Category: Sports

How many NBA players have tweeted in support of Hong Kong?

As I am writing this post, zero (perhaps someone has done so by the time this pops up, but it won’t have been much).  And yet there are about 300 players on opening day NBA rosters, more in the preseason of course, maybe 450?

Presumably the league has, either directly or indirectly, told them not to run off at the mouth on this topic.

I don’t feel I am trafficking in unjust stereotypes to note that many of these guys are pretty big, pretty tough, and not so used to being pushed around.  They come from a wide variety of backgrounds and also countries and income classes.

One hypothesis is that all three hundred of these individuals are craven cowards, worthy of our scorn.  Maybe.

Another hypothesis, closer to my view, is that it has turned out sports leagues (and players) are neither the most efficient nor the most just way to combat social and political problems related to China.

There is plenty of worthwhile China-related legislation and regulation on tap, including expanding the role for CFIUS, discouraging our allies from using Huawei 5G, and protesting against American companies working in Xinjiang (and yes that does include the NBA training camp there).  Human rights legislation related to Xinjiang is another plausible option, though I have not studied the details of those proposals.

It is fine to favor those and other measures — in conjunction with our allies as much as possible — while simultaneously thinking this is not the NBA’s fight.  Trump himself is far more “anti-China” than any other U.S. president in recent times, and he too decided to push this issue aside.

Should you really feel so much better about “the NBA standing up to China” if they are doing it because the U.S. Congress has intimidated them into this new form of “free speech”?

What I observe happening is that many people have been “dropping the ball” on China for years.  A highly visible issue comes up, and one where they also can take a potshot at multinational corporations.  So they take an isolated stand on an isolated case, mood affiliating on two different issues at once, namely “stand up to China,” and “criticize corporations for their craven corruptness.”

I say think through the problem in the broadest possible terms.  The approach of “sound coordinated measures through our government and its allies, while retaining commercial friendliness and political neutrality for MNCs” is in fact a pretty good one.  It could be much worse, and most likely it soon will be so.

Daryl Morey vs. ESPN

Daryl Morey wrote a pro-Hong Kong tweet and had to retract it, and then both the Rockets and the NBA had to eat crow.  ESPN — part of the Disney empire I might add — has given only tiny, tiny coverage to the whole episode, even though it is a huge story on non-basketball sites.  I’ve been checking the espn/nba site regularly over the last 24 hours, and there is one small link in the upper corner, no featured story at all.

The ESPN pieces I’ve seen seem to be studiously carefully worded and non-incendiary.

Disney of course sells a lot of movies in China and presumably would love to sell more.

Everyone is upset about Morey, I haven’t seen anyone attack ESPN or even mention this.

Should we be so captive of the “endowment effect,” namely that deleting a tweet is more a form of visible “kowtowing” than is downplaying the story in the first place?

Didn’t Bastiat teach us about the seen vs. the unseen?  Right now people are overreacting with respect to the seen.

If you let your emotions be so whiplashed by “the seen,” you will find it harder and harder to understand the unseen.  Do not be a lap dog to the seen!

Addendum, from the comments: “The ESPN story that is on the top-right corner doesn’t even have a byline. It appears to be a reproduced AP story. So ESPN has not assigned a single reporter to produce a story about an NBA event that is on A1 of the NYT.”

And this: “ESPN forbids discussion of Chinese politics…

The NBA, Daryl Morey, and China

I changed my mind on this issue after pondering it for a while, here is my Bloomberg column on the topic.  Here is one bit:

True to form, I find myself in disagreement with the consensus: Morey committed a blunder, and deleting the tweet was the correct thing to do.

And more:

American politicians and leaders should offer greater support for the more liberal sides of the Hong Kong protest movement. But not all businesspeople are in the same position, especially if they are actively involved with China or other countries whose behavior is under consideration.

To provide a slightly more neutral example, the NBA is currently trying to market its product to India. In the meantime, I don’t think NBA executives should be tweeting or commenting about the status of Kashmir. Those strictures should hold even if the tweets or remarks are entirely correct.

There is simply too much tension between the fiduciary obligations of the potential speakers and the issues under consideration. For better or worse, the NBA is committed to a major expansion in China, and it is entirely normal for the association — like any other business — to demand that its executives do not conduct diplomacy, engage in negotiations or make political commentary on the side. The NBA’s mistake was simply to insist on this in far too clumsy and public a manner.

