Category: Sports

Race discrimination in the NBA, alas I have long suspected this

Here is part of the abstract:

Weighted quantile regressions show evidence of consumer discrimination in that black players with high audience visibility (role and star players) experience a larger racial wage gap. The size of the share of the white population is shown to be positively correlated with the racial wage gap. No employee nor employer discrimination is found.

And:

Black players receive on average 20.5% less than their counterparts, all else equal.

Here is the paper by Candon Johnson and Eduardo Munici, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Why chess has remained popular, and why the internet is hard to predict

Those are the topics of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

It turns out that chess is oddly well-suited for a high-tech world. Chess does not make for gripping television, but the option of live viewing online, supplemented by computer analysis or personal commentary, has driven a renaissance of the game.

For one thing, computer evaluations have made watching more intelligible. Even if you barely understand chess, you can quickly get a sense of the state of play with the frequently changing numerical evaluations (“+ 2.00,” for instance, means white has a decisive advantage, whereas “0.00” signals an even position). You also can see, with each move, whether the player will choose what the computer finds best.

In essence, some of the suspenseful stupidities of low-level video games have been infused into eggheady chess. You can indulge your inner Pac Man without feeling guilty about it.

At first it was thought that online viewers would favor rapid and blitz chess, which are (as you might expect) more fast-paced. In fact, the slower games, including contests of five hours or more, have not put viewers off. If you are sitting at your office desk, you might wish to glance at the position every few minutes or so. A slower game means you can do that without missing much of the action, and yet still most of your work will get done. If the game is heading to a climax, you can pay full attention for that short period.

Fortunately, the software programs that evaluate the games and players are not yet infallible. So if Stockfish (one such program) indicates that your favorite player is far behind, you can hold out a slim hope that the software is wrong. “Creating artificial suspense” is one of the killer apps of the internet.

There is much more, including a discussion of basketball and trash talking, do read the whole thing.

Prophets of the Conversations with Tyler

From before the season started:

COWEN: The Milwaukee Bucks last year won, I believe, 44 games, and in the NBA, they were in the bottom third for the number of three-pointers attempted. Why should we think they might do better this year?

[Ben] THOMPSON: Because they had the worst coach in the league, by far, and he is gone, and now they have a new coach. They actually have the best shot profile in the entire league in the preseason, which is shooting threes or shooting shots at the rim. They are 89 percent or something like that.

They are going to have a great year. Giannis is going to win MVP. It’s going to be amazing, and we, being Bucks Twitter, is going to spend the whole time telling everyone that we were right and they were wrong.

That is from my Conversation with Ben Thompson.  The Bucks are now 9-2, and two nights ago they beat the world champion Golden State Warriors.

Why intellectuals should not be afraid to like sports

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, with a focus on the NBA.  Here is one excerpt:

Earlier three-point innovators were called crazy, and maybe they were. The Phoenix Suns tried a fast-break, three-point offense from 2004 to 2010, and they didn’t break through with it. It was persistent foreign competition that finally drove the three points home, when European and other foreign teams, which tended to take more three-point shots, did surprisingly well against U.S. teams in the Olympics. Basketball thus teaches that innovation is not automatic, and it often pays to look abroad for inspiration, even if you are the top performer at any particular moment.

In addition to being a good default conversation topic, sports also keep us in touch with strands of American life that many of us may not encounter otherwise. Following basketball gives me new entry points into rap music, sneaker contracts, college athletics, gifs, the economics of television, even Twitter; it also helped me diagnose an injury a few years ago, when I pulled both of my rotator cuffs and knew immediately how to deal with it. A lot of the American debate over race, and over protest and proper public behavior, has played out through the medium of sports.

By the way, I have no forecasts for the NBA this year other than the trivial.  As for the Lakers and LBJ, I suppose I pick them to come in seventh or so, but to go down in the first round of the playoffs.

The future of football, revisited

On one hand:

Ratings for regular-season games fell 17 percent over the past two years, according to Nielsen, and after one week of play in the new season, viewership has been flat. February marked the third-straight year of audience decline for the Super Bowl and the smallest audience since 2009. Youth participation in tackle football, meanwhile, has declined by nearly 22 percent since 2012 in the face of an emerging scientific consensus that the game destroys the brains of its players.

On the other hand, how many other focal experiences are left:

Yet even a middling franchise, the Carolina Panthers, sold in May for a league record  $2.3 billion. Advertisers spent a record $4.6 billion for spots during NFL games last season, as well as an all-time high $5.24 million per 30 seconds of Super Bowl time. The reason is clear: In 2017, 37 of the top 50 broadcasts on U.S. television were NFL games, including four of the top five.

