Former Grizzlies scorekeeper admits to juicing NBA stats in the 1990s

Mike Battaglino
3 Min Read
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

A former statistician for the Vancouver Grizzlies back in the 1990s said that padding stats for players was part of the job “to support or reinforce stars and excitement and fun.”

Alex Rucker, also a former executive with the Philadelphia 76ers, said the training he had to become an NBA scorekeeper made it clear how to approach the position.

“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 — as statisticians to support or reinforce stars and excitement and fun,” Rucker said on the “Pablo Torre Finds Out” podcast. “And that message was definitely reinforced internally within the Grizzlies.”

The Grizzlies entered the NBA as an expansion team for the 1995-96 season. They were based in Vancouver until moving to become the Memphis Grizzlies for the 2001-02 season.

The practices that Rucker are alleging could call into question all kinds of statistical accomplishments from the era if true. For example, he said John Stockton was used as an example of how to register an assist for his passes to Utah Jazz teammate Karl Malone.

Stockton ranks first in NBA history in total assists, has seven of the nine best seasons for total assists and three of the top four single games of all time. Though the point guard likely would hold such records regardless, Rucker’s allegations could cause the actual numbers to be questioned.

Rucker moved on from the Grizzlies and eventually became the analytics manager for the 76ers before being promoted to executive vice president of basketball operations. He parted with the organization in 2020.

But it seems manipulating stats might not have stopped when Rucker left the Grizzlies organization. As recently as last year, the statistics of Memphis big man Jaren Jackson Jr. were being drawn into question.

According to the work of an NBA fan, Jackson was logging about twice as many steals and blocks in home games compared to what he was getting credit for during away games. Interestingly, Jackson went on to be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the 2022-23 season after leading the league in blocks per game.

Accurate statistics are the backbone of NBA history, so any question about the validity of those numbers has to be concerning. It is impossible to know how much of an effect the training Rucker said he received — and how he and others may have implemented it to this day — has altered those numbers over time.

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Mike is a veteran journalist who has focused on New York sports. He has covered the NBA and NFL for almost three decades and is still waiting for the next championship for the Knicks and Jets.