A made three pointer, a missed shot followed by a put-back, a steal and a slam, and all of a sudden the landscape of a game is completely changed.
Even when a game has my full attention, it can be difficult to keep track of everything that's going on. I might be looking at one aspect of the game when something else happens. I might miss a play just by glancing at something on Twitter. It's fine, I can rewind or catch the replay. Or I'll just glance at the scoreboard to see how the play I missed changed the game. It updates essentially right away, after all.
Have you ever stopped to think about how those plays get from the court to the scoreboard so fast? How that information gets recorded and ultimately disseminated so that we can all argue about Player X's assists versus Player Y's?
I spoke with Rachel Reida, who works on the Dallas Mavericks' stats crew and manages the stats crew for the Mavericks' D-League affiliate Texas Legends, to find out what it's like to be behind the scorer's table.
Hint: it's crazy.
How did you get started working with the Mavericks?
I started out about six years ago working with Houston's D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. When I moved to Dallas, they called up the Legends and recommended me.
The NBA teams do sort of "scout" the stats crews with the D-League teams, which is how I started working with the Mavs. The team would send people out to Legends games to watch us work, and we knew that was one reason they were there. I got invited to come work with the Mavs stats crew during the 2010-2011 season, and I worked the Finals as well. This past season was the first season that I worked every home game, in addition to filling (and sometimes working) a crew at Legends home games.
I've actually been told I'm one of the few women who currently works a NBA stats crew. It's not for everybody.
How does the crew work exactly?
The basic in-game crew is a crew of seven. You have four people at the scorer's table below: The scorekeeper (called the "Book"), the shot clock operator, the scoreboard operator and the game clock operator. Then you have three people sitting above them on computers: the Primary, the Caller, and the Secondary. And the Primary, Caller, Secondary and Book are on headsets - you have to be, otherwise there's no way to hear each other. And you absolutely need to be able to hear each other.
Then you also have runners: they deliver updated stat sheets to public relations, any media that is there and to the two benches at full time outs and between quarters. I started out with the Mavs as a runner, but now I work as either Primary or Scoreboard.
What are the things you have to look for and track? What are the things it might surprise people you have to look for?
The Caller is pretty much the one who runs the show. He's watching the game and calling out the basics of each play into our headsets. For example: "Made, 41; assist, 5." The Primary is entering that information, but the Primary still has to watch, because the Caller's not telling you what type of shot it was. That's where the Secondary comes in. That person is watching the game as well, so the Primary might say to the Secondary, "Describe that shot for me?"
The Primary enters everything into the computer, which is actually a touchscreen with a half-court on it I can just mark. I'm entering shot location, number of points, which player made it (or missed it). Once that's entered, a screen will pop up with the type of shot - jump shot, driving layup, running slam dunk - it has literally every description you could possibly think of.
On top of all that, on that same screen, if there was an assist, you record that and the player who assisted. And then the same thing for fouls. Foul location, what type of foul it was, who fouled who, who called the foul, whether it was followed by free throws and how many.
And if there's something we're questioning, we actually have video. So at time-outs or between quarters, we can go back and check.
There are a lot of little things that go into recording just one play. You have to move really fast. Most of the time, as Primary, I don't even know the score. I'm working with the Caller and the Secondary to make sure we're getting everything. All while in the middle of an entire arena of fans.
When I'm not working as Primary, I'm working the scoreboard. Interesting thing about the scoreboard: it matters far more than you think. The coaches and players, you see them look up at it constantly. You have 20,000 fans watching it constantly. People are relying on that information. It needs to get there fast and it needs to be accurate. You're constantly worried about entering something wrong. I am always nervous to work a game.
What interaction does the crew have with coaches and players?
Almost none. In fact, the only time I've interacted with Rick [Carlisle] was the last home game this past season. During the fourth quarter, the scoreboard went out - not once, but three different times. Turned out it was just a wire someone had knocked loose, more than likely someone leaning against the table. But everyone is frustrated, everyone is stressed, and Rick comes up to me and says something like, "What's going on here? What happened?"
So when you hear TV announcers say, "Dirk is waiting at the scorer's table to check in..."?
They actually don't have to say a word. There's a box marked on the court next to the table. If they're coming into the game, at a dead ball, they just have to be within that box before the whistle blows to be allowed enter the game.
And, so, players coming in and out of the game, that's another thing we as the stats crew watch and track. In fact, a lot of times if the official didn't notice the player enter the box, they'll look to us to let them know the player is good to enter the game.
Any big differences working with the Mavs versus the Legends?
One big difference is the crew you work with. It happens more in the D-League - I've gone through a lot of turnover. People come in, they think it's something fun (which it is, don't get me wrong), and that they'll get to watch the games - but it's not for entertainment. We are there to work. Stats crews are a neutral party, so cheering or any talk from the scorers' table is not allowed.
But with the NBA, stats crew members hardly ever leave. They find people who will stay and will stay a long time. One of the guys has been on the Mavericks stats crew for 33 years. It's like a family, the people you work with. You're relying on each other every minute.
The other big difference is the technology and set-up. With the Mavs, everything is more high tech. You have your computers set up for you by someone else, so you show up and it's almost ready to go. With the Legends, set-up of the computers and everything else is on you. The technology isn't as sophisticated (basically we don't have headsets and have to sit all in a line, but the system is the same), there's more paper involved. If there's a technical issue, the stat crew is responsible. I'm sometimes on the phone with the NBA Stats Help Desk two or three times during a Legends game.
You mentioned that the stats crew is neutral. Sometimes you don't even know the score. Is that frustrating as a basketball fan, to not really be able to watch the game?
You really can't be a fan of the team, not in a traditional sense. I barely know what's going on during the game, outside of what's on my screen - and I worked every home game last year.
Obviously we have to stay neutral, but in working with their stats every game, knowing who the players are on that level, I've paid a lot more attention to the Mavs since I've been working with them. I tend to watch the away games more often than not. But honestly, if I get a chance to sit down and watch a NBA game as a fan, I would be watching the Celtics. My true love, however, is University of Kansas basketball - I'm a huge Jayhawks fan.
Do you have a favorite memory or experience in your time with the Mavericks?
Working the NBA Finals has been my most memorable experience. Just being a part of the championship (even though it was small) was probably the best experience I have ever had. To say I was there is truly amazing.