Sports Numbers You Need to Know

Simply the best.

Simply the best.

So in honor of Derek Jeter’s historic sendoff last night, I thought I would compile a quick list of these sports stats and numbers you often hear in bar conversations, on Sports Center, and even in rap songs (scroll to :46 for a Jay-Z reference to #5).

So here is a baker’s dozen (and just a FEW–bear with me, I’m writing this on a coaster), so please feel free to comment with other biggies.

I’m listing the numbers first for a little quiz fun, then scroll down for the answers.

Let’s go!

1 — 2

2 — 12th Man

3 — 60 feet, 6 inches

4 — 23

5 — Game 6

6 — 42

7 — 17-0

8 — 158.3

9 — 100

10 — 99

11 — 2,131

12 — 18

13 — Oh let’s go for the baker’s dozen: 1,098. Now you may scroll….


1 — Derek “Captain” Jeter, Yankees shortstop for 20 years, retiring after 2014.

2 — Slogan (with a super cool history) of Texas A&M and Seattle football (and a host of others), meaning the crowd’s noise and support as the additional team member to the 11 on the field.

3 — Distance from professional pitcher mound to home plate.

4 — Michael Jordan’s jersey number.

5 — Famous 1998 NBA Finals game between the Bulls and the Jazz; Bulls won 87–86, their sixth NBA Championship in eight years. It was also the final game with the Bulls for Jordan and coach Phil Jackson. It earned the highest TV ratings of an NBA game of all time. Jordan hit a jump shot with 5.6 seconds left to put the Bulls on top for good 87–86.

6 — Jackie Robinson’s jersey number – first African-American to play in Major League baseball.

7 — Final 1972 record of the Miami Dolphins, still the only fully undefeated NFL season.

8 — A “perfect” passer rating for a quarterback’s game. Stat is calculated using a player’s passing attempts, completions, yards, TDs and interceptions. NFL rates QBs from 0 to 158.3. College football uses a different formula and ranks from -731.6 to 1261.6. (Shrug.)

9 — Number of points Wilt Chamberlain scored in a single game in an NBA win over the Philadelphia Warriors, 169-147, on March 2, 1962. (Another key number: 20,000, the number of women he claims to have bedded.)

10 — Wayne Gretzky’s jersey number, the first ever to be retired league-wide by the NHL.

11 — Number of consecutive games played by the Oriole’s Cal Ripken to surpass Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old record (2,130).

12 — Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 career major championships.

13 — Number of all-time wins by Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, before retiring in 2012 due to dementia. She is the only coach in NCAA history, and one of three college coaches overall, with at least 1,000 victories.


Athletes of Honor: Might on the Ballfield and the Battlefield

Happy Veterans’ Day! We are accustomed to seeing athletes’ heroics in the arena, but many have also served in real wars. So today let’s celebrate just a few of the many (many!) athletes of the last century who set fame and fortune aside to serve their country:

Pat Tillman: The safety played four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, selected All-Pro in 2000. In 2002, eight months after 9-11, he volunteered for the Army Rangers and served in Iraq and Afghanistan (leaving behind his $4 million contract). He was killed on April 22, 2004 by friendly fire. He was awarded a Silver Star, Purple Heart and a posthumous promotion. His number was retired both by the Cardinals and his college, Arizona State.

jackie robinson

Jackie Robinson was the first black major league baseball player of the modern era, debuting with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Jackie Robinson: The legendary “42” was drafted in ’42–into a segregated Army unit. He attended Officers Candidate School (with help from boxer Joe Louis, see below) but was court-martialed for refusing to sit at the back of an Army bus (he was acquitted). He signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and became a six-time All-Star, 1949 National League MVP, World Series champion, and Hall of Fame member.

Patty Berg: Berg became a professional golfer in 1940 and was a founding member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. However, in 1942 she left the game to serve as a World War II Marine lieutenant. Her 15 major title wins remain the all-time record for most majors by a female golfer.

Roberto Clemente: The beloved Pittsburgh Pirate joined the Marines in 1958, and remained with the reserves even as his major league career took off. He earned two World Series titles, 12 Gold Gloves, National League MVP and scores of other honors. Yet on Dec. 31, 1972, Clemente died in a plane crash in Nicaragua while he was—not surprisingly–on a humanitarian mission delivering aid to earthquake victims.

Willie Mays: Center fielder Mays was the 1951 Rookie of the Year, but drafted by the Army to fight in the Korean War. He missed almost 300 games, but returned to San Francisco in 1954 to lead the league with a .345 batting average and 41 homers. Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility.

