Sports Illustrated writer David Epstein has a new book out, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. The title strikes me as coarse and reductive, but I am aware that authors do not always have control over such things. I’ve corresponded with Epstein a bit over the past year, and he’s sent me some passages relating to human evolutionary genetics and paleoanthropology to me to make sure they don’t sound crazy. I haven’t had time to read the book, but judging from the interview I listened to on NPR it’s data rich and theory subtle. Though the title seems to imply that athleticism is a single gene trait where most of the variation in the population is due to genetic variation, Epstein denies this and instead presents the reality that athleticism is a complex trait which many dimensions, subject to numerous genetic and environment variables, and, interactions across those variables. That would make for a less sexy subtitle, but it would have had the attribute of being correct.
Over at Think Progress there’s a piece titled Why We Can’t Dismiss The NBA Labor Dispute As ‘Millionaires Versus Billionaires’, where the author argues that the players are fundamentally different than the owners in relation to the acquisition of their wealth. There’s a whole lot of prose there, but the first commenter really hit the nail on the head: Chris Rock solved this shit years ago (and you just read that in his voice) – “The guys on the court are RICH. The guy sitting up in the box is WEALTHY.” If you magically multiplied the players’ salaries by a factor of two all that would do is that push back the likelihood of bankruptcy by 5 years or so. An added cushion would take more time to burn through, but that would be compensated for the fact that signalling consumption would increase. In other words, instead of 8 cars in the garage, 16. Instead of an entourage of 6, 12.
So It didn’t work out for LeBron this year. I suspect it will work in the near future. Remember that it took Shaq and Kobe four years to win their first championship. Talent doesn’t guarantee a championship, but it sure does increase the odds. For now though I’m savoring. Though perhaps not as much as the people in Cleveland.
I think it is pretty irrational to bet on the Mavericks against the Heat in the NBA Finals. And since my Celtics lost I haven’t been following what’s going on closely, but I hope Jason Kidd gets his ring. He’s had some ups and downs, but I do remember being amazed by him when he was a freshman at Cal (though watching tape of Magic it was clear that he had the same panache when it came to assists):
Interesting article in Slate. This shocked me:
Out of all the big schools, NBA teams likely fall harder for Dukies because of their NCAA tournament success. In Stumbling on Wins, economists David J. Berri and Martin B. Schmidt find that players who appear in the Final Four the year they’re drafted get a boost of 12 draft positions. Berri and Schmidt believe that this boost is unwarranted. One of the “statistically significant factors … that lead to less productivity in the NBA,” they write, is “playing for an NCAA champion the year drafted.”
I’ll have to look at the model itself, but this is somewhat surprising if plausible. It makes intuitive sense, but NBA teams don’t normally take the draft lightly and do prep work. On the other hand, as the years go by I’ve become more skeptical about the ability of institutions to squeeze all efficiencies out of any given process (I suspect there’s a principal-agent problem; those who are making the final call are less likely to get fired if they select a “can’t miss” who they think is overrated if that prospect flops than if they get someone who they believe is underrated, and it turns out their assessment was in error).
Personally, I think the similarities between Duke and Indiana during the Bobby Knight years are telling, and Knight was a mentor of Mike Krzyzewski. Both schools seem to produce fewer stars on the professional level in relation to the success of their teams; but I think the group vs. individual dynamic is key. There are differences between the pro and collegiate level, and Duke and Knight’s Indiana teams were able to leverage group level efficiency and precision in collective action to make up for shortfalls in relative individual talent. When a team manages to win many games individual players are perceived to be better than they are. Take individuals out of that context and their more modest talent endowments become obvious. A college team which routinely makes it far in the NCAA tournament can regularly field what might be “role players” at best in the NBA.