What they should do is simply pull the training camp out of Xinjiang, no squawking required.  By the way, here are much better American corporate targets than the NBA.  And the close:

As for the practical question of where things go from here, I’ll be watching to see what NBA players — most of all the stars, many of whom have contracts with Chinese companies — say next.

Finally:

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

There is much more at the link, more than usual.  Many of you love the doux commerce thesis, namely that trade ties encourage peace among nations.  Yes that is usually true, but sometimes the role of the corporations is to promote lies, or at least not speak the truth too loudly.  That is part of the Montesquieu bargain, whether one likes it or not.  You are installing an intermediary with incentives for cooperation and good will, not an arbiter of truth.

We are overreacting on this one because it is our main geopolitical rival — China — forcing a major American institution, namely the NBA, to eat crow, because of the sequencing of events.  But in reality, there is nothing wrong with a sports league that steers its major executives away from commenting on external politics and that is very often the norm in the corporate world, in countries both nasty and nice.

The college football surveillance culture that is Alabama

Saban, the Alabama football coach, has long been peeved that the student section at Bryant-Denny Stadium empties early. So this season, the university is rewarding students who attend games — and stay until the fourth quarter — with an alluring prize: improved access to tickets to the SEC championship game and to the College Football Playoff semifinals and championship game, which Alabama is trying to reach for the fifth consecutive season.

But to do this, Alabama is taking an extraordinary, Orwellian step: using location-tracking technology from students’ phones to see who skips out and who stays.

“It’s kind of like Big Brother,” said Allison Isidore, a graduate student in religious studies from Montclair, N.J…

Greg Byrne, Alabama’s athletic director, said privacy concerns rarely came up when the program was being discussed with other departments and student groups. Students who download the Tide Loyalty Points app will be tracked only inside the stadium, he said, and they can close the app — or delete it — once they leave the stadium. “If anybody has a phone, unless you’re in airplane mode or have it off, the cellular companies know where you are,” he said.

Here is the full NYT piece, via Anecdotal.

My Conversation with Samantha Power

Samantha Power has a new and excellent book out, The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir, which I very much enjoyed.  And so a Conversation with Tyler was in order, here is the audio and transcript, here is one bit:

COWEN: For a final closing segment, I just have some super simple questions about foreign policy again. Over the course of the last summer, Iran apparently seized two British tankers. There’ve been other incidents in the Strait of Hormuz in some way connected with Iran. From a game-theoretic point of view, why would they do this? Why does this make sense?

POWER: Well, the one thing that they would know that would give them some point of leverage is the extreme war fatigue within the United States, and really within the Western world. So, by upping the stakes, arguably — I mean, who knows why the hell they’re doing what they’re doing?

But by upping the stakes, they arguably could be sending a signal like, “You want to get in this game? It’s not as if we’re an island and you can just break the deal, penalize us gratuitously, penalize the people who are still trying to maintain the terms of the deal, and that there won’t be collateral consequences outside the nuclear space.”

Because the nuclear consequences, as they begin to enrich and violate the terms of the deal — having legitimately argued that we had violated the terms of the deal — the effects of those are not day-to-day effects in the news world. It’s a bit abstract for the public and even for policymakers. It’s an incremental abrogation.

But acts like this show that they have leverage, that they are active militarily in parts of the world where we have a vested interest in maintaining freedom of navigation. So I think they’re showing that they can hit in domains outside the nuclear domain. I think that is probably what they’re doing.

Here is another segment:

COWEN: In which ways do you feel your thought is in some manner still Irish in orientation in a way that would distinguish you from, say, American-born individuals?

POWER: It’s hard to know because I can’t run the counterfactual, so I don’t know what’s just because my mother is a physician and very empathetic toward her patients, and do I learn from that? Or am I moved by having come from a small country, at that time a poor country, that was sending —

COWEN: With a history of oppression, right?

POWER: With a history of oppression, with a history of the dignity of its people being trampled. Is that why I care so much about individual dignity? Again, I can’t run the history a different way.

And finally:

COWEN: Very simple — are baseball games too long? Why not make it 7 innings?

POWER: Why not make it 12?

COWEN: It’s boring, right?

POWER: For you and, as it turns out, for others.

COWEN: For me. So many games are over 3 hours. Shouldn’t the game be 2 hours, 17 minutes?

We also cover her first impressions of America, being a wartime correspondent, China and Iraq, Star Wars vs. Star Trek, van Morrison vs. Bob Dylan, robot empires vs. robot umpires, her favorite novel, how personal one should get in a memoir and why, and German defense spending, among other topics.

