Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Where's the Magic Going?

Michael Lewis is a major sports writer in these here United States. His most famous work is Moneyball, which is a bestseller among sports books, but he also is a contributing writer in Vanity Fair, New York Times, and pretty much anywhere he feels like writing I guess.

And he drives me crazy.

He is a good author in terms of story telling, but there is only so much statistic talk I can handle. Moneyball was a good start because it involved a strategy used in building a baseball team by the use of stats. Baseball is a stats-based sport and the book brought us into the new professional sports world where computer stats are used to predict the usefulness of players. It was one book and I can deal with that.

This weekend, Lewis wrote an article in the New York Times about how the NBA is now using analytical data to figure out how to play basketball more efficiently. I'm out. I tried to read the trillion word article because it's focused around Houston Rockets forward Shane Battier and his big wrinkly Duke head. Do not be fooled, the article is about statistics.

Stats are good to use when building a sports team. They are good when drafting a fantasy team. They are good when forecasting business models and selling cars and deciding where to buy a house.

They are NOT good (at least for me) when watching and talking sports.

Maybe I'm an peasant removed from the Dark Ages, but I want some damn magic to my sports. I want the team whose coach lost his wife to cancer to win the big game. I want Cindere
lla stories and underdogs upsetting the big bad giant. I want the Brewers beating the Yankees, the 8th NBA playoff seed beating the Lakers, a Canadian team actually winning a hockey title (except Montreal, screw them and their "look at our tradition" crap).

In other
words, I want stuff not to make sense.

Nothing annoys me more than the sports guy (Bill Simmons anyone?) that talks about how he likes the 7 game series because we'll know that the best team won. What the hell fun is that?

There is a reason why people get paid to study statistical analysis. Because it's not an enjoyable activity. I know there are some people who actually relis
h it, but there are people who probably savor burnishing every metal object in the White House.

Since when did the unpredictable become bad? Do you really want to pre-determine everything that happens in your sporting life?

There are those that spend an entire lifetime finding statistical reasons for outcomes. Th
ey are called computers. I don't need to know that Kobe Bryant is 24% more effective going to his right side than his left side unless I'm guarding him. Just tell me he's better at going right and leave it there.

That way I can stare at his feats on the basketball court and wonder "how did he do that?" Sometimes it's better just to be amazed. Now if you will excuse me, I'm going to see if I can find Merlin shooting lightning out of his fingertips.


  1. How dare you cite a hypothetical 8th seed beating a 1 seed in the NBA playoffs when there was a perfectly good real-life example? Remember when my beloved Warriors whooped the Human Moving Pick from Germany and his first seed Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs just two years ago? Then again, given they're performance this year, the memory is a bit foggy for me as well...

    I read that whole article, by the way, and I recommend it. Anything that gets me to appreciate Shane Battier has done more than yeoman's work.

  2. I had managed to push that experience way down into the pits of my body so that I had forgotten about it. Almost.

    Thank you for pulling the scab off of that now fresh wound.