. And so they were juicing the statistics that involved this element of human subjectivity.


That's right. And the expansion teams, the Raptors and the Grizzlies, we know about them. But also I looked into the Pelicans too. When New Orleans got their team and renamed it the Pelicans, they had huge block home away disparities too, of course. And so I'm like, all right, well then this is an expansion.




This is just like these new teams need to market. And how do you do that? You kind of twist the knobs a little bit. Yeah.


An incredible fraud on its own.


But then I figured out that this was much more widespread than just the expansion teams. This was everywhere. And I had the data to back that up.




Before we get deeper into your numbers, which I am legitimately concerned about, what is Alex Rucker doing now? Like when you call him up and you zoom with him, where is he?


It turns out he's out of the NBA completely. He is the CEO of a boys and girls club in Texas, Gainesville, Texas.


But I do feel obliged to mention that one thing Alex Rucker never fudged, it seems, was his own military resume. Because after leaving the grizzlies and messing with all the statistics, he did graduate from law school and he did become an actual United States naval aviator for more than like a decade. The dude really was Alex from the Navy. And so when he is watching the NBA game as this guy who is molding, I presume, with in good faith, the futures of the youth of Gainesville, Texas, what is he thinking about? Basketball.


I didn't know how he was going to interpret this scoring era because we're talking about inflation and Luka Doncic scoring 73 and bead 70. All these crazy.


I've never seen this before, Tom. Just this egregious.


There are halftime scores that would be final scores 20 years ago, no question. And so here I wanted to ask Alex Rucker, who was one of the architects of this fudgery inflation in the late ninety s, and I wanted to ask him, like, what does he think about today's NBA?


Is it bad for the league that there's 470 point promises in two years when it used to be one a decade? No. I mean, if it was happening every game, I might be like, this is a natural byproduct of a higher pace and a much higher efficiency and just frankly, a better quality of offensive. You know, if I'm sitting down and we're sitting know, living room just chatting about it, to me, this is the best basketball we have ever seen.


So what Alex Rucker is saying is that he is a fan of the modern game, and b does not suspect that anyone like him is cooking the books to get the numbers to the historic highs they are now.


And initially I was thinking like, oh, this guy is going to identify. This is scamming too. It wasn't just me back in the day. This is happening right now. And he said the opposite.


And he's saying also that the era of a stat scammer, a stat keeper scammer, it seems to be done. Like he's saying that don't even worry about someone like me doing something like what I did. Every play from a game is immediately seen by all of these eyeballs across the world, as if we're all fact checking the game in real time now.


And so he thinks it's clean now.


There's so much more scrutiny, oversight, review of it now, where you should have a lot more faith and confidence in the data that's pumped out now than the data that was pumped out 1020, 30, 40 years ago in the 90s. Ironically, it's probably in the low ninety s is my guess, right? Like if you look at a stat sheet, among the non points stats, probably 90% ish accurate, maybe higher. And now I would guess that it's north of 95.


I want to translate this estimation that Alex Rucker is doing for us, right? Because he's saying, like, back in the day when he was stack keeping, it was like, I don't know, a b plus, a minus at best, 90 ish percent accurate. But now it's an a plus. It's north of 95. He's not worried at all. But in the historical basketball record, Tom, as the numbers guy, what does that gap actually look like in your understanding?


So he described it as assists were being given out like candy, like in the 90s when he was around. I think blocks were highly subjective. And the data bears out that when we go back to 1984, when blocks were first introduced into the box score, there is a 25% gap between the home block rate and the away block rate. Okay, what does that mean? That means for every three blocks, there's another fourth that's given to the home team.


But like, an extra freebie block for every three you get is literally like the difference between an all defensive team nomination.


Potentially, that's a huge gap between the two. But when you look at the numbers now, okay, the number of blocks for the home team this year, 4087. Okay. The number of blocks for the away team is 4026. So that's a gap of 61 blocks.


It's basically equal, right?


You want to know what 84 was? The gap between home and away blocks, please? 1102.


Exponentially larger than the 61 block difference today.


And when we look at the 97, 98 season, it's still over 1000.




So what does that look like in a graph? You can see in 1984 on the left there, there's a pretty big gap between the home team block rate, 5.8 per game or per 48 minutes, and the away team is 4.7. But as we go through time, it starts to shrink. That gap continues to fade away until you get to now where it's just about gone.


So what is undeniable is that the difference between home and road in terms of blocks, has basically converged into nothing when it comes to the difference between being away and getting your friendly neighborhood scorekeeper to cook your books for you.


And this kind of matters because when I think about my childhood, right? I think about, take LeBron. Okay? LeBron versus MJ, right? This is the most radioactive debate amongst maybe in sports, right?




We're reciting numbers like we are making arguments. Know, my dad could beat up your.


Yes, yes. And in the context of Michael Jordan, LeBron, this is really important. A lot of times we say, LeBron didn't win Depoy. Defensive player of the year. Michael Jordan did in 1988. Yes.


This is an enormous plank in the Michael Jordan political campaign.


So I had this moment of, like. I mean, I had Jordan posters in my room, right? And I'm like, wait, the 88 depoy can't be a lie. Please don't. When I pulled up basketball reference, this is what I saw in his stat line. Home and away splits, 165 steals at home, 94 steals away, 84 blocks at home, 47 blocks, about half away.


That's pretty bad.




When it comes to how obvious that gap is, it's huge.


And maybe that's random variation. Right? But we can't know for sure. But what we have here is Alex Rucker saying in that era, it was endemic, that stat keepers for their home team were juicing the stats.


