The Washington Times - April 1, 2009, 07:58AM

I’m a stickler when it comes to statistics – any kind of statistics. Take “The Shawshank Redemption,” for instance. Near the end there’s a famous scene where Andy Dufresne escapes from prison through a sewer pipe. As he slithers his way to freedom, his prison buddy Red (played by Morgan Freeman), says in a voice-over, “Andy crawled through 500 yards of [feces-] smelling foulness I can’t even imagine, or maybe I don’t want to. Five hundred yards … That’s the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile.”

I always groan when I hear that. I mean, it was a heck of an effort by Andy, no question, but 500 yards is not “just shy of half a mile” (880 yards), it’s barely more than a quarter mile (440 yards). Why, I’ve always wondered, did the screenwriter feel the need to exaggerate? Or does he just not know how many yards are in a half mile?


This brings us to Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic’s Caped Wonder. You may have read about Howard’s latest feat: He just grabbed his 5,000th rebound at the age of 23 years, 112 days. In so doing, he “passed Wilt Chamberlain as the youngest NBA player to reach” that figure, according to reports. Wilt was 25 years, 128 days when he latched onto No. 5,000.

To which I say: Time out. Don’t you have to be behind somebody before you can pass him? Howard has never for one moment been behind Chamberlain. He began his NBA career, remember, a few months before turning 20; Wilt didn’t get started until he was 23. Dwight has basically had a three-year jump on him – which is why he got to 5,000 at an earlier age.

Think of it like a staggered start in a track race – the 400 meters, say. Howard, the best rebounder of his era, is running in Lane 1, and Chamberlain, the best rebounder of any era, is running in Lane 4. Sure, Dwight is ahead at the 100-meter mark; he’s supposed to be. But rest assured Wilt will run him down, if not blow him away.

After all, Howard is averaging 12.5 rebounds a game for his career; Chamberlain averaged 22.9 – and played until he was 36 (when he led the league in rebounding for the 11th and last time). Even if Dwight averages 14 rebounds a game – his average this season – for the next 15 years, he’d still be almost 1,600 rebounds shy of Wilt’s all-time record of 23,924. And that’s assuming he doesn’t spend any time on the injured list, which ain’t gonna happen.

Or look at it this way: Chamberlain had 13,491 rebounds when he turned 30. For Howard to top that, he’d have to average 16.1 rebounds a game for the next six-plus years. That ain’t gonna happen, either. Heck, Dwight has never averaged more than 14.2 in a season.

Which doesn’t mean he isn’t a terrific board man. This 5,000 Thing, though, is one of those silly “records” the NBA dreams up to perpetuate the illusion that players today are better than ever. Let’s face it, some of them are and some of them aren’t. Howard certainly isn’t any threat to Chamberlain’s rebounding mark; indeed, if he gets within 5,000 of it – which would put him third in league history behind Wilt and Bill Russell (21,620) – he’ll deserve a ticker-tape parade … perhaps even a documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman.

– Dan Daly