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Oklahoma City Thunder: City can lay claim to the league's top shot blocker and the man who invented the blocked shot stat

David Vance and Serge Ibaka share more than an area code. Both are preeminent figures in the story of basketball shot blocking.
by Berry Tramel Published: August 5, 2014


photo -  Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) gets up to block a shot by San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) in the second quarter of Game 4 of the Western Conference finals NBA basketball playoff series in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) gets up to block a shot by San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) in the second quarter of Game 4 of the Western Conference finals NBA basketball playoff series in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

David Vance and Serge Ibaka share a city.

Vance came to town in 1988 to oversee construction of Remington Park. He was the racetrack’s president and general manager for seven years.

Ibaka arrived in 2009, an athletic phenom drafted by the Thunder a year earlier, in the franchise’s final week as the Seattle SuperSonics.

Vance and Ibaka share more than an area code. Both are preeminent figures in the story of basketball shot blocking.

Ibaka, you know all about. Darts across the lane like a thief in the night to swat away an opponent’s shot. The NBA’s top shot blocker, having led the league in blocks four straight years. Compared to Bill Russell by no less than NBA guru Hubie Brown.

But Vance? He’s a horseman. Mister Remington Park. Still a consultant in the sport of kings.

But before Vance joined the racing industry, he was into basketball. Vance was Kentucky bred. Kentuckians like horse racing and they like hoops. In the 1970s, Vance worked for the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association.

And in 1971, as the Colonels’ assistant general manager, Vance told his stat crew to make a change in its official box score. His idea? List blocked shots in the totals of each player.

Yep, seems like a no-brainer, especially since Russell had patrolled NBA hardwoods throughout the 1960s, blocking shots with a frequency that historians say never had been done before or since. It’s just that no one ever bothered to count them all up.

Until David Vance watched a Colonels rookie in an exhibition game in 1971.

Artis Gilmore was quite the ballplayer. Seven-foot-2 and skilled. Left-handed, which made him a particular bane to right-handed shooters. Gilmore had taken little Jacksonville U. to the 1970 NCAA championship game, where the Dolphins lost 80-69 to UCLA.

The NBA and ABA were warring leagues in those days, constantly battling for elite players. The Colonels outbid the Chicago Bulls for Gilmore. The ABA wasn’t a league devoid of great centers. Zelmo Beatty and Mel Daniels were in the ABA at the time. But Gilmore was a rare talent.

In an exhibition game against the Virginia Squires, Gilmore blocked 10 shots. In the first half.

“I said, ‘This is special,’” Vance said.

The Colonels started counting Gilmore’s blocks. About a third of the way through the season, the Utah Stars also added blocked shots to the box score. The entire league did the same, voting during the ABA all-star break.

The NBA wised up in 1973. The NCAA did the same a few years later.

Putting blocked shots in the box score was like Columbus discovering America. Someone was going to do it. But the honor went to Vance.

“I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” Vance said. “Sooner or later, someone was going to say, ‘This needs to be in the box score.’”

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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