The Green Bay Packers, the only NFL team that shares financial statements with the public, has posted revenue increases for 15 straight seasons. Leaguewide revenue has grown more than 47 percent since 2012. Commissioner Roger Goodell’s official target is $25 billion in revenue by 2027, or roughly 6 percent annual growth.

“The business of the NFL is very strong and continues to get stronger,” says Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd., and an unofficial surrogate for league owners.

But what will happen if the number of brain damage cases continues to rise?  Here is more from Ira Boudway and Eben Novy-Williams at Bloomberg.

For the pointer I thank Ray Lopez.

Height, size, and tennis

Five of the 16 men in the fourth round of singles at the United States Open are at least 6-5, and seven of the 16 women are at least 5-10…

The serve is the aspect in which undersized players most feel the height gap — they do not get to hit down on the ball and thus cannot generate the same power as taller players.

In earlier decades height was not nearly as important for tennis success.  Yet:

Returning serve is one area in which shorter players tend to be better than the largest of their counterparts…

Flipkens said shorter players had to learn to analyze the game better, reading their opponent’s tosses to make the most of their return opportunities.

Austin said, “Anticipation is not an overt skill, but it is crucial to develop.”

Once the ball is in play, smaller players frequently rely on superior speed. “Everybody is taller than me,” the 5-1 Kurumi Nara said, “so I try to move well and more quickly than the other person.”

While bigger players are getting more agile, most still are not light on their feet. Low balls at the feet make them uncomfortable.

Glushko said taller players “don’t like the ball hit into the body,” and that applies to serves too.

Smaller players like Siegemund said the best tactic was to stand further back, allowing them to run down more balls — and to let the balls come down to a more manageable height. But to play defense and extend rallies, Seigemund said, smaller players must stay in top shape.

“All the players are fit, but we have to be fitter,” she said.

Some say the opposite approach may be more helpful. “The whole point of tennis is to rob your opponent of time,” Austin said. “You can do that with raw power or by hitting the ball early. Shorter players need to take the ball extra early.”

That is from Stuart Miller at the NYT.  In addition to having some interest in tennis, I wonder to what extent this is a property of achievement in general.  As the logic of meritocracy advances, and the pool of talent is searched more efficiently, perhaps individuals with a clear natural advantage — whether size, smarts, or something else — become a larger percentage of top achievers.  Yet those wonderful “natural athletes” will have their weaknesses, just as Shaquille O’Neal had hands too large for the effective shooting of free throws.  So a second but smaller tier opens up for individuals who have the smarts, versatility, and “training mentality” to fill in the gaps left open by the weaknesses of the most gifted.  Who are the “taller” and “shorter” players in the economics profession?  Politics?  The world of tech?  Are there any “short players” left in the top ranks of the world of chess?  I don’t think so.

And maybe, for these reasons, late growth spurts are a source of competitive advantage?

eSports update

In case you’ve been sleeping:

Tournament prize pools now rival those for some of the biggest events in traditional sports, and global audiences for some big gaming events have surpassed 100 million viewers, driven largely by esports’ exploding popularity in Asia.

The lion’s share of esports revenue comes from corporate sponsorships, according to industry analysis firm Newzoo, with ticket sales, merchandising and broadcasting rights bringing in additional revenue. Newzoo estimates that esports will generate $345 million in revenue in North America this year, in addition to more than half a billion dollars in revenue overseas.

You will note that total is much less than for major league football or baseball, which exceed $10 billion each.  Still, “more service for less gdp” is a common theme in the internet economy.  Consider this:

The 2017 League of Legends world championship, held in Beijing, drew a peak of over 106 million viewers, over 98 percent of whom watched from within China, according to industry analyst Esports Charts. That’s roughly on par with the audience for the 2018 Super Bowl.

In other words, the nation without the traditional “locked in” major sport franchises is choosing to jump to eSports.  And:

This year’s total DOTA 2 championship audience was roughly the same size as the total number tuning into the Kentucky Derby, and considerably larger than the peak Wimbledon, Daytona 500, U.S. Open or Tour de France audiences.

All of a sudden, more and more of the world is “stuff I never really heard of before.”

Here is more from Christopher Ingraham at Wonkblog.

