By Jeremy Woo
May 14, 2014


Ever wonder where Basketball Reference gets all its numbers from?

Meet Dick Pfander, the 79-year-old whose lifelong love for keeping NBA stats became a critical bridge to the digital era. Pfander worked alongside his friend Harvey Pollack, the Philadelphia 76ers' director of statistical information, to assemble this incredibly thorough catalogue of NBA statistics.

Also on Extra Mustard: Shaq Did So Much Weird Stuff on Inside the NBA that It Won’t Fit in a Headline ran a piece on Pfander this morning detailing how he balanced family life and work as a teacher and with the Defense Department with his passion for box scores and calculations. Pfander meticulously hand-wrote these statistics in his personal log books for years in handwriting so precise it looks like a computer font. 

Pfander began his collection of figures solely because of his love of two things: basketball and statistics. FiveThirtyEight reports:

Most of all, he sat in front of the television, “going back and forth between watching the basketball and working on the stats,” said his son, Greg. “It never bothered me that he did it — it was his thing. It just seems like that’s my dad, that’s what he always did.”

The article also details the plight of founder Justin Kubatko, who in starting up his database ten years ago only had info dating back to the 1980s. He linked up with Pfander, who hooked him up with the motherlode of all NBA stat archives. After sifting through seemingly endless box scores, it all came together:

“I’m a completist. It did kind of bug me. We had 40 years of information that was just not there. I was also a realist. I knew there was really no easy way to acquire that data.”

Pfander suffered a brain aneurysm in 2012 and no longer works actively on NBA stats, but his contributions built a foundation and preserved a large portion of the game's history that for all we know, could have disappeared entirely without him.

[Five Thirty Eight]

Bonus: Not sports related, but Pfander isn't the only example of an amateur contributing to data collection efforts. Here's William Chester Minor's contribution to the Oxford English Dictionary.

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