Michael Jordan, the Bobcats, and Running the Lottery Treadmill

The Charlotte Bobcats came into existence in 2004.  At the conclusion of the next five seasons, the Bobcats finished out of the playoffs and hence earned a trip to the NBA’s lottery.  

After all of these lottery picks, the Bobcats finally made the playoffs in 2010.  That Bobcat team – the best in franchise history – only won 44 games and failed to win a playoff game.  Nevertheless, this squad was the highlight in the brief history of this team. 

Two short years after this epic campaign (epic by Bobcat standards), Charlotte has posted the worst season in franchise history.  In fact, with a winning percentage of only 0.106, the 2011-12 Bobcats were the worst team in NBA history.

If we look at what happened to Charlotte’s roster, it is easy to see why this team became so bad so quickly.  Back in 2009-10 the Bobcats were led by the following players (Wins Produced numbers taken from theNBAGeek.com, explanation of Wins Produced offered here): Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton, Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, Nazr Mohammed, and Tyson Chandler.   

Don’t Be Deceived by Carmelo Anthony’s Scoring Totals

Here is how the Associated Press led the story describing the Miami Heat’s elimination of the New York Knicks in the 2012 NBA Playoffs:

The final horn sounded, and LeBron James wrapped his arms around Carmelo Anthony in a warm embrace.

Their head-to-head scoring matchup in this series was even, 139 points apiece.

Just about everything else tipped Miami's way -- so the Heat are moving on and the New York Knicks are going home. 

Such a lead gives the impression that Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James played about the same in this series.  If we delve a bit deeper, though, we see that the scoring totals are quite deceptive.

Kevin Durant Impersonates Russell Westbrook for Sprint

If you have been watching the NBA recently – and with the playoffs going on, you should be – you may have seen the following ad for Sprint.

Often people don’t pay attention to what people say in ads.  But this one – starring Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder – has a very interesting opening line: “Man I was double-teamed.  With no one to pass it to, so I pulled up and hit the shot for the win…” 

Let's think about this for the moment. Durant says he has two defenders on him (i.e. he is double-teamed).  That means – if the other team is playing the standard five players, there are three more defenders on the court. And if Durant has four teammates on the court (and that would be standard), there must be someone open. But Durant says that there is no one to pass it to. 

Hmmmm…. 

Will the NBA Allow Ads on Jerseys?

One of our earliest Freakonomics Radio podcasts wondered whether the NFL might someday sell ads on players' game-day uniforms (there is already sponsorship on practice jerseys). After all, it's common practice in soccer, even in the U.S.

As Bloomberg Businessweek reports, the NBA might beat the NFL to the punch:

What’s not so certain is what a jersey deal is really worth. Front Row Marketing Services, whose parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, runs 11 regional sports networks and owned the Philadelphia 76ers until last fall, figures the annual cost to companies to place their logos on uniforms would range from $1.2 million to $7.5 million per year, depending mainly on the market where the team plays.

study by Horizon Media last year put the annual value of the television exposure of the space across an NBA jersey’s chest in a range from $4.1 million for the L.A. Lakers to $300,000 for the Minnesota Timberwolves. [David] Abruytin [sic], whose IMG arranged the partnership deal between the NBA and its official automotive partner Kia Motors, says those numbers are probably low. He estimates the Lakers could fetch $10 million to $15 million per year.

Would Paying College Players Really Destroy Competitive Balance?

March Madness is in the air. Over the next few weeks the nation will be focused on the fortunes of 68 college teams.  And all this focus on a supposedly amateur sport generates tremendous amounts of money.  For example, in 2010 CBS and Turner Broadcasting agree to pay the NCAA $10.8 billion to broadcast these games for fourteen seasons. This money represents more than 90% of the NCAA’s revenues.

Since colleges and universities tend to be non-profit, who gets all this money?  One person who seems to benefit is John Calipari, head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.  Last summer, Kentucky extended Calipari’s contract, with a new deal that will pay him $36.5 million across the next eight seasons. Contracts like this – which seem comparable to what an NBA coach might command -- are somewhat surprising. As economist Andrew Zimbalist has observed, the revenues of college sports – although apparently immense – pale in comparison to what we see in professional sports. And that leads one to wonder how a coach in college can command such a salary.

