For N.B.A. Hopefuls, Zip Code Matters

We've blogged before about the (relatively small) effect of birth month on athletic excellence.  But how does birth location affect a potential athlete? In The New York TimesSeth Stephens-Davidowitz  calculated the probability of getting to the N.B.A. by Zip codeHe found that players like LeBron James, born to a low-income teenage mom, are the exceptions to the rule:

I recently calculated the probability of reaching the N.B.A., by race, in every county in the United States. I got data on births from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; data on basketball players from; and per capita income from the census. The results? Growing up in a wealthier neighborhood is a major, positive predictor of reaching the N.B.A. for both black and white men. Is this driven by sons of N.B.A. players like the Warriors’ brilliant Stephen Curry? Nope. Take them out and the result is similar.

Losing Is Not a Winning Strategy in the NBA

The NBA season is beginning this week and fans of each team are, of course, optimistic. At this point, everyone can hope a title is possible come next summer. 

Although everyone could theoretically have dreams of a title in 2014, it is clear that every NBA fan isn’t actually hoping their team is successful in 2014. Some NBA fans are actually dreaming of an event that happens just after the conclusion of the NBA Finals.  For fans of a few teams, the focus is already on the 2014 draft.  For example, some fans of the Philadelphia 76ers seem convinced that not only are the Sixers not trying to win this year, but that this is actually the best course of action for this franchise.

Proponents of “tanking” dream of such number one picks as Shaquille O’Neal or LeBron James. Each of these players were selected number one and went on to win multiple NBA titles.  Of course, other number one picks – like Yao Ming, Michael Olowokandi, Allen Iverson, Joe Smith, Glenn Robinson, Chris Webber, Larry Johnson, etc. –  played their entire careers and never won an NBA title.

How Did the Worst Team in NBA History Become a Title Contender?

Kobe Bryant says that “other team” in LA – the Clippers – are title contenders in 2013.

And Kobe made this statement before the Clippers defeated the Lakers on Friday night and then destroyed the Golden State Warriors (who are currently a playoff contender in the West) the next night. 

Yes, the 27-8 Clippers look like contenders. 

Of course, fans in LA can easily remember the last time this happened. That was back in …

Okay, this has never happened.

Unlike every other big market team in North America, the Clippers have never, ever, ever been a title contender.  In fact, the very best season in franchise history was last season.  When the 2011-12 regular season ended, the Clippers had a mark of 40-26.  This mark was surpassed by seven other teams (including Kobe’s Lakers).  In the post-season, the Clippers reached the Western Conference semi-finals -- where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.  

Such a season likely left many NBA observers thinking the Clippers were a “good” team, but hardly a real title contender.  Again, though, this was the best team in the history of the Clippers.  For the first time in franchise history (which began in Buffalo in 1970-71), the Clippers won 60% of their games. 

In 2012-13 the Clippers have moved beyond being the best team in franchise history to being one of the very best teams in the NBA.  After 35 games, the Clippers have a 0.771 winning percentage; a mark that – as of Tuesday morning – currently leads the NBA.

Clearly the Clippers are better than they were last year.  And that leads one to wonder… how did this worst team in NBA history become a title contender?

The Oklahoma City Thunder Stumble While Following the Oklahoma City Thunder Plan

Much has been made of the plan the Oklahoma City Thunder followed in building a title contender.  Here are the basic steps the Thunder supposedly followed:

1.Lose a bunch of games across a few seasons, which allows a team to accumulate lottery picks
2. Draft “stars” with lottery picks
3. Sign “stars” to long-term contracts
4. Win a title (or more)

The Thunder did well with step one.  Starting with their last two seasons in Seattle in 2006-07, this franchise had three seasons where it won 31 games, 20 games, and 23 games. 

These performances primarily led to the following four high picks in the draft:

How to Make Millions By Doing Nothing

Fascinating article in today's Times by Richard Sandomir about how the owners of the old American Basketball Association team the St. Louis Spirit are still being compensated for an agreement forged in 1976, when the Spirit were excluded from joining the NBA. Those owners, Ozzie and Daniel Silna, were given a share -- in perpetuity -- of future TV revenues:

In 1980-81, the first year the Silnas were eligible to get their share of TV money, they received $521,749, according to court documents filed by the N.B.A. For the 2010-11 season, they received $17,450,000. The N.B.A.’s latest TV deal, with ESPN and TNT, is worth $7.4 billion over eight years. Soon, the Silnas’ total take will hit $300 million. ...

Price Controls in the NBA Force Teams to Find Different Ways to Keep Their Stars

The NBA free agent market opened this month and the moves making headlines include:

Steve Nash signing with the L.A. Lakers
Ray Allen signing with the Miami Heat
Jason Kidd signing with the New York Knicks
Deron Williams re-signing with the Brooklyn Nets

And then there is the Dwight Howard saga. 

Each of these stories appears to be summarized by a familiar line: 

Big star signs in Big Market. 

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. 


You Don’t Need to Be Bad to be Good in the NBA

The Portland Trail Blazers – a team that won 48 games in 2010-11 and was only three games below 0.500 this season – made two puzzling trades a couple of weeks ago.  Gerald Wallace was sent to the New Jersey Nets for two injured players and a first round pick in the 2012 draft.  And Marcus Camby was sent to the Houston Rockets for a second round pick and two players who had only played 158 minutes this year.

Camby and Wallace combined to produce more than 10 wins for the Blazers this season, and at the time of the trade their level of productivity led the team.  Given what the Blazers received back, it seems likely the Blazers just got worse.

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?