Category: Sports

Is Shaq the greatest?

Shaq A few points:

1. Bill Russell would not make first or second team All-NBA today.

2. MJ took over five years to become a truly great player.  For a long time he didn’t have much of a jumper.  The Shaq was NBA Player of the Week his first week in the league.

3. This last year an old, beat-up Shaq left the Lakers for Miami.  The Lakers are now pathetic but the betting market favors Miami to win an NBA title.

4. The first time MJ left Chicago, the remaining Bulls still made the Eastern Finals and were one referee call away from winning them.

5. Phil Jackson should get the credit for much of MJ’s supposed locker room presence in motivating players.  It didn’t do the Washington Wizards any good.

6. We underrate big players simply because they appear (and often are) less skilled or less graceful.  It is an open question in my mind whether MJ or Kareem (also six rings) is #2 on the list.

7. The wise Matthew Ginivan notes: "You put Shaq on any team, in any game, in any era, against any defender and he DOMINATES."

8. Who was it that said: "I am of the opinion that Shaquille should be the MVP every year."

Here is an excellent book with statistical arguments that Shaq is the greatest NBA player of all time.  Here is an analysis of Shaq vs. MJ.  And if you want an exercise for your students, ask them why the designation "Greatest Player of All Time" — a multi-dimensional concept — avoids the Arrow Impossibility Theorem.

Are sports winners more violent than sports losers?

The [research] team focused on the 106 international rugby or soccer matches between 1995 and 2002. On non-match days, the number of assault victims averaged 21 per day, and on match days when Wales lost this rose to 25. But the situation was worse after a win, with 33 admissions per day on average…

Match days would seem to organize groups of rowdies, if nothing else; winning might embolden their violence.  And don’t forget about alcohol.  Read more here.  Here is a related account.

Addendum: Thomas Edwards points to this explanation.

Should under-20s be allowed in the NBA?

It appears that Commissioner David Stern is pushing to ban under-20s from NBA play.  And surprise, the player’s union — whose median member is older than 20 — is not screaming about this proposal.  But what are the economics?  If a team drafts an under-20 player, are there negative external costs placed on the rest of the league?  I can see a few scenarios:

1. Drafting younger players makes it harder for bad teams to improve.  The lower-ranked teams pick first, but now they are no longer assured of getting real value.  The draft becomes more like a true lottery, which hurts the long-run competitive balance of the league.  And if teen players do pan out in a few years time, they can become free agents and move to winning teams.

2. Drafting younger players forces teams to spend more on scouting to predict player quality.  College ball in essence provides free training and free information.

3. Drafting younger players gives the league as a whole a bad reputation.  Furthermore the overall quality of play is lower.  Teams invest in future stars and future wins, not caring enough about the bricks they shoot up in the meantime.  But hey, other people are watching, or at least we hope so.

4. Forcing young athletes to play in college induces college ball fans (blecch, I hate college basketball) to take greater interest in the NBA.

5. Young phenoms, such as LeBron James, now have more years in the league since they are drafted earlier.  This boosts interest and attendance for everybody.  If you think that the NBA is superstar-driven, arguably teams do not draft young enough.

6. Perhaps later drafting would produce more stars.  Many players rush to the NBA and lose the chance to learn the game.  They are overconfident, while a commons problem plagues the drafting teams.  Waiting would make almost everyone better off, yet no single party can be induced to wait.

I’ll side with #5.  I suspect that Stern and the player’s union are either a) making a simple mistake in the name of misguided moralism, or b) crafting some broader Faustian and Coasian bargain where Stern offers this as one chip.

Why are there so many overweight NBA players?

A new study by The Associated Press reveals that nearly half of NBA players qualify as overweight using the body-mass index (BMI). According to the BMI, the only NBA player at a healthy weight is Mavericks center Shawn Bradley.

Here is the link.  Here is a photo of 7’6" Shawn Bradley, occasionally known as "The Stormin’ Mormon" and "The Human Stick."  Here is more information.