Paul “Bear” Bryant: The longtime Alabama coach played for Alabama himself (the 1934 championship team), then served as a Navy Lieutenant Commander during World War II. As a coach, he racked up six national titles, 13 SEC championships, and 323 wins.

John Wooden: Wooden is Considered the greatest men’s college basketball coach of all time. As head coach at UCLA in the 60s and 70s, he won 10 national titles in 12 years (seven consecutively) and was named coach of the year six times. But he was a player too, at Purdue and then with the NBA, when he enlisted in the Navy and eventually became a lieutenant.

Yogi Berra: The legendary Yankees catcher also served as a gunner during D-Day. A year later, he made his major league debut and launched an epic 18-year career. But just as famous as his stats were his “Yogiisms,” like “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” and “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Rocky Bleier: Bleier’s Steelers career had just begun when he was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam. He was seriously injured in an ambush when he took shrapnel in the leg. Doctors told him he would not play football again, but he returned anyway and after two years, became a starter in 1974. When he retired in 1980, Bleier had 3,865 rushing yards, 1,294 receiving yards, 25 touchdowns and four Super Bowl championships.

Service in the snow and beyond.

Service in the snow and beyond.

Shauna Rohbock: As multi-talented as she is service-minded, BYU grad Shauna Rohbock played professional soccer for the San Diego Spirit, then enlisted in the Utah Army National Guard as she launched a bobsled career. Rohbock earned silver in the 2006 Winter Olympics two-woman event (with Valerie Fleming) and placed sixth in the 2010 Games. She also holds multiple World Cup titles.

Ted Williams: Williams had just finished his first Triple Crown season when he enlisted with the Marines in 1942, serving as a flight instructor. In 1952, he was recalled to active duty for the Korean War. In all, he lost five of his 21 playing years with Boston, yet he won the Triple Crown twice, was a 17-time All-Star and was the last player to bat over .400 in a single season.

Joe Louis: The “Brown Bomber” held the heavyweight boxing title from 1937 to 1949, but enlisted as an Army private, assigned to a segregated cavalry unit during World War II. He fought charity events and fought to enroll a group of African-American men in Officer Candidate School–one of whom was Jackie Robinson. When he was released in 1945, he was a Sergeant with the Legion of Merit medal.

David Robinson: After an All-American basketball career at the U.S. Naval Academy, Robinson–“The Admiral”–had to serve two years to fulfill his service. Still, he was still drafted #1 by the Spurs in 1987 and upon his return, won Rookie of the Year in 1990. He played 14 years for the Spurs, picking up two NBA titles, 1995 NBA MVP, and two U.S. Olympic gold medals.

Curt Simmons: In 1950, Simmons pitched a whopping 17 of 25 decisions for the Phillies–but was drafted to Korea with just a month left in the season. Although the Phillies flailed without him, they went on to the World Series–where Simmons could only attend on a military pass as a fan. (The Phillies lost.) He returned in 1952 to lead the National League with six shutouts. He finally got his World Series title with St. Louis in 1964.

I Can Waaaave My Head–My 7-2 Head… “Up Top” with AT&Ts Basketball Big Men

Clockwise from right: Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and a no-name funnyman kids everywhere are happy to see get his comeuppance, "up top."

Clockwise from right: Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and the no-name funnyman kids everywhere are happy to see get his comeuppance, “up top.”

No doubt during tonight’s NCAA men’s championship, you’ll see the popular AT&T ads featuring a focus group leader asking schoolkids “what’s better, fast or slow?”

Except the latest group of students is taller than your average kindergartner. And certainly more…mature. So if you’re not a basketball fan, or were born after 1990, let me re-introduce you to these leggy, living legends.

Magic Johnson, 6-9, L.A. Lakers 1979-1996
I would call Earvin “Magic” Johnson, 53, a “phoenix”—someone who rises from the ashes to find success again and again—except the man never fails at anything. Be it basketball, television, philanthropy, or business (he even co-owns the Dodgers baseball team), Johnson’s charm and acumen have taken him from Lakers MVP  point guard to positive influence.

When he retired in 1991 after announcing he had contracted HIV, the world thought Johnson’s career—and possibly his life—were over. But the 1992 Dream Team Member and Hall-of-Famer returned to play again in 1996. He is now known for his HIV/AIDS advocacy almost as much as his rivalry with…

Larry Bird, 6-9, Boston Celtics 1979-1992
You wouldn’t think the great “Hick from French Lick” would ever have been bullied, but famed Celtics forward Larry Bird, 56, abandoned Indiana University after a month, tormented by homesickness and national star Kent Benson’s constant teasing. But he found his way again at Indiana State, winning numerous player of the year awards and leading the Sycamores to the 1979 national championship—only to lose to Magic Johnson’s Michigan State.

