Editor’s note: This story originally was published in February, when our Jon Marks had the chance to spend some time with Ron Pollack, the son of legendary statistician Harvey Pollack, who died Tuesday at the age of 93.
PHILADELPHIA – The vigil begins early. Ron Pollack arrives at Hahnemann Hospital at 8 o’clock every morning – just in time for doctor’s rounds – and heads immediately for the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit. He brings his I-Pad and other electronic devices with him, knowing he will be spending the entire day there.
But no complaints.
“I have the easy part,” he’s quick to remind well-wishers inquiring about the patient he’s visiting. “But I don’t know one day from the next. A lot of times I’m doing something and I think, ‘I’ve got to call my father,’ Then I remember he’s not home.’’
It’s been 42 days since Harvey Pollack was brought to Hahnemann. Forty-two days since the man who literally wrote the book when it comes to the NBA in terms of every statistical category imaginable – and even some that aren’t – was admitted after being involved in a New Year’s Day accident leaving the parking garage after working at the annual Mummer’s Day Parade in Philadelphia.
Already, Harvey has beaten the odds. One doctor told Ron he never expected Harvey to make it through the initial surgery, which involved stabilizing his broken hips with a rod to prevent infection. Because 92 year-old men just aren’t built for such an ordeal.
Then again, Harvey Pollack is not your average 92-year-old.
“He’s never been sick,’’ said Ron, hardly a kid himself at 67. “He’d get a cold every couple of years. But never anything like this.’”
In fact, folks estimate Harvey went decades between missing a Philadelphia 76ers home game, where he has been the official scorer and lead statistician going back to when the NBA consisted of eight teams. Stories are legendary in terms of the minutiae he compiled into viable statistics which are now staples for every analytics geek. Among those are the triple-double, blocked shots, plus-minus calculations and minutes played.
But all that information had to go somewhere, so the first Harvey Pollack Statistical Yearbook – 24 pages long – was published in 1967. The most recent one had grown to nearly 400 pages. They never stopped until now.
And then there were the T-shirts he started wearing in 2002, a different one every day in an effort to make it into the Guinness
Book of World Records. But once he shattered that record, once the T-shirt totals began to reach into the thousands, he wouldn’t stop. Until he had to.
“I got home around 7:30 after going out to dinner with my grandkids,’’ Ron recalled about that fateful night. “I got a call from my sister, Linda.
“She said, ‘He’s okay but Dad was in an accident. The police called and told me he’s got a cut on his forehead, but they’re taking him to Hahnemann just to check it out.’ So I figured I’d go there, wait for him and drive him home.’”
Clearly, someone miscommunicated the extent of the injuries.
“As I was walking back into the trauma area there, they wheeled out somebody,’’ said Ron. “I saw this guy’s face was all bloody. That was him! I didn’t know it.’”
It didn’t take long after that for Ron to learn how badly his father had been injured in a one-car accident where the impact to the vehicle makes it likely Harvey hit the gas pedal rather than the brake while leaving the garage. Two broken hips, seven broken ribs, a broken pelvis, a broken jaw and several lost teeth.
The next morning, doctors operated on Harvey’s hips and performed a tracheotomy to help him breathe. Prior to that, though, Harvey had been conscious, apologizing for the accident.
He hasn’t spoken since.
“They had to put him on a ventilator and run the IVs, which put fluid inside you,’’ explained Ron, who began helping his father with the stats when he was just a kid and now has become the man in charge. “After the first couple of weeks, he just swelled up from the fluid they’d give him to keep his blood pressure up.
“He’s probably gained 35 pounds worth of fluid. He’s not strong enough to be awake with all the extra weight. He doesn’t know you’re there. So they have a special support bed. Every two hours they have to turn him, because his lungs aren’t strong enough to breathe on his own. The goal is to get him off the ventilator.’’
Ominous as it all sounds, Ron Pollack remains hopeful.
“If they could get him off the ventilator, then he could be on his own and come around,’’ he explained. “They’ve said to me they have not given up hope, so I shouldn’t. I haven’t.”
So every morning he treks to Hahnemann, hoping this might be the day Harvey Pollack’s fortunes turn for the better.
“It’s different,’’ said Bob Mueller, who has worked for 10 years alongside Harvey as part of the statistical crew. “We’re all affected by it. To come here and not see him is tough. It’s not as lighthearted as usual.
“One thing Harvey loved to do was chart each player’s tattoos. We just don’t do that. That’s a Harvey stat. We’re not gonna do that when he’s not here. But we’ve still got to do our job. Harvey would expect nothing less.’’
Throughout the Wells Fargo Center, it’s clearly not the same.
“Whenever I’d bump into him, I’d always initiate a conversation of some sort,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “Because you always left hearing something you didn’t know. You’d scratch your head and say, ‘Wow, who’d keep a stat on that?’ He was just so informed. You always left just a little bit smarter about some statistical fact about the 76ers or basketball in general.”
The outpouring of affection has been overwhelming. While the Sixers are handling much of the legwork to enable Ron to concentrate on what’s important, he is constantly hearing from people. That includes the seven men from Harvey’s World War II army battalion stationed in England. They have been in constant contact, The room has been turned into a wall of cards, along with a life-sized poster of Harvey wearing one of his favorite T-shirts, which reads Super Stat.
“I want to be there because every day you don’t know what’s gonna happen,’” said Ron, who was just 16 when he accompanied his father to Hershey, Pa. for a Warriors-Knicks game. You know, the one where Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points “I hold his hand. Exercise his arms. Tell him what’s going on – on the assumption he hears me.’’
It’s a lonely vigil, with no end in sight. But like any dutiful son, this is what Ron Pollack must do. For he and the rest of Harvey’s legion of fans, all they can do is wait – and hope.
“When I visualize the quintessential Harvey Pollack, I’m standing in the Sixers conference room,’’ smiled Sixers long-time TV play-by-play man Marc Zumoff, who remembered his college days when Harvey used to get him credentialed for games because he had a soft spot for a fellow Temple grad. “There’s a long table and it’s empty except for Harvey.
“He’s got a corned beef sandwich, a drink and the (Philadelphia) Daily News. To me, for Harvey, that’s heaven.”
Hopefully, heaven can wait a bit longer, Harvey Pollack. People still need you.
Jon Marks has covered the Philadelphia 76ers from the days of Dr. J and his teammate, Joe Bryant (best known as Kobe’s dad). He has won awards from the Pro Basketball Writers Association and North Jersey Press Club. His other claim to fame is driving Rick Mahorn to a playoff game after missing the team bus. Follow him on Twitter.