NBA writer questions validity of Michael Jordan’s 1988 DPOY award

NBA writer questions validity of Michael Jordan's DPOY award

Yahoo’s Tom Haberstroh published a lengthy article on Thursday questioning the validity of Michael Jordan’s 1988 Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) Award in light of his allegations that Jordan’s steals and blocks statistics were boosted by a friendly Chicago Stadium scorekeeper.

Were Michael Jordan’s 1987-88 steals and blocks stats really padded? And would that diminish or invalidate the 1988 DPOY award he won?

Below is a brief summary of the article and what it means for Jordan’s defensive legacy.

Why Jordan won the 1988 DPOY

According to the article:

“At season’s end, sportswriters looking at the statistical leaderboards were overwhelmed with gaudy per-game numbers next to Jordan’s name: 3.2 steals and 1.6 blocks. To this day, it’s never been matched.

“The eye-popping stats propelled Jordan to his first Defensive Player of the Year award, earning 37 votes from writers, besting rim-protecting centers Mark Eaton (9) and Hakeem Olajuwon (7).”

Padded stats

Evidence that Jordans’s steals and blocks were padded is first introduced through two people: Alex Rucker, a Vancouver Grizzlies scorekeeper in the mid-90s, and Reinis Lacis, a Latvian basketball executive and amateur stat sleuth.

Rucker corroborated the widespread existence and acceptance of home stat padding during his time in the league, while Lacis reviewed six full games from Jordan’s DPOY season and found box scores crediting him with 18 more steals than he actually had.

While the stories are interesting, the most evident and unmistakable proof that Jordan’s 1987-88 stats were inflated exists in his home and road splits. Playing all 82 games that year, Jordan is credited with 165 steals and 87 blocks in 41 games at home, yet just 94 steals and 47 blocks in his 41 road games.

Validity of 1988 DPOY

If the extra blocks and steals Chicago Bulls’ scorekeeper Bob Rosenberg credited to Jordan were integral to winning his lone DPOY award, the validity of the award can fairly be called into question.

Using 125 percent of his road stats, the average difference between his home and road stats during his 20s, his 1987-88 averages would be closer to 2.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game than the 3.2 and 1.7 he’s still credited with respectively.

Yet Jordan was far from the only player benefiting from stat padding that year or during that era. 1988 DPOY runner-up Mark Eaton (nine votes) played in all 82 games, with 176 blocks at home to just 128 on the road. Fourth-place finisher Alvin Robertson (six votes) had 145 steals at home to 98 on the road and an even more astounding 48 blocks at home to just 21 on the road.

Yes, Jordan won his 1988 DPOY in the lone year when his steals and blocks were slightly inflated. Yet he also won his 1988 DPOY by earning 37 of the 80 votes, more than the second-through-fifth-place vote-getters combined. He won it while making the All-Defensive team for the first time and comfortably winning his first MVP.

In short: he won a big award while having an even bigger season. And those broader accomplishments should outweigh the slightly boosted steals and blocks per game marks that were compared to peers’ figures that were also elevated.

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