There are certain numerical milestones in sports that become achievements simply because they sound, for lack of a better word, cool. Say a guy runs a four-minute mile fifty times in his career. Chances are, he won’t be as well-regarded as the guy who hit 3:59 once, but spent most of his career in the 4:10 range. Hit for a 3.99 average over a three-year stretch in baseball? You won’t get nearly as much recognition as some juiced up dude who hits .401 for one season, then returns to his usual batting average the next two seasons. Our culture loves to see people get these clean numbers. Clearing 7 feet in the high jump is a good example, or winning 300 games as a pitcher.
Basketball fans and analysts in particular tend to get wrapped up in the numbers game. One of the best examples is the triple-double, the single most overrated statistic in basketball. Ok, so a guy manages to get ten points, grab ten rebounds, and dish out ten assists. That’s certainly an impressive accomplishment. Yet if the same guy had only gotten nine rebounds, this would (in the minds of basketball analysts, fans, etc.) lower his achievement.
Probably the single number that gets discussed more than anything else at the high school basketball level is 1000 points. If you scored 1000 points in high school, it supposedly validates your ability. Tell someone that you played basketball in high school and they will invariably ask if you were any good. Tell them you scored 1000 points and they will likely treat you like a basketball demi-god.
There are so many ways that coaches can work the system to ensure that their players get 1000 points. Have a player who is nearing the thousand point mark? Just leave him or her in at the end of blowouts and tell said player to shoot away. Pressing late in the game is another sure-fire way to help out aspiring thousand point scorers.
I’m not trying to belittle this achievement, but scoring 1000 points is not mind-blowingly difficult. Let’s imagine someone who plays 20 games a year over three years. That’s about 16 points per game. But realistically, including playoffs, it’s probably more like 21 or 22 games per year. And this is assuming the player did not play his freshman year. A player who plays four years of high school varsity basketball with 20 games per year would have to average only 12.5 points per game.
Again, I don’t want this to come off like I’m bashing people who scored 1000 points in high school. Most people who reached this number were either great players, chuckers, or the best player on an awful team. I personally did not even come close. But what is the real value of scoring 1000 points? Why do we celebrate this, yet there are no comparable statistics for assists, steals, blocks or rebounds? Walk into a high school gymnasium, and it’s very likely you’ll see, amongst the various league and state championship banners, a list of 1000 point scorers. It is almost always the only list of individuals’ names in the gym. This is ridiculous. Why not a list of football players who had over, I don’t know, 50 tackles in a season? Or a list of cross-country runners who ran a sub-17 5k?
The reason we celebrate this seemingly arbitrary number is simple: it sounds and looks good. Phonetically and visually, 1000 is a great looking number. It looks great on a wall, it looks great on a plaque, and it looks great on a resume, I would imagine. Try arguing with someone that the standard for a great scorer in high school basketball should be 1500 points, and see what they say. That doesn’t look good enough, I guess. Come up with something that measures a player’s grit and tenacity, then stick that on a wall. That’s what we need. We need more measurements of intangible, indefinable qualities.