Playing the Nerd Card (Ep. 77)

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “Playing the Nerd Card.”

(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

It's about the rise in basketball players (and other athletes) showing up at press conferences wearing the kind of eyeglasses usually associated with Steve Urkel and Buddy Holly. Among the practitioners: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Robert Griffin III.

What's going on here? Has the rate of myopia exploded, even among premier athletes?

We talk to Susan Vitale, a research epidemiologist with the NIH's National Eye Institute, who worked on a large study on myopia in the U.S. There has indeed been a huge spike in recent decades, and it's especially pronounced among blacks.

NBA Fans Give the League a Predictable Present on Christmas

Before labor peace came to the NBA, it was not uncommon to hear stories that the lockout was going to negatively impact fan interest in the game (here is one example in this genre). The story basically went as follows:

1. Fans become angry when the games are taken away.
2. The longer fans go without games, the angrier they become.
3. Stay away too long and the angry fans will never come back.

This story actually gets repeated every time a labor dispute that taken away games in North American sports. And the story certainly seems plausible.

A few years ago, though, Martin Schmidt and I investigated the impact disputes have upon fan attendance; and much to our surprise (yes, we tended to believe the stories sports writers had told us for years) we failed to find an effect. Attendance in the major North American sports is not statistically impacted by labor disputes.

The Economic Battlefield of the NBA Lockout

The following is a guest post by David Berri, a Professor of Economics at Southern Utah University. He is also the lead author of Stumbling on Wins, the general manager of the sports-economics blog Wages of Wins, and is a frequent contributor to the Freakonomics blog.

With the NBA away, sports fans are looking for something to satisfy their need to watch teams strive for victory. Well, why not take a look at the teams competing in the lockout? Okay, maybe this is a contest only a sports economist could love. But while it may not appeal to everyone, the labor dispute is still best thought of as a contest between two teams.

The first team is the NBA owners. The owners are the dominant buyer in the world market for elite basketball talent, so they have substantial monopsony power. In the other corner are the players, who are currently trying to disband their union. This union gave the players monopoly power in the sale of elite basketball talent (more specifically, in helping to determine the conditions under which individual players would sell their services). When a monopsony meets a monopoly on the economic battlefield, the outcome is determined by bargaining.

Call It a Comeback: Why Performance Increases When We're Losing

If you were a New York Knicks fan in the mid 1990's, you surely remember a certain 1995 playoff game in which Reggie Miller scored 8 points in under 9 seconds (two back-to-back three pointers, and two foul shots) to rally the Indiana Pacers to a last-second win over the stunned Knicks. It was a truly sad moment for New Yorkers, made all the worse when the Knicks lost the series in seven games. For whatever reason, some players seem to play better from behind. Reggie Miller certainly did.

A recent study by Jonah Berger of Wharton and Devin Pope of the University of Chicago highlights how being slightly behind is often an advantage. The authors devote a large part of their research to studying 18,000 NBA and 45,000 college basketball games. They also conducted an experiment in which people played competitive games and were given feedback halfway through.

FREAK-est Links

This week: an economic analysis of gang colors; a chopstick shortage in China; the mathematics of basketball; the social networks of elephants, and are smart people getting smarter?

Answer to Same-City NCAA Sweet 16 Questions

Last week, we posed two questions regarding the NCAA basketball tournament: what are the odds that two teams from the same city would make the Sweet 16? And when was the last time that happened? To the first person to answer correctly, we offered some Freakonomics swag. And you responded, 147 of you to be exact.

A Freakonomics Contest: Odds of Same City Teams in NCAA Sweet 16

Two teams from the same city have made it to the Sweet 16, the University of RIchmond and VCU, both from Richmond, VA. What, we wonder, are the odds of that happening?

Let Teams Choose Their NCAA Bracket Position

Nate Silver has (another) truly insightful post demonstrating the possible perverse advantage of receiving an 11th seed instead of an 8th seed in the NCAA tournament.

He explains: "[An average] team like Arizona would have a considerably better chance -- about two-and-a-half times better, in fact -- of winning its second round game and advancing to the Round of 16 as a No. 12 seed than as a No. 8 or No. 9 seed. This, of course, is because it has not yet had to face the No. 1 seed."

The Latest in NBA Data Analytics

If you're the kind of sports stat-head who loves that the Bill James movement has become mainstream in baseball, and you wonder why basketball doesn't pay more attention to analytics, you may be pleased to read this article and this one about the annual Sports Analytics Conference at MIT Sloan.

The Miami Heat's New Incentives

The Miami Heat has been on fire lately, with a 10-game winning streak. This was how things were supposed to go when the team put together its holy WadeBoshJames trinity, but the season didn't start out so well.