I remember Alex Rucker saying the NBA is entertainment, too, and they were trying actively to create, to boost their stars, the John Stocktons of the world. So why would Michael Jordan be exempt from the same training that literally the scorekeepers were given to make the sport more popular?


It's possible Michael Jordan was just really good at blocks at home. It's possible that he was 80% better at home at blocking shots.




And I think Benny the bull around was somehow this inspirational phenomenon for him defensively.


Yes. And hearing the music coming out onto the floor just made him.


Alan Parsons project made him that much.


Of a better defense, more springy, or anticipating the shots better. And there's some theory that this isn't stack keeper bias. This is like the opponent is worse on the road and so therefore easier to block. But why wouldn't that be true right now?


That's the thing is your big picture analysis that shows that individually, maybe all of these things can make it very noisy and hard to isolate why this is happening. But the big picture makes it pretty clear that this difference has vanished.


And it also brings in my other childhood hero, Vince Carter. Like, watching him at North Carolina completely enchanted me. He was high flying, could shoot. The way he moved, it was beautiful. And what team did he join?


The Toronto Raptors. He made basketball in Canada a thing.


At what time? What era was this? The late ninety s. And so, of.


Course, I look okay. What is on the Vince Carter resume that now looks quite different in the light of day?


His rookie season, he averaged 1.5 blocks, which, by the way, for a guard, that's insane.


That's a lot.


That's a lot. He wins rookie of the year. But then you look at the splits. 55 blocks at home, 22 on the road. Not good. Doesn't make me feel good.


Those thirsty canadian scorekeepers, man.


Not Vince Carter, too.


Half man, half inflation, right?


And the 60s were too. Like 60s. Had 130 possessions a game in Wilt's era, like the Oscar Robertson era had.


Now you're coming for Wilt and Oscar.


What I'm coming for, Pablo, is everybody.




And I think going through this, it makes me appreciate that maybe the 60s era wilts 100 points and the Oscar Robertson we can't even fact check that because there's no film.


It is worth noting, by the way.


How hard it is to even get.


Film of games from the late 1990s, let alone the van Exel clip from 97 that we showed you earlier in the episode that came to us because of a young NBA fan in Latvia named Rynus Lazis. And Rhinus runs a site called And what he told Tom is that he had gotten his van Exel video from an underground Internet marketplace where people trade digitized vhs tapes of old NBA games. That is what it takes to fact check statistics from the 1990s.


The deeper we go in NBA history, it feels like the more we don't know.


What else are you trying to ruin here, Tom?


These are the emotions I was going through, was, wait a minute. It's all a mean.


This is the part where it gets uncomfortable for mean.


We got to go there, right? We got to talk about what this all means.


Tom, we have made careers zagging away from the zig of the eye test. Right? Trust the numbers. It's the thing in our civilization that stands as proof of objectivity. Sports and specifically statistics. It's not an artistic, subjective review because there's, definitionally, a scoreboard. And these numbers, we have something that is the closest thing to truth.


We thought. We thought, this is one thing Alex Rucker mentioned to me, and it stuck with me in my head, is it's good to have a healthy appreciation, a healthy respect, a healthy skepticism of data.


Right. If the incentives are to make the game popular by giving people what they want, which is points, and we lose the ability to both interview the people who were, as Alex Rucker was self admittedly guilty of juicing the game themselves. And also, we lose the ability to even look at the tape, as you put it. It just feels like we are obligated to ask more questions about the things that we consider historical, quote, unquote, fact.


Right. Statistical record. Now we have to revisit it. Look, is today's NBA, objectively, is this. Is this the purest form of basketball?


Because we now have the statistical controls on the scorekeepers to fact check them in real time.


Is the human element removed from the game?


What do you think?


I think the human element is appearing in a different form. The NBA knows because they've done this with focus groups. They tell the viewers to dial up how much enjoyment you're getting out of watching a game.




People are dialing it up, their enjoyment when there's high scoring, more scoring. Right. So is there manipulation in today's NBA game, I don't think it's taken the form of a stackkeeper on the sidelines. I think the manipulation comes in kind of like behind the scenes, like from up top, right?


Like the league office deciding, we want faster paced games that are more open.


We're going to introduce freedom of movement rules so that Steph Curry can break free and get shots off. So, Pablo, what I found out today is that there's two inflations we're talking about here, right? There's the inflation of, hey, there's so many points being scored now. The games are 150 to 152, and Luka Dodge is 73. That's a certain type of inflation. And so there's that, like, where the league is prioritizing certain parts of the game that they want to see.


But the title of the most inflated era in NBA history, which is what so many people are declaring the modern game to be, who deserves that title? Now that we've done our investigation?


The era that we're most nostalgic about, it's the Jordan era.


It's our childhoods bad.


The Alan Parsons project. The Bulls.


Just the dream team.


Magic Larry, that's the pure league, right?


Back when men were men and were earning every point and every block, except for when a guy in a media guide tells you, actually, I was boosting, literally inflating the numbers, because this whole thing has been show business in a way that was quite real. What we have found out today is that the human element has always been a part of the thing that we made our careers on, which is you guys need to stop trusting your eyes and start trusting math.


Start trusting the data till the data is impure.


Yeah. Tom Habristro, thank you for ruining everything that we hold dear.


I'm sorry. Oh, man, I just need to take a bath after that. Speaking of impure, I just need to clean myself up.


This cardigan has never been sweatier. For more. Tom Haberstro. By the way, is his substac. You'll find high level data driven insights and analyzes, but for now, this has been Pablo Torre finds out a metal arc media production and we'll talk to you next time.