Sports Reference Blog

“Own Goals” Added to NBA/ABA Box Scores

Posted by Mike Lynch on March 12, 2019

At Basketball Reference, we're constantly working to beef up the accuracy and content of our historical box scores. A coverage map of our progress can be seen here.

We recently undertook a mission to ensure that the sum of player points within our box scores correctly adds up to their team's points in that game. We uncovered an interesting wrinkle in the way the NBA (and the ABA) attributed points to players and teams decades ago.

You've probably seen many plays over the years where a team accidentally tips the ball into their own basket. This generally seems to happen when teams are battling for rebounds (though the author will point out that he once tragically did this on a deflection while fronting his man 15-feet from the hoop). In the NBA, the official scorer awards points to the player closest to the action from the scoring team. In NCAA basketball, the official scorer just credits the scoring team with two "team" points and no player receives credit.

However, we discovered that the NBA did not always credit points to a player on these baskets. From the early years of the league up until at least November 23, 1971 (the most recent NBA example we found) the NBA sometimes awarded "team" points in these situations and no player received credit. So we have added notes to the bottom of our box scores when this situation is applicable. We have also identified which player scored the "own goal" when applicable. Here's the box score where Portland's Sidney Wicks scored a basket for Chicago, for instance.

In total, we discovered seven instance of this in NBA history, ranging from George Mikan scoring an "own goal" against the Warriors in 1950, up through Sidney Wicks in 1971. Six of the instances ranged from 1950 to 1962, with Wicks' instance being an outlier in 1971. But that's not the only way in which it was an outlier. Check out this description from Bob Logan in the November 24, 1971 edition of the Chicago Tribune.

[Sidney] Wicks grabbed the tip to open the fourth quarter last night in Chicago Stadium, galloped down the floor, and slammed the ball thru the net. Unfortunately for him, it was the Bulls' basket and the two points rang up on the home side of the scoreboard after a stunned silence, followed by a delighted roar from the crowd of 7,533. It would be useful for dramatic purposes to be able to report the blunder by Wicks as the key moment last night, but that would be a big, fat lie. Those two points, in fact, stretched the Bulls' advantage to a mere 40 at 102-62.

That wasn't the only time in November 1971 that a UCLA Bruins rookie dunked the ball in the wrong basket on the opening tip of the 4th Quarter, however. In the Pistons 139-122 win over the Blazers on November 10, 1971 Curtis Rowe did the same, after which his former teammate Wicks ribbed him excessively. However, the scoring was handled much differently. See this excerpt from the November 11, 1971 UPI recap:

The Pistons led, 104-82, at the start of the fourth quarter when Bob Lanier won the tip and Curtis Rowe went down and dunked a bucket at the wrong end of the court. It was Detroit's fault for lining up the wrong way and the basket was credited to Portland's Dale Schlueter, the nearest Blazer to the play.

I guess the moral of this story is that it's a good thing that the NBA has done away with tips to start quarters?

Additionally, there are seven instances of ABA teams scoring "own goals" with no player receiving credit for the points.

But the really unique and interesting example of "missing" ABA points that we discovered was in the Minnesota Pipers 112-105 victory over the Miami Floridians on December 10, 1968. You'll notice at the bottom of the box we have indicated that the Pipers were awarded two points because Miami played a zone defense. From the next day's Minneapolis Star write up by Jim Kaplan:

...Pat Denoy called the league's first official violation for the use of the illegal zone defense. After citing Miami in the fourth period, Denoy claimed the violation had been called twice last year. There is no previous asterisk for the resulting "team" basket in the ABA books, however. 'If it was called, it was recorded wrong,' said ABA publicity director Lee Meade.

Not only was it the first instance, but it was also the last.

To wrap this up, we'd also like to point out there remains one game in NBA/ABA history for which player points don't add up to team points and we were unable to identify an "own goal" situation. It is this Stags/Huskies game from November 9, 1946, one of the earliest games in BAA (precursor to NBA) history. As you can see, Toronto's players combined for 52 points, but the team scored 54. We were unable to find a recap of the game that addressed this discrepancy. It's possible that Chicago scored a goal in the Toronto basket, that the box score has incorrect point totals or that not enough care was taken in preparing the official box score and the official scorer got it wrong. It's safe to say no one there at the time knew that anyone would care 73 years later. Still, if anyone has any information on that game that may help shed light on the discrepancy, please let us know. JUNE 2020 UPDATE: We discovered a Chicago Daily Times box for the November 9, 1946 Stags/Huskies game, which has correct player point totals. Most other printed newspaper boxes for that game mistakenly gave Toronto's Bob and Dick Fitzgerald identical statistical lines, which caused the team points total to not sum correctly.


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