Addendum: The Bradley line is a joke…(:

Marxist reforms for the NBA

Bertil Ollmann writes:

The rules of basketball have changed often over the years, so I hope no one will object if I offer a few modest revisions to make this truly wonderful game even better:

First, I would charge an admission fee not only to watch the game but to play in it. And the more one pays, the longer one gets to stay in the game.

Second, there should be a price paid for each shot taken, and the easier the shot, the more it should cost.

Third, as for fouls, one should be able to pay the referees, so that they never call any fouls on you (or walking or double dribble violations for that matter).

Fourth – and maybe most important – there is no good reason that the baskets should be the same height for both teams. It should be possible for the team that pays more to have its basket lowered, and for double that amount to have the basket  the other team is going for raised.

Under present rules, those players who are taller and better coordinated and can run faster and jump higher have all the advantages. My rules would exchange the advantages enjoyed by these people for other advantages that would benefit  a different  group, one that  has been poorly served by basketball as now played. That group is the rich.  With my rules, the rich would possess all the "talent" (what it takes to win) and – more in keeping with what occurs in the rest of society –  never lose a game.

The (ostensible) goal is to educate people about how capitalism really works. But if we are going to play the game of caricatures, I’d like to see a "democratic NBA."  The vote of the crowd determines who wins the game.  Your points can be taken away from you at any time and given to the other team.  And note that foreign policy — arguably the most important thing our government does — is determined solely by the vote of the crowd of the home team.

For those of you who care about real "regulated by a third party private intermediary" NBA basketball, here is an analysis of the top five contenders.  The betting markets tell a different story.

The Merchant of Portland?

A Portland, Ore., man who put an Egyptian-themed tattoo on the right arm of Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace is suing to stop Wallace from displaying the art in ads for Nike basketball shoes. The man wants the ad taken off the air and seeks undisclosed damages, though he would settle for reclaiming the offensive pound of flesh.

Here is the link.  Here are the tattoos.  Here is a lengthier account of the story.

Markets for football possessions

…[in] the "Field Position Auction" proposal we submitted to the N.F.L. at the end of the 2002-3 season. In it, the loser of the overtime coin flip decides the yard line where the offense starts, and the winner chooses between taking the ball or starting on defense. We would also like to present an alternative method that achieves the same result, but eliminates the coin flip.

At the start of sudden-death overtime, the teams engage in a silent auction to decide possession. Each team writes down the yard line at which it would be willing to start its offense. The numbers are given to the referee in sealed envelopes; the team that picks the lower yard line gets the ball first. The first team to score wins. There is no coin flip. Each team has an equal chance to take possession, and the team willing to give up more field position gets the ball.

Otherwise the coin flip winner ends up triumphant sixty percent of the time.  Here is The New York Times link, and thanks to Robert Schwartz for the pointer.

Football and Old Growth Forests

My hometown of New York City, where a rigorous political process weeds out all but the nuttiest ideas, is considering building a $1.4 billion stadium to bring the Jets back across the river from New Jersey, where they share quarters with the Giants. New York city and state would ante up $300 million each even though NFL football teams only play eight home games a year. Are communities crazy to do this kind of thing?

Not necessarily, according to economists Jerry Carlino and Ed Coulson, whose highly readable recent paper on the subject tries to take account of the intangible value people derive from sports teams. "We found that once quality of life benefits are included in the calculus," they write, "the seemingly large public expenditure on new stadiums appears to be a good investment for cities and their residents." The authors liken having an NFL team to having an old-growth forest–it’s something people enjoy even if they never visit. This is to say nothing of the pleasure and unity they derive from rooting, discussing, etc.

That would account for why these stadium deals are politically popular; Pittsburgh area households, for instance, said in a survey they’d pay an extra $5.57 annually each to keep the NHL Penguins–which works out to a present value of $66 million at 8% over the presumed 30 year life of a stadium. Carlino and Coulson worked from their estimate of the effect NFL teams have on local rents (for some reason football seems to raise them) to determine that teams bestow an amenity value of $184 per person. In metro New York, this could be huge. Then again, the Jets are already *in* metro New York.

