So it’s basketball season, and one of my favorite haunts is David Berri’s Wages of Wins Journal. For those of you unfamiliar with his website, Berri’s calling card is a statistics-intensive approach to sports analysis. Because this stuff is so esoteric, the Wages of Wins crew frequently arrives at pretty counter-intuitive conclusions. For example, Berri has famously argued that Tracy McGrady is a more productive player than Kobe Bryant.
Although a lot of this statistical analysis goes right over my head, I enjoy a clever, counter-intuitive take as much as the next blogger, so I drop by the site every few weeks. And if I ever manage an NBA franchise, I’d probably hire a guy like Berri to crunch numbers for my team (incidentally, the Celtics have already beaten me to the punch).
But I’m not sure that Berri’s stuff is as enjoyable as the intuitive, old-fashioned approach of less numerate sports pundits. I mean, I’m not a proposition gambler. I don’t own an NBA franchise. I don’t even care that much about accurate predictions. I watch and read about sports because I appreciate the beauty of skilled physical activity and because arguing over complicated, inconsequential stuff is a lot of fun (witness my affection for amateur political punditry). In other words, I enjoy the essential subjectivity of fandom. Sports commentary, for all its manifest flaws, is a lot of fun precisely because basketball, football and soccer have yet to be distilled down to an exact science. And although this is probably responsible for a lot of dumb sports-related verbiage – “intangibles” and “intensity” have quickly become two of my least favorite words of all time – a well-crafted argument that doesn’t depend on a mound of statistical evidence is always more entertaining than summarizing a bunch of box scores. I’d also note that reading the chicken entrails can occasionally yield some truly sublime sports predictions (this column immediately comes to mind).