Talent rules in the NBA

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

With the basketball playoffs starting this week, it is worth asking what can be learned from the NBA’s more recent history. This year the NBA story is one of talent — extreme talent. Talent so plentiful that even the middling teams are full of strong players. The broader lessons for the world economy are very optimistic.

Consider the three players competing for the Most Valuable Player award — Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Their play and statistics have been stratospheric. Embiid, for instance, led the league scoring, is a leading rebounder and defender, and his team is in contention for an NBA title. Yet he is not favored to win the award because the other contenders are (at least in my eyes) better yet. My pick is Jokic, who is the first NBA player with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season.

Other top players, such as Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic and Ja Morant, might in other years be obvious MVP winners. But this year they don’t stand a chance. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Stephen Curry — the best players from the recent past — are still amazing but are practically also-rans.


The lessons and implications for the broader economy and society are insanely bullish. If the NBA can do this, other parts of the world can, too. Just imagine business and science (and maybe politics?) all improving at the rate of professional basketball. The most important form of wealth today is human capital. As the world moves further from a brute-force economy, human capital is also the major force driving productivity.

The NBA shows that it is possible, over time, to do a much better job of both finding and mobilizing talent. Granted, most parts of the world are not as well-run as the NBA, so the process will be slower than it ought to be. But it is underway.

The implications are staggering. Yes, global problems are piling up at an alarming rate.  On the other hand, global talent is more accessible than ever. Which phenomenon is likely to turn out to be of greater consequence? As the co-author of a forthcoming book on the importance of talent, I suspect you can guess my view.

And I am still picking the Milwaukee Bucks to win the NBA title this year.


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