How the NBA Takes Money From People Who Don’t Like Basketball

The Sacramento Kings will continue to exist. This week, the City Council approved a plan to finance a new home for the Kings in Sacramento. The price tag, though, is pretty steep.  The arena will cost $391 million, and $255.5 million will be coming from the city of Sacramento.   

Opponents of this plan – and there were just two on the nine-member Council – noted that sports arenas don’t provide much economic benefit. Furthermore, they questioned why public money should be given to a private business. 

As Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy – who voted no – observed: "This city is on the verge of insolvency. As far as I know, we still technically qualify for bankruptcy under federal law.”

Proponents of this plan, though, argued that this plan will create jobs and economic benefits.  And it was this argument that apparently persuaded the majority.

So we have two perspectives and one question: Do sports generate jobs and economic growth? 

Football Freakonomics: What Can Linsanity Teach Us About the Upcoming NFL Draft?

In his first six NBA starts, Jeremy Lin averaged 24.3 points and 9.5 assists while leading the Knicks to six straight wins. 

If those numbers were attached to someone like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, you wouldn’t bat an eye. But until a couple weeks ago, Lin was little more than roster fodder, an undrafted player already cut by two teams and about to be cut by his third. That’s when a desperate coach who had run out of able-bodied point guards threw him into the fire. The rest – for the moment, at least – is history.

Let’s be honest: the reason we’re hearing so much about Lin is because he was overlooked. This might lead you to think he’s a true anomaly, a great game-time athlete who somehow slipped through a pro sports league’s finely-tuned talent-scouting machine. But if you look closely at the NFL, you’ll find Jeremy Lins all over the place.

Ball Hogs and Long Meetings

Listen to an NBA coach during a game and you will often hear him scream something like the following:

  • “You have to share the ball.”
  • “Start looking for your teammates.”
  • “Quit taking the first damn shot you see.”
  • “Come on, pass the damn ball.”

Why do coaches have to keep screaming this message?  The answer seems easy.  Basketball players love to shoot.  In other words, many players have trouble resisting their inner ball hog.  Consequently, coaches have to scream a lot.

Academic meetings typically involve less screaming.  But the behavior we see in these meetings is surprisingly similar to what we see on a basketball court.  For example, recently I attended a meeting at Southern Utah University.  The meeting began at 4 pm, and 25 minutes later we still hadn’t started on the items that were the actual subject of this gathering.  Instead, numerous people had chimed in on items we supposedly had finished in our previous meeting (and other issues not related to the subject at hand). 

Why Was Jeremy Lin Overlooked, and Should He Get Married?

A reader named Xavier Fan writes:

Would love to see some commentary on the Jeremy Lin phenomenon in the NBA. Is this not a classic Moneyball-style "undervalued player"? Indeed, one of the best parts of the whole feel-good story (and there are many) is how consistently teams and coaches at the college and NBA level overlooked him before his breakout week. Even the Knicks were ready to release him a few days before his first big game against the Nets. Was he overlooked because he didn't "look the part"? Will this impact how scouts and coaches evaluate players? What is the current status of sabermetrics for basketball?

The phenomenon is indeed phenomenal, and there has already been a lot of interesting stuff written about it (including his overseas marketing potential and an anti-Asian joke-gone-wrong).

Revenue-Sharing Isn't Needed to Make NBA Small-Market Teams Competitive

According to the Sports Business Journal, the NBA is going to fully phase in a revenue-sharing plan in 2013-14 which:

1. “Calls for all teams to contribute an annually fixed percentage, roughly 50 percent, of their total annual revenue, minus certain expenses such as arena operating costs, into a revenue sharing pool.
2. "Will shift $140 million around the league
3. Will allow a single team to receive up to $16 million (this year the most any team could receive was $5.8 million), a mark that is about 25 percent of this year’s payroll cap

All of this will -- according to Jeanie Buss (Executive VP of business operations for the Los Angeles Lakers) -- allow teams to become “economically viable so that every team has the opportunity to compete.”  And according to Buss, this will “make for a healthier league.” 

As the article notes, Buss served on the committee that created this plan.  And as the article also notes, Buss and the Lakers will contribute the most revenue.  Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this plan will dramatically change the level of balance in the league.