Definitely recommended.

My Conversation with Masha Gessen

Here is the transcript and audio, here is the summary:

Masha joined Tyler in New York City to answer his many questions about Russia: why was Soviet mathematics so good? What was it like meeting with Putin? Why are Russian friendships so intense? Are Russian women as strong as the stereotype suggests — and why do they all have the same few names? Is Russia more hostile to LGBT rights than other autocracies? Why did Garry Kasparov fail to make a dent in Russian politics? What did The Americans get right that Chernobyl missed? And what’s a good place to eat Russian food in Manhattan?

Here is excerpt:

COWEN: Why has Russia basically never been a free country?

GESSEN: Most countries have a history of never having been free countries until they become free countries.

[laughter]

COWEN: But Russia has been next to some semifree countries. It’s a European nation, right? It’s been a part of European intellectual life for many centuries, and yet, with the possible exception of parts of the ’90s, it seems it’s never come very close to being an ongoing democracy with some version of free speech. Why isn’t it like, say, Sweden?

GESSEN: [laughs] Why isn’t Russia like . . . I tend to read Russian history a little bit differently in the sense that I don’t think it’s a continuous history of unfreedom. I think that Russia was like a lot of other countries, a lot of empires, in being a tyranny up until the early 20th century. Then Russia had something that no other country has had, which is the longest totalitarian experiment in history. That’s a 20th-century phenomenon that has a very specific set of conditions.

I don’t read Russian history as this history of Russians always want a strong hand, which is a very traditional way of looking at it. I think that Russia, at breaking points when it could have developed a democracy or a semidemocracy, actually started this totalitarian experiment. And what we’re looking at now is the aftermath of the totalitarian experiment.

And:

GESSEN: …I thought Americans were absurd. They will say hello to you in the street for no reason. Yeah, I found them very unreasonably friendly.

I think that there’s a kind of grumpy and dark culture in Russia. Russians certainly have a lot of discernment in the fine shades of misery. If you ask a Russian how they are, they will not cheerfully respond by saying they’re great. If they’re miserable, they might actually share that with you in some detail.

There’s no shame in being miserable in Russia. There’s, in fact, a lot of validation. Read a Russian novel. You’ll find it all in there. We really are connoisseurs of depression.

Finally there was the segment starting with this:

COWEN: I have so many questions about Russia proper. Let me start with one. Why is it that Russians seem to purge their own friends so often? The standing joke being the Russian word for “friend” is “future enemy.” There’s a sense of loyalty cycles, where you have to reach a certain bar of being loyal or otherwise you’re purged.

Highly recommended.

What is an optimal number of Pamplona bull gorings?

Two or more each year?:

Longtime runners voiced their frustration that the event had been “totally adulterated” and said it was time to “say enough to the distortion of the run”.

The problem for purists is not just that the run, known as the encierro, has become too safe — with only two gorings last year, the least since 1984 — but that the bulls are unable to break free from the highly trained steers that accompany them. This makes the adrenaline-fuelled race less dangerous but also less exciting.

“For the runners, this is the end of the encierro as they know it,” said Joe Distler, a semi-retired American who ran the bulls for 50 years and took part in the protest in solidarity.

For regular runners, a good day is when the bulls break free from the cabestros — the castrated steers that accompany them over the 875-metre course to the city bullring — and one can feel the adrenaline-drenched thrill of running half a block directly in the front of a bull’s horns before letting it pass.

Here is more from Ian Mount at the FT.  As you wish folks, but I for one am content to live “inside the algorithm.”

Learn like an athlete, knowledge workers should train

LeBron James didn’t always have thick calves, a raging six-pack, and arms like the Incredible Hulk.

Ask LeBron about his off-season training regimen, and he’ll share a detailed run-down of his workout plan and on-the-court practice routine. When he entered the NBA, LeBron wasn’t a strong shooter. I’d bet the house that early in his career, LeBron built his off-season training regimen around his weak jump shot and disappointing 42% field goal percentage during his rookie season. As his Instagram posts reveal, LeBron worked for his strength, agility, impeccable history of injury avoidance, and an outstanding 54% field goal percentage during his 14th NBA season.

Athletes train. Musicians train. Performers train. But knowledge workers don’t.

Knowledge workers should train like LeBron, and implement strict “learning plans.” To be sure, intellectual life is different from basketball. Success is harder to measure and the metrics for improvement aren’t quite as clear. Even then, there’s a lot to learn from the way top athletes train. They are clear in their objectives and deliberate in their pursuit of improvement.

