I know I’m a little late here, but been off the grid a bit. I’m back.
Anyway, first, an article by Steve Shea that I am all on board with:
The article that precipitated the Steve Shea response really made me lose what little respect for Michael Wilbon I had left. He almost made it sound like young black men and women couldn’t possibly be good enough at math to become quality analysts (thus making the field exclusionary and possibly racist) – which really infuriated me the more I dwelled on it. I know that’s not what his intent was – most current analytics people are white males (asian males making up almost all the rest), so to him it must be exclusionary – but WITHOUT A DOUBT that can change. Teams start paying better $ for analysts and creating a team of analysts of varying approaches that work well with each other (hand in hand with coaches, scouts, gm) – making basketball analytics seem like a real career option to at least slightly rival (for those who love basketball) the plethera of Silicon Valley companies – maybe some young black and hispanic kids might start embracing mathematics more if they want to increase their chances to be part of the NBA (or NFL) landscape.
Warning, personal diatribe coming.
I LOVE basketball. I listened to Piston games every night (coincided with Isiah Thomas arrival) on the radio, keeping scoring stats at age 9. I consumed all Bill James’ abstracts, and immediately tried to tie concepts I learned to basketball. I PLAYED basketball daily. When we moved to Texas – I played pick up every day at 14 years old with all the tough, grizzled adults who still played every day. At at the University of Arizona, when not recovering from injuries (ankles, dislocated fingers), I played pick up ball 6 hours a day at the rec.
I played ball my whole life, I re-acquired my childhood love for basketball analytics pretty much as soon as my body (bad knees) and doctors told me and needed to stop playing any more than once a week, if at all. So, now, the numbers fill that void. I am a basketball guy first, who also LOVES to TRY to solve any/all basketball riddles (who will project best, what players fit best together and why, who were the greatest historically, etc.). Love for basketball spurs the math – which is what I ASSUME would make possibly the best team analysts.
By the way, I am not championing that I should be working for a team (although, obviously, I personally do think I should be – I’m very biased) – I’m just making a point about love for basketball. No one can tell me that ANY kid who loves basketball and math – no matter their ethnicity – couldn’t put together a similar (or MUCH better than mine – actually majoring in programming and/or something relating to statistical analysis instead of “learning about life” and majoring in Humanities like I did) road towards a love for basketball analytics. Heck – those kids won’t even have to run off to Alaska for 15 years to “learn even more about life” – they might actually get a basketball gig (relating to their major) out of college.
As a dad, if either of my boys want to be a pro athlete (my older for now says he wants to play major league baseball) – I will do whatever I can to help them. But, both my boys are good/great at math, and I am already preparing them for thinking about how math might help their future career in sports outside of or even after playing – if that’s where their hearts lead.
Future NBA teams will have ex pro basketball players who are also skilled and qualified analysts. I know there are parents out there who will remind their kids that loving a sport can extend well beyond the court. Analytics, in my opinion, is an exceptional way to show and expound on that love for the game.
So I suggest to Michael Wilbon – try his best to help his son acquire a love for math. Don’t spout every day about the worthlessness of analytics, all the while your Cubs have been transformed and are run by almost completely analytics minded people. Your son will learn from his father. Don’t limit him because YOU suck at math and thus can’t respect it and how it can apply to all forms of our life. Maybe your son, with support from his dad, might end up a future gm/president of the Bulls – with help from his analytical mind and training.
Also at the same time, please, stop telling everyone in earshot your overwhelmingly antiquated view of mathematics as it relates to sports. If you dream of future great opportunities for black youth, telling them “math is bad and is only for nerds” sure as hell doesn’t help the cause. Tell that to Neil Degrasse Tyson. Should young black males not learn about Astrophysics just because you and the people you associate with don’t understand all that “space nerd stuff”? Please, stop being part of the problem.