Category: Sports


From David Foster Wallace's 1995 essay, The String Theory:

… it's better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing. Oh, we'll invoke lush cliches about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one's mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way "up close and personal" profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life — outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what's obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It's farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence. An ascetic focus. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child's world, is very small.

Hat tip to Tim Carmody filling in at Kottke.

Negative complementarities in the labor market

The Miami Heat easily sold out its season tickets after LeBron James announced he was joining the team. That turned out to be bad news for the ticket-sales staff, which the Heat fired Friday.

“Now that the supply for [season tickets] has been exhausted we no longer require a season ticket sales team,'' the Heat said in a brief statement Friday afternoon.

A team spokeswoman, Lorrie-Ann Diaz, declined to comment or answer questions about the firings, which one staffer said cost roughly 30 people their jobs.

The full story is here and for the pointer I thank Michael R.

Where should LeBron James go?

According to what moral theory? 

Still, to me the answer is obvious, though no one seems to even discuss my idea.  He should go to the Los Angeles Lakers.  For a one-year contract, zero pay, if he can't convince the Lakers to pay the luxury tax.  Better yet, make zero pay part of the PR in an age where viewers are sick of huge corporate bonuses for non-winning CEOs.  This way he would learn the ways of a winning organization, which he needs to do, and very likely win a title immediately. He would convince Phil Jackson to return for another year.  Most of his income comes from endorsements anyway, so he doesn't need the salary, plus the title and Los Angeles exposure would make his name more valuable.  He would get "credit" for the title (does anyone these days complain that Magic Johnson never won a title without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?  No.)  He could play fewer minutes and extend his career and keep his stamina intact for the playoffs.  The next year he could move on or he might even decide to stay, pairing with Gasol and Bynum for years, while Kobe slides into a sixth man role.  Since he has had good health, he could buy an insurance policy to protect against career-ending injury.

The idea of pairing James with Wade and Bosh seems to me extremely misguided: LeBron, please read Ludwig Lachmann's Capital and its Structure!

Who should a utilitarian root for in the World Cup?

The very excellent Sandor writes to me:

From a maximum utility point of view, who's the right team to root for in the 2010 FIFA World Cup (TM)?

The off-the-top-of-head first order model seems something like

num_native_fans * (joy_of_native_fans_upon_winning –
misery_upon_losing) + num_foreign_fans * (joy – misery),

where the second term is probably negligible compared to the first,
except maybe for Uruguay and Paraguay.  The "joy" term probably is larger the longer it's been since the team won?  But maybe the misery is less for teams that have never gotten far—wouldn't Ghanaians be
pretty thrilled with a loss in the semifinal?

What are the second order and higher effects?  Germany's lost productivity from a long tournament run is worth more in absolute terms but maybe less in utility terms?  Do we need terms for foreign anti-fans?—I've heard a surprising number of people express extreme anti-Germany and anti-Brazil feelings, the former for past crimes, the latter for general arrogance.

I'm attracted to the Netherlands and the two 'Guays, which are probably the lowest three in utility terms.  Maybe I'm just a misanthrope.

Does Derek Parfit like football?

My view is that a Brazilian victory does the most to maximize happiness, although I worry about the effects on second-order violence.

If you wish to rationalize the victory of a small country team, try the argument that too many young people invest career time in becoming athletes.  By having a small nation grab the glory, this wasteful effect is minimized.

Barbados vs. Grenada, the demand for own-goals, 1994

There was an unusual match between Barbados and Grenada.

Grenada went into the match with a superior goal difference, meaning that Barbados needed to win by two goals to progress to the finals. The trouble was caused by two things. First, unlike most group stages in football competitions, the organizers had deemed that all games must have a winner. All games drawn over 90 minutes would go to sudden death extra time. Secondly and most importantly, there was an unusual rule which stated that in the event of a game going to sudden death extra time the goal would count double, meaning that the winner would be awarded a two goal victory.

Barbados was leading 2-0 until the 83rd minute, when Grenada scored, making it 2-1. Approaching the dying moments, the Barbadians realized they had no chance of scoring past Grenada's mass defense, so they deliberately scored an own goal to tie the game at 2-2. This would send the game into extra time and give them another half hour to break down the defense. The Grenadians realized what was happening and attempted to score an own goal as well, which would put Barbados back in front by one goal and would eliminate Barbados from the competition.

However, the Barbados players started defending their opposition's goal to prevent them from doing this, and during the game's last five minutes, the fans were treated to the incredible sight of Grenada trying to score in either goal. Barbados also defended both ends of the pitch, and held off Grenada for the final five minutes, sending the game into extra time. In extra time, Barbados notched the game-winner, and, according to the rules, was awarded a 4-2 victory, which put them through to the next round.

The full story is here and I thank Solomon Gold for the pointer.  Angus also blogged this story, with video evidence as well.

The U.S. Soccer President, Sunil Gulati

Gulati graduated Magna Cum Laude from Bucknell University and earned his M.A. and M. Phil. in Economics at Columbia University. He served on the Columbia Economics Faculty from 1986 to1990 before joining the World Bank through its Young Professionals Program in 1991 and serving as country economist for the emerging country of Moldova.

The full story is here, hat tip Yoram Bauman.  Is he still a Lecturer thereThis interesting Jonah Lehrer article, via Michelle Dawson, covers the U.S. goalie:

He [Howard] refuses to take medication for [Tourette's] for fear it will make him "zombielike" and impair his motor skills. "I'm very adrenaline-filled, and I wouldn't want to suppress that," Howard said. "I like the way I am. If I woke up tomorrow without Tourette's, I wouldn't know what to do with myself."

