Playing with the NBA

I’ve always been a sports guy, but basketball was always my least favorite because I never played it. I loved the Sixers, but it wasn’t the same as any of the other teams I loved. That still might have manifested itself as more of a fanatic than most, but when they hired Sam Hinkie as their general manager a few years ago, my way of looking at sports changed for the better. It’s affected me in several ways I look a life – both professionally and personally.

In what made sense to me but not to too many others, the Sixers needed to lose to get better in what became known as “The Process.” It was lambasted by fans, media members, and other NBA people, but to people like me, it was like the light bulb went off. It was the extreme example of analytics being brought into sports. It became an enormously creative process that has brought the Sixers back to being relevant, even as Hinkie ‘sacrificed’ his own position to show how much faith he had in this new approach.

Anyway, I play with a lot of different scenarios acting as if I am the decision-maker of my beloved 76ers. Sports fans do this all the time with their teams, but it consumes a lot of my time, discussing it with my brothers, with my students, with my friends. It’s developed my love and appreciation of statistics, probability, randomness, and luck.

Although my love of math already existed, to better understand what my favorite team was doing, I learned more about union negotiations, contract law, how the salary cap worked, and all the possibilities the team could do to try to improve in the future while keeping opportunity cost as low as possible. Because I don’t actually get to make any decisions, I could be as creative as I wanted and create an infinite number of scenarios without any fear of retribution; this actually isn’t that different than what teams do in real life, except they have rewards and consequences.

I use a lot these resources in my probability/statistics elective class at school to allow students to be creative in math. I find that most curricula are rigid, and this at least provides some opportunity to foster decision-making skills where no one decision is inherently wrong as long as you can support it. It also introduces how randomness and luck are factors, but how you can possibly sway those factors in your favor just a little bit.

I could ramble on forever about how I play on these resources all the time to see how many different possibilities I can create or lessons I can teach. Here are a few of them if you would like to see for yourself: (works better on iOS)



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