My take: I’m not qualified to comment on the researchers’ methodology, but broadly speaking I think they’re onto something. My sons and I get great pleasure following the Yankees, for instance, and would gladly pay some small annual tax to keep them. But my guess is that the intangible value of an NFL team would be inversely proportionate to the importance of a city. You can’t take the Packers out of Green Bay, but Los Angeles doesn’t seem to mind having no team at all. Then again, maybe it’s just the weather.

The Olympics and Greek History

Here are two free 30 minute lectures from the Teaching Company.

The Olympics: From Ancient Greece to Athens, Parts 1 and 2.

From 776 BC onwards, the greatest champions among the Greeks began assembling every four years at Olympia in western Greece to assert their strength and physical prowess. Who were the most charismatic of the ancient Greek Olympic heroes? To truly understand the origins of the Olympics, why do we really need to begin with Homer? In these specially commissioned lectures, Professor McInerney takes you on a journey back to the Olympics of the ancient Greek world.

Going for the gold

This sort of nonsense gives property rights a bad name.

Strict regulations published by Athens 2004 last week dictate that spectators may be refused admission to events if they are carrying food or drinks made by companies that did not see fit to sponsor the games.

Sweltering sports fans who seek refuge from the soaring temperatures with a soft drink other than one made by Coca-Cola will be told to leave the banned refreshment at the gates or be shut out. High on the list of blacklisted beverages is Pepsi, but even the wrong bottle of water could land spectators in trouble.

Thanks to Boing, Boing, Blog for the link.

Lance Armstrong Game Theorist

Armstrong’s victory in the Tour de France is a testament to his awesome physical skills but he and his team should also be credited with a sound understanding of game theory. Game theory arises in the tour because it’s important to take advantage of the draft created by riders in front. The dynamics of draft alone are fairly simple but add to this that the leader is not necessarily winning, the use of teams, the many stages, the different terrain etc. and you have a very complex strategic space. Correspondent Stephen Tuel writes about one episode of strategic biking:

The 18th stage was an excellent example of game theory at work. Lance Armstrong and the peloton were a few minutes back of a breakaway group of 6 riders (none of whom were a threat to the top of the overall standings since all were over 1 hour behind). Reading the various news reports and between the lines it appears that Armstrong’s team, US Postal, was doing all the work at the front of the peloton and the team of the closest competitors, T-Mobile, were loafing. (The crucial strategic variable in bicycling appears to be the effect of wind resistance, especially on the flat and on downhills–whoever is at the front has to work harder, and whoever is following can choose to conserve energy or share the effort.)

Armstrong and another rider (also over 1 hour behind in the overall standings) left the peloton, caught up with the group of 6, and helped them build a bigger lead. Once the lead started stretching, the T-Mobile team moved back to the front of the peloton and started taking their turns at the lead to help catch the breakaway group. Armstrong and his collaborator then relaxed, let the group of 6 go on (one eventually won the stage) and rejoined the peloton. By moving up with the breakaway group, Armstrong changed the payoffs which were letting the T-Mobile team slack off. Presumably, the continuing threat kept them working their share through the rest of the race.

See also this paper on strategic driving in NASCAR.

Addendum: Educated Guesswork and Evolution Will be Blogged chime in with another theory, Armstrong wanted to punish another cyclist for extra-curricular reasons. Interesting.

Look who’s scalping now

Recently, two major league baseball teams decided if they couldn’t beat scalpers, they would join them. The Chicago Cubs’ parent company established a corporation with the sole purpose of scalping Cubs tickets. The Seattle Mariners took a different, though similarly nefarious, approach. The team began facilitating the scalping of tickets on its website (where the team could charge a commission on the transactions) even as it hired off-duty police officers to enforce a local antiscalping law on the competition–the good old-fashioned freelance ticket broker…

It remains a puzzle why baseball teams ever prohibited scalping of tickets. Arguably they wanted to prevent their game from becoming seen as the province of the rich, which would have limited TV revenues in the longer run. Clearly the tide is turning toward more scalping and market-clearing prices. Why? Perhaps enough people are wealthy today that the reputational constraints are being relaxed.

Here is the full story, and thanks to Eric Crampton for the pointer.