Olympic gold medals and longevity

Perhaps it is better to win the silver, to which other life outcomes might this apply?:

This paper compares mortality between Gold and Silver medalists in Olympic Track and Field to study how achievement influences health. Contrary to conventional wisdom, winners die over one year earlier than losers. I find strong evidence of differences in earnings and occupational choices as a mechanism. Losers pursued higher-paying occupations than winners according to individual Census records. I find no evidence consistent with selection or risk-taking. How people respond to success or failure in pivotal life events may produce long-lasting consequences for health.

That is from Adam Leive, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Good-bye soccer moms? (and dads)

Or U.S.A. fact of the day:

Over the past three years, the percentage of 6- to 12-year-olds playing soccer regularly has dropped nearly 14 percent, to 2.3 million players, according to a study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, which has analyzed youth athletic trends for 40 years. The number of children who touched a soccer ball even once during the year, in organized play or otherwise, also has fallen significantly.

…In general, participation in youth sports nationwide has declined in the past decade, as children gravitate to electronic diversions and other distractions…

“It’s lost more child participants than any other sport — about 600,000 of them,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program.

That is from Joe Drape at the NYT.

Corruption and sensitive soccer games

We utilize data from sensitive soccer games in 75 countries between the years 2001 and 2013. In these games one team was in immediate danger of relegation to a lower division (Team A) and another team was not affected by the result (Team B). Using within-country variation, our difference-in-difference analysis reveals that the more corrupt the country, according to Corruption Perceptions Index, the higher is the probability that Team A would achieve the desired result in the sensitive games relative to achieving this result in other, non-sensitive games against the same team. We also find that in the later stages of the following year, the probability that Team A would lose against Team B compared to losing against a similar team (usually better than Team B) is significantly higher in more corrupt countries than in less corrupt countries. This result serves as evidence of quid pro quo behavior.

That is a recently published paper by Guy Elaad, Alex Krumer, and Jeffrey Kantor.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The NBA vs. the NFL

[Lebron] James has more than 38 million followers on Instagram and nearly 42 million on Twitter. Brady, the N.F.L.’s biggest star, has 4.1 million Instagram followers and is not active on Twitter.

The best of those N.B.A. players are also power brokers behind the scenes. The executive committee of the N.B.A. players’ union looks like a future wing of the Hall of Fame, including James, Curry, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony.

The John Branch article (NYT) is interesting throughout on the economics of sports, social media, American politics, and race.  I’ve said it before, but the NBA is one of the best-functioning institutions in America today.

Which system should be redesigned from scratch?

Here is another question I didn’t get to answer from last night:

Your blog talks about making small marginal improvements, but if you could redesign one system entirely from scratch, which one would it be, and how would it look compared to what is currently in place?

One answer would be “blogging, I would have much more of it.”  But my main answer would be higher education, especially those tiers below the top elite universities.  Completion rates are astonishingly low, and also not very transparent (maybe about 40 percent?).  I would ensure that every single student receives a reasonable amount of one-on-one tutoring and/or mentoring in his or her first two years.  In return, along budgetary lines, I would sacrifice whatever else needs to go, in order to assure that end.  If we’re all standing around in robes, arguing philosophy under the proverbial painted porch, so be it.  At the same time, I would boost science funding at the top end.

I also would experiment with abolishing the idea of degree “completion” altogether.  Maybe you simply finish with an “assessment,” or rather you never quite finish at all, since you might return to take a class when you are 43.  Why cannot this space be more finely grained, especially in an age of information technology?

At lower ages, I would do everything possible to move away from having all of the children belong to the exact same age group.  The Boy Scouts are a better model here than “the 7th grade.”

The NBA is one institution that I feel is working really well at the moment. and I don’t just say that because I root for Golden State.  Though that doesn’t hurt any, either.

Trampoline question

I gave a talk yesterday, and did not have time to get to this question, from Eric S., which we discussed during the dinner hour:

Who could launch themselves higher on a trampoline? LeBron James or Simone Biles?

She is a world class female gymnast, and much lighter (and less strong) than LeBron.  The question is assuming that both parties are motivated to win the competition, and have sufficient time to train to achieve their maximum potential in the contest.

Ultimately I settled on Simone as the better answer, mumbling something about small ants being very powerful for their size, and that magnification and extension of muscle spans ends up producing problematic results.  The power gain from the extra weight might be more than offset by the “drag” loss on the way up.  But I genuinely do not know.  Your view?

Addendum: This is an interesting article on animals and elastic springs.  And Jason Kottke adds comment, amazing photo too.