Category: Sports

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.

Bartering the Big Kahuna?

For reasons mostly involving ego, Shaq and Kobe no longer wish to play together. The economic question is why two superstars can’t seem to get along on the same team. L.A., arguably America’s largest sports market, is the value-maximizing place to play ball, but pride, envy, and relative status seem to have won out.

And what would the Lakers get? Butler, a small forward/guard, can start on most teams in the NBA. Odom and Grant give them a plausible front line. The idea is that Kobe and Odom will be the new Jordan and Pippen. Unlikely, but the Dallas Mavericks were not offering anyone who could play defense.

Shaq is 32, has played twelve seasons (mostly long and tough), and no longer has stellar games on a back-to-back basis without a few days’ rest. He doesn’t try very hard throughout most of the regular season, which is poison for team morale, and he is on the verge of being a defensive liability. Miami may make the Eastern finals, but if the Lakers can’t get through Detroit I bet Miami won’t either. Miami already made the second round of the playoffs this year. In two years what will they have left?

The Lakers would be taking on risks too. If Odom is caught smoking pot again, he has to sit out an entire year. And how about this bit?

“Even though his scoring average dropped from 15.2 to 9.2 points last season, [Caron] Butler has great potential.

Butler also has a checkered past, being arrested 15 times before age 15. He spent a year in jail for bringing a gun and cocaine to school.”

Here is the analysis of the ever-smart Marty Burns on the pending deal. Tony Kornheiser agrees.

The bottom line? This would be one of the biggest deals in NBA history. But oddly neither team is giving up or getting very much.

And oh yes, this guy could stop the deal.

NBA economics

Read Mark Cuban’s thoughts on the Detroit Pistons, and why the Lakers lost. Mark Cuban, in case you don’t already know, is the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. His blog pretends to be about basketball but like so much of the best sports writing it concerns personnel management, human motivation, and how to measure achievement. I loved this line from yesterday: “Believe it or not, even in the NBA [trade] discussions start based off of what we read in the newspapers.”

Why so many perfect games in baseball?

…in the first 60 years of the 20th century, there were 4 perfect games in baseball, a game where a pitcher pitches a complete game and no one on the other team reaches first base. In the next 45 years, there have been 11, so the rate of perfection has roughly quadrupled.

Of course Randy Johnson just pitched a perfect game this last week.

Michael Coffey, of The New York Times, claims that higher returns to celebrity have increased the returns to extraordinary performances. But the more general fact is one of declining variance across athletic performances. Wilt Chamberlain dominated his contemporaries (one year he averaged fifty points and twenty-eight rebounds per game), but now basketball talent is more tightly clustered. Many runners can do a four-minute mile, and so on. So I doubt the Coffey explanation. It is now harder to stand out from the crowd, especially as we consider longer time frames of achievement.

Nor can you argue that pitchers are gaining on hitters across the board. Home run totals have skyrocketed. Russ Roberts makes a good point; he cites better fielding, which boosts the chance for a perfect game but doesn’t stop home runs. And of course we are simply playing more games of professional baseball [Richard Squire tells me about twice as many].

Or consider a statistical explanation. Yes, more excellent performers will mean that overall achievement is more tightly bunched. But at the same time, the flow of one-time “outlier performances” can rise. You have more “perfect game capable” pitchers trying to pitch perfect games than ever before. No one of them will achieve the lifetime dominance of Cy Young, but today’s best pitch or best pitched inning is better than Cy Young’s. This holds, even though batters have improved as well. We are dealing with the extremes of the distributions, not the bunching of the means as calculated across lifetime achievement. So we get more perfect pitches today than we did eighty years ago. Now just inch up the temporal unit from “pitch” to “game” and you can get to the required result…

What really impresses me:

A perfect game, nah. A sherpa just made it up Mount Everest in less than thirteen hours; even very good climbers can require at least four days.