What do basketball fans want?

Historically meaningful match-ups between titans: reported Wednesday afternoon the most demand for NBA Finals tickets in the website's 10-year year history, with the average asking price of more than $1,100 a ticket double what it was for last year's Finals between the Lakers and Orlando Magic. Even as the Lakers faced possible elimination in Tuesday's Game 6, prices for Game 7 remained steady at $1,260 per ticket, according to When the Lakers won Game 6, spokesperson Christian Anderson said the average ticket price quickly jumped to $1,562.71."

The link is here.

Wikipedia on A.J. Ayer and Mike Tyson

He taught or lectured several times in the United States, including serving as a visiting professor at Bard College in the fall of 1987. At a party that same year held by fashion designer Fernando Sanchez, Ayer, then 77, confronted Mike Tyson harassing the (then little-known) model Naomi Campbell. When Ayer demanded that Tyson stop, the boxer said: "Do you know who the fuck I am? I'm the heavyweight champion of the world," to which Ayer replied: "And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent in our field. I suggest that we talk about this like rational men." Ayer and Tyson then began to talk, while Naomi Campbell slipped out.

The link is here and the pointer is from Daniel Klein.

Draw the rational Bayesian inference here

Germany’s BaFin financial-services regulator said it will temporarily ban naked short selling and naked credit-default swaps of euro-government bonds starting at midnight. The ban also includes naked short selling of 10 banks and insurers.

I thank a loyal MR reader for the pointer, my apologies I have misplaced the email and I don't know your name.

How marginal tax rates changed boxing

The 1950s was the era of the 90 percent top marginal tax rate, and by the end of that decade live gate receipts for top championship fights were supplemented by the proceeds from closed circuit telecasts to movie theaters. A second fight in one tax year would yield very little additional income, hardly worth the risk of losing the title. And so, the three fights between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson stretched over three years (1959-1961); the two between Patterson and Sonny Liston over two years (1962-1963), as was also true for the two bouts between Liston and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) (1964-1965). Then, the Tax Reform Act of 1964 cut the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent effective in 1965. The result: two heavyweight title fights in 1965, and five in 1966. You can look it up.

That's Henry Fetter, hat tip goes to Andrew Sullivan.

*Stumbling on Wins*

The subtitle is Two Economists Expose the Pitfalls on the Road to Victory in Professional Sports and the authors are David Berri and Martin Schmidt.  I liked this bit (p.21) about the factors which do not explain free agents' salaries in the NBA:

Free Throw Shooting Efficiency



Size of Market Where Player Signs

Playing the Center, Power Forward, or Point Guard position

Race of Player

Here is previous coverage on their earlier book, The Wages of Wins.

Usain Bolt should be running in the 2040 Olympics

Originally I was going to put this under "Assorted Links" but I decided it deserved its own spotlight.  Here is one very good excerpt of many:

During the drive phase, Bolt and the rest of the runners are all leaning forward at an unsustainable tilt, their torsos out ahead of where their feet impact the ground. They are basically in the act of falling down, face-first, but their legs, racing against gravity, are preventing that from happening, propelling them forward so hard and so fast that their bodies, instead of face-planting, begin to slowly rise up into a full upright position. Sprinters often describe this phase, when everything happens correctly, as being analogous to liftoff in an airplane.

Here is another good bit:

His top speed is such a spectacle, so phenomenal, so searing that many who witness this race, who see Bolt cross the line in 9.69 seconds, breaking his own three-month-old world record by three hundredths of a second, don't notice, until they see the replay, what is perhaps the most salient and frightening thing about his performance: Approximately eighty meters into the race, twenty meters from the finish line, Bolt stops trying.

Read the whole thing.  For the pointer I thank The Browser.

The iPad

Could this be the medium through which the fabled convergence finally occurs?

Most of all, think of it as a substitute for your TV.

It has the all-important quality of allowing you to bend your head and body as you wish (more or less), as you use it.  By bringing it closer or further, you control the "real size" of the iPad, so don't fixate on whether it appears "too big" or "too small."

The pages turn faster than those of Kindle.  The other functions are also extremely quick and the battery feels eternal.

So far my main complaint is how it uses "auto-correct" to turn "gmu" into "gum."

While I will bring it on some trips, most of all it feels too valuable to take very far from the house.

On YouTube I watched Chet Atkins, Sonny Rollins, and Angela Hewitt.

Note all the categories on this short post!

Where are the good Scandinavian figure skaters?

John-Charles Bradbury asks:

Scandinavian countries tend to be quite good at most winter sports, which is no surprise given their climate; however, no Scandinavian athlete has won a figure skating medal since 1936.

There's some data at the link.  The natural microeconomic hypothesis is to cite David Friedman's work on warm houses in cold climates, and vice versa.  Sweden has ice lots of the year, so it's (maybe) less valuable to build ice arenas.  That would mean you can skate for only part of the year.  Warmer nations build more arenas — otherwise their citizens can't skate at all — but then their skaters have year-round access.  Perhaps the 1936 shift point comes because, if you go back far enough, no country is building ice arenas.

Since it's harder to build ski facilities in a warm climate, this effect is concentrated on skating.

I don't have any evidence for this mechanism, it is simply the economic argument which comes to mind.  Do you have better ideas or relevant evidence on this question?  From which states do the U.S. gold medal skaters come from?  How ice-bound are those states?  How involved were the fathers in the education and training of the female gold medalists?

Addendum: Scott Beaulier chimes in and John-Charles replies.