Knowledge workers should imitate them.

That is from David Perell, more at the link.  Recently, one of my favorite questions to bug people with has been “What is it you do to train that is comparable to a pianist practicing scales?”  If you don’t know the answer to that one, maybe you are doing something wrong or not doing enough. Or maybe you are (optimally?) not very ambitious?

A simple model of Kawhi Leonard’s indecision

As a free agent, he is being courted by his current team, the Toronto Raptors, as well as the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers (now the team of LeBron James). And the internet is making jokes about him taking so much time for the decision.  In Toronto, helicopters are following him around.

Due to the salary cap and related regulations, there is no uncertainty about how much money each team can offer.  The offer that can vary the most in overall quality, however, is the one from the Los Angeles Lakers.  For instance, if Kawhi is playing in Los Angeles with LeBron James, he might receive more endorsements and movie contracts (or not).  If he is waiting on the decision at all, that is a sign he is at least sampling the Laker option, and seeing how much extra off-court value it can bring him.  So the existence of some waiting favors the chance he goes to the Lakers.  That said, if he is waiting a long time to see how good the Laker option is, that is a sign the Laker option is not obviously crossing a threshold and thus he might stay with Toronto.

We place too much weight on redundant information

The present work identifies a so-far overlooked bias in sequential impression formation. When the latent qualities of competitors are inferred from a cumulative sequence of observations (e.g., the sum of points collected by sports teams), impressions should be based solely on the most recent observation because all previous observations are redundant. Based on the well-documented human inability to adequately discount redundant information, we predicted the existence of a cumulative redundancy bias. Accordingly, perceivers’ impressions are systematically biased by the unfolding of a performance sequence when observations are cumulative. This bias favors leading competitors and persists even when the end result of the performance sequence is known. We demonstrated this cumulative redundancy bias in 8 experiments in which participants had to sequentially form impressions about the qualities of two competitors from different performance domains (i.e., computer algorithms, stocks, and soccer teams). We consistently found that perceivers’ impressions were biased by cumulative redundancy. Specifically, impressions about the winner and the loser of a sequence were more divergent when the winner took an early lead compared with a late lead. When the sequence ended in a draw, participants formed more favorable impressions about the competitor who was ahead during most observations. We tested and ruled out several alternative explanations related to primacy effects, counterfactual thinking, and heuristic beliefs. We discuss the wide-ranging implications of our findings for impression formation and performance evaluation.

That is from a new paper by Hans Alves and André Mata, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

My Conversation with Russ Roberts

The podcast master himself, here is the audio and transcript, here is the opening summary:

What are the virtues of forgiveness? Are we subject to being manipulated by data? Why do people struggle with prayer? What really motivates us? How has the volunteer army system changed the incentives for war? These are just some of the questions that keep Russ Roberts going as he constantly analyzes the world and revisits his own biases through thirteen years of conversations on EconTalk.

Russ made his way to the Mercatus studio to talk with Tyler about these ideas and more. The pair examines where classical liberalism has gone wrong, if dropping out of college is overrated, and what people are missing from the Bible. Tyler questions Russ on Hayek, behavioral economics, and his favorite EconTalk conversation. Ever the host, Russ also throws in a couple questions to Tyler.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Here’s a reader question. “In which areas are you more pro-regulation than the average American?” They mean government regulation.

ROBERTS: Than the average American?

COWEN: Yes.

ROBERTS: I can’t think of any. Can you help me out there, Tyler?

COWEN: Well, I’m not sure I know all of your views.

ROBERTS: What would you guess? Give me some things to think about there. In general, I think government should be smaller and regulations should be smaller.

COWEN: I’ll give you–

ROBERTS: Let me give you a trick answer. Then I’ll let you feed me some.

COWEN: Sure.

ROBERTS: Many people believe that the financial crisis was caused by deregulation. I think that’s a misreading of the evidence. It’s true that some pieces of the financial sector were deregulated, but government intervention in the financial sector was quite significant in advance of the crisis. In particular, the bailouts that we did of past failed financial institutions, I think, encouraged lenders to be more careless with how they lent their money, mainly to other institutions, not so much to people out in the world like you and me.

Deregulation’s a little bit tricky, so I wanted to get that in. I’m not sure how that pertains to the question. It does, probably, in some way. So give me something I should be more regulatory about.

