I’ve become obsessed with dunking. Not because it’s my favorite part of basketball, by any means. No, I’m obsessed with dunking because of a relatively obscure data flaw that the NBA seems to want to ignore.
See, I’ve uncovered proof that Shaquille O’Neal is the record holder for the most dunks in a single season, the most dunks in a single game, and the most career dunks in NBA history. But this is not what the NBA would have you believe.
Well, some of it they would have you believe. It gets a little complicated. I’ll explain…
Why Should I Care?
Alright, it’s not crucially important. And Shaq suffers no shortage of clout or appreciation, or official and bona fide accolades regarding his illustrious NBA career.
But the truth matters, right? And when it comes to the wider NBA media, these dunk stats are being quoted all wrong.
Case in point…
In March of 2019, BleacherReport published a piece commemorating Rudy Gobert’s overtaking Dwight Howard as the single-season dunk champion.
And if that’s not credible enough for you, here’s one from NBA.com.
So the NBA would have you believe that Rudy Gobert holds the current record for the most dunks in a single regular-season campaign with 306 dunks in the 2018-’19 season. And they would insist that this record tops the record of 269, set by Dwight Howard in 2007-’08.
This is unequivocally false. Shaquille O’Neal dropped 322 dunks in his rookie 1992-’93 season. That’s right, his ROOKIE season. Last I checked, that’s well above 306.
The ‘official’ stats also point to Dwight Howard as the record holder for the most career dunks in NBA history. Of course, Shaq’s first four seasons, including that 322 dunks rookie campaign don’t factor in. All you have to do is add those rookie dunks to Shaq’s official all-time stat and you get within 2 dunks of Dwight Howard’s official record. Hard to believe Shaq didn’t nail 3 dunks in the 3 remaining years before the stat was introduced.
In contrast, Shaq does get the official record for the most dunks in a single game. However, he’s only credited with his several 11 dunk games that came after dunk stats were introduced. I’ve got proof that Shaq had at least one 13 dunk game in 1992.
Honestly, it’s pretty easy to imaging that Wilt Chamberlain or Dr. J broke that record at some point, but I have no proof at all of that.
I submit to you… The evidence… In 3 parts.
First, let’s take a look at page 146 of the 1993-’94 Sixers Media Guide. This is a yearbook of sorts, compiled by the legendary NBA statistician Harvey Pollack, and published by the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers Media Guide, for decades, was one of the most complete and accurate sources of NBA stats a sports journalist could reference. In countless cases, it was well ahead of the NBA itself in compiling and distributing hoops statistics, so I trust it when it presents the following…
O’Neal posting a TOT 322 dunks in the 1992-’93 season. And that ‘HG’ (in case you were wondering) stands for ‘Highest Game’. So, at some point during that season, Shaq had a record-breaking 13 dunks.
For context and further validation, here’s a closer look at the source material.
To further back that up, I’ve got a couple of confirming sources.
First off, we’ve got a Topps Frequent Flyer basketball card from 1993. This was actually the first reference I discovered for Shaq’s 322 dunk season. Finding this card is what set me off on the mission to find the 1992 Sixers Media Guide on Ebay.
Just check out that dunks stat on the lower right side.
And for my secondary source, here’s a Youtube video that documents the April 1993 game against the Sixers where Shaq dropped 13 dunks.
So Why is the NBA Lying?
They’re not lying. Not really. Not in this case at least.
It’s just that we’re dealing with mountains and mountains of data from various sources over the 75+ years of the Association’s existence. You have to draw the line somewhere.
See, the NBA didn’t officially star counting advanced shooting stats (which include dunk stats) until 1996. This means that Shaq, the most prolific dunker in NBA history, is credited with a grand total of zero dunks for the entire first 4 seasons of his career.
But dunks obviously existed, and they were interesting, so somebody must have been counting them, right? Well it turns out that yes, and not just somebody but one of the most respected statisticians in NBA history.
So while the NBA doesn’t accept the data into their official stat lines, we do have reliable records stating that Shaq had 322 dunks in his rookie season. What’s more, he logged a game high 13 dunks in that season, which also eclipses the accepted record of 11 dunks in a single game (also set by Shaq, just later in his career).
This whole concept is just fascinating to me. Data is extremely important in todays culture. In the world of sports media, it spurs endless conversation and frames countless debates.
But in so many cases, we’re just piecing things together from those eras where we didn’t have computers and databases and the internet. But even back then, even in the earliest days of the NBA, there were cats who were typing up stat lines and tucking them away in filing cabinets.
And so many of those stat sheets are just lost to time. We don’t even have a solid record of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game. We’ve got eyewitness accounts, but no written proof it happened. It’s all just, so unofficial.