Bird was selected for the Celtics, beating Johnson for Rookie of the Year. Their rivalry breathed life into pro hoops again. They met numerous times, including three NBA finals. Still they became offcourt friends. Bird retired in 1992 with back problems but coached the Indiana Pacers NBA team from 1997-2000.

Interestingly, the next player found some revenge for Larry against good ole Kent Benson…

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 7-2, Milwaukee Bucks/L.A. Lakers 1969-1989
Abdul-Jabbar (born Lew Alcindor), 65, was the 1977 number-one draft pick, to the Bucks. Two minutes into his very first pro game, he punched Lakers center—yes, Kent Benson—for a flagrant elbow. Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand, but Bird was probably secretly cheering.

On the other hand, Abdul-Jabbar nearly cost us the slam dunk! As a player during UCLA’s astounding 88-2 record during 1966-69, the dunk was banned from 1967-1976 in large part to then-Alcindor’s prowess. But luckily, he developed his ambidextrous “sky hook,” a nearly indefensible shot that helped him become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, with 38,387 points (check out the sky hook—and some short shorts—here).

Abdul-Jabbar was respected for his leadership and work ethic (he played at UCLA for John Wooden, one of my 7 Classic Coaches to Know), but his disdain for the press was widely-known and cost him high-level jobs. He now works in various scouting and coaching roles.

But he wasn’t the only one to struggle with trusting outsiders…

Bill Russell, 6-10, Boston Celtics 1956-1969
The eldest statesman of this fine group, Bill Russell, 79, accomplished so much in his career the NBA Finals MVP trophy is named for him. A victim of chronic racism in his native Louisiana, he used his anger, kind words from his white coach, and a growth spurt to excel in high school after his family relocated to Oakland. His untrained style of play and lack of offense garnered him only one scholarship, to the University of San Francisco. But Russell saw the offer as chance to escape his past and dedicated his life to his game.

Racism still followed—Russell would be turned away from team hotels and denied awards he clearly deserved. While bitter, he decided not to let it define him.

In the pros, he elevated respect for defensive play, specifically shot-blocking and man-to-man defense, while helping the Celtics to win 11 championships. He was the first true African-American superstar player, and the first black NBA coach as well. For his civil rights work, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Now if these four legends aren’t enough basketball greatness for you, I guess you can tape a cheetah to your back and hope for the best. But keep an eye out for them—both in ads and live—tonight with other college basketball royalty, 9:23 p.m. ET on ESPN.


great white

Sunday. A Great Night.

Sorry, got a little excited. But, if the sports world were a Steven Spielberg movie, you’d be hearing dah-DUMM, dah-DUMM right now, as its biggest college event—the NCAA men’s basketball tournament—is about to go full throttle.

Following every story and stat is impossible, but knowing some tourney trivia can go a long way in casual conversation or family fun. So (based on…let’s say, my jersey number in junior high), here are 11 neato notes from the Big Dance:

1. Each of the tourney’s four regions has 16 teams, but no “16 seed” has ever won the title. But there is hope because…

2. There are 2^67, or 147.57 quintillion possible winning outcomes in a 68-team bracket.

3. A little more math: Each tourney weekend eliminates three-fourths of its teams. So, 64 teams on Thursday the 21st will end at a mere 16 on Sunday the 24th, and so on. (This is a fun math problem to practice with the younger ones.)

4. UCLA has won the most titles with 11, followed by Kentucky (8), Indiana and North Carolina (both 5), and Duke (4).

5. John Wooden coached UCLA to 10 of those titles; his accolades of coaching and character are too many to name. Wooden died at age 99 in 2010 and is considered the best men’s college coach of all time.

6. The tournament began in 1939 and was the brainchild of Ohio State coach Harold Olsen.

7. “Cutting down the nets” began with North Carolina State coach Everett Case, who in 1947, stood on his players’ shoulders to do so when the Wolfpack won the Southern Conference tournament.

8. The tourney began appearing on television in 1969.

9. Only once has a team played a Final Four on its home court: Louisville, Freedom Hall, 1959.

10. The 68 teams are 31 conference champions and 37 teams receiving at-large bids based on win/loss records, strength of opponents, and other algorithms worthy of a Vatican conclave. See the Selection Sunday results 6 p.m. ET on CBS.

11. In 1996, the Illinois High School Association sued the NCAA over ownership of the term “March Madness.” The U.S. Court of Appeals granted the trademark to both parties.