COWEN: Well, one answer —

ROBERTS: Baseball? Baseball, of course. [laughs]

COWEN: I would say animal welfare — government should have a larger role. But also what counts as a tax-exempt institution, I would prefer our government be stricter.

ROBERTS: Well, I’m with you there. Yeah, okay, kind of.

COWEN: Well, that’s more regulation, okay?

ROBERTS: I guess.

COWEN: Kind of.

ROBERTS: Yeah, kind of. It’s different standards.

COWEN: Higher capital requirements for banks.

ROBERTS: I’m okay with that. Yeah, that’s a good one. I’d prefer a laissez-faire world for banks, more or less. If we can’t credibly promise not to bail out banks — if that’s the case, we live in a world where banks get to keep their profits and put their losses on taxpayers — bad world. A more regulated world would be better than the world we live in; not as good as my ideal world, though. But there’s a case where I would be in favor — like you just said — more capital requirements.

You’re on a roll. See what else you can come up with for me.

COWEN: Spending more money for tax enforcement, especially on the wealthy.

ROBERTS: Not the worst thing in the world.

COWEN: You can spend a dollar and bring in several times that, it seems.

ROBERTS: I don’t think rich people cheat on their taxes. Do you? [laughs]

COWEN: “Cheat” is a tricky word, but I think we could spend more money.

ROBERTS: We could probably collect more effectively.

COWEN: And it would more than pay for itself.

ROBERTS: Yeah. That’s probably true.

COWEN: We’re actually big fans of government regulation today.

ROBERTS: Yeah, we’ve really expanded the tent here. [laughs]

Do read or listen to the whole thing.

Thwarted markets in everything

Ahead of the second summit in Hanoi, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un requested as part of the agreement between the countries moving forward that the U.S. send “famous basketball players” to normalize relations between the two countries, according to two U.S. officials.

The request was made in writing, officials said, as part of the cultural exchange between the two countries, and at one point the North Koreans insisted that it be included in the joint statement on denuclearization. The North Koreans also made a request for the exchange of orchestras between the two countries.

Here is the full story.  Via Ian Bremmer.

Baseball umpires are not so great, and older umpires are much worse

This deep-dive analysis demonstrated that MLB umpires make certain incorrect calls at least 20 percent of the time, or one in every five calls. Research results revealed clear two-strike bias and pronounced strike zone blind spots. Less-experienced younger umpires in their prime routinely outperformed veterans, and umpires selected in recent World Series were not the best performers. Results showed a declining but still unacceptably high BCR score, but on a positive note, only a marginal inter-inning call inconsistency.

The most likely mistakes are made at the top of the strike zone.  And older umpires really are worse:

Based on the research, professional umpires, similar to professional baseball players, have a standard peak. The study revealed that home plate umpires who made the Top 10 MLB performance list (2008-2018) had an average of 2.7 years of experience, and averaged 33 years of age with a BCR of 8.94 percent. None of these top performers had more than five years of experience or were older than 37…

In contrast to the overall top performers, research uncovered that umpires on the Bottom 10 MLB performance list (2008-2018) had an average experience level of 20.6 years, were 56.1 years of age, and had an average BCR of 13.96 percent. This group’s error rate was a staggering 56 percent higher than the top 10 MLB performers. Umpire Jerry Layne, with 29 years on the job and at age 61, sported the highest BCR, 14.18 percent. This performance research clearly indicates that more experience and age does not necessarily produce the best umpires.

Here is the full story, written by Mark T. Williams, who also did the data work, via the excellent John Chamberlain.

The Effect of Economic Vulnerability on Protest Participation in the National Football League

Also known as “Incentives matter”:

What distinguishes between National Football League (NFL) players who participated in protests during the National Anthem and those who did not? Does the finding of a personal vulnerability constraint in high‐risk activism apply to this relatively elite population?

Protest participation during 2017 was determined for every NFL player, along with several variables pertaining to their performance, compensation, and the political atmosphere of their team.

Bivariate and multivariate tests both reveal that protest participation was far greater among players with large guaranteed contracts and among players who were well regarded for their performance.

Economic vulnerability ranges widely within the NFL such that players hold contracts offering guaranteed payments of anywhere between $92 million and nothing at all. The data here suggest that the personal vulnerability constraint documented in protest participation research also applies to this unique population of high‐profile people engaged in a most high‐profile protest. Documenting the existence of these constraints helps offer a more systematic foundation to our understanding of political activism behavior among athletes.

That is from a newly published article by David Niven.