Parsing

Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks: "I told George Steinbrenner that he is getting an outstanding baseball player and an outstanding human being in Alex Rodriguez."

Are these mutually exclusive entities? Is this the cyborg athlete that we have referred to so often?

NBA All-Star Starters

How well did the marketing work? Here are the starting line-ups for the NBA All-Star Game, broken down by shoe sponsor:

Nike: 4 (VC, Yao, J.O'Neal, Kobe*)

adidas: 3 (T-Mac, Garnett, Duncan)

Reebok: 2 (Iverson, Francis)

And1: 1 (Wallace)

* - recently dropped over pending trial

Interestingly enough, the two biggest question marks in terms of deserving starting status belong to two Nike endorsers, Vince Carter and Yao Ming. They first met in China two years ago while Carter was on an Asian tour for Nike. Yao apparently benefited from votes cast over the Internet by native Chinese — this from the country that has a notorious Red Firewall. Could it be that Vince has benefited from the same voters? If so, great move by Nike to penetrate the Chinese market.

Ali, Papa and the Forty Thieves

Courtesy of adidas

Thoughts on the new adidas campaign:

Impossible is nothing (with the help of CGI).

Nike has already been here, though.

And so has Gatorade.

"Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up" — no matter what gender they are.

Talk about some sort of weird resolution of father-daughter psychoanalytical issues: whale on dad's virtual self for a while.

Remember this guy? "I am America. I am the part you won't recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me." — Ali Senior has been radically depoliticized over the past few decades, hasn't he?

VirtuAli does not have Parkinson's disease — and he never will.

Rumble, young girl, rumble.

Managing The Assets

Paul DePodesta, Assistant GM of the Oakland A's, talks about the transformation of the organization:

(Update: DePodesta has just been named the GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers.)

I was on a quest to find relevant relationships. Usually it wasn't as simple as "if X then Y." I was looking for probabilistic relationships. I christened the new model in the front office: "be the house." Every season we play 162 games. Individual players amass over 600 plate appearances. Starting pitchers face 1,000 hitters. We have plenty of sample size. I encouraged everyone to think of the house advantage in everything we did. We may not always be right but we'd be right a lot more often than we'd be wrong. In baseball, if you win about 60% of your games, you're probably in the playoffs.

One of the other problems is that the traditional metrics and stats used in baseball are muddied with so much noise that just didn't matter that I was having a tough time distilling all the information. I decided to throw it all out and start all over with no assumptions. I built a Markov model, or actuarial table, for the last five or ten years that recorded what had actually happened in the course of every major league baseball game.

From that research I was able to figure out that a man on first with nobody out is worth "X" runs and a man on second with two outs is worth "Y" runs. From there I was able to jump to understanding what it means to have someone who can hit a lot of doubles. What was the value of that event and others? I went a step further and asked who the people were who could add these value?enhancing skills to our team. Finally I was able to figure out what the cost of each of those activities was and what the margins were. This was process versus outcome. I just didn't believe the outcomes that the traditional stats were giving us.

Once the research was complete, debated and stress?tested (which took years) we had considerable new knowledge, and a lot of it was pretty startling. Now remember that we hadn't really invented anything. We had only discovered relationships that were already there. Fortunately for us, most of them were contrary to popular opinion. These discoveries ranged from broad philosophical ideas, such as the fact that 90% of the player population in major league baseball is replaceable by someone who makes less to the very minute detail, such as pitch counts or control of the strike zone. What I ended up doing was creating a whole new set of metrics around this objective core. When I was done we had stats but not in the traditional sense. It was an entirely new operating system. It wasn't an upgrade from Subjective 1.0 to Subjective 2.0. It was more like "Winning Baseball 1.0."

There is now a push to bring the same type of statistical analysis to football, basketball, soccer and hockey. Though it may prove useful in football, I don't really see it having the same type of impact on the latter three sports that Sabermetrics has had on baseball, simply due to the lower cyborg ratio inherent in those sports.

Is This Really About Morality?

From Ray Ratto's update on the Balco Labs investigation:

But the real debate will burn out, through this scandal and on to the next, and the one after that. There are those who want their sports to be a moral and honorable pursuit, and those who want their sports, and damn the presentation.

The problem is that sport is a reflection of the society in which it exists. I am not (necessarily) implying that North American society is amoral, though I am saying that we live in an Aspirin-swallowing, Viagra-taking, Sudafed-inhaling, Botox-injecting, Alka-Seltzer-fizzling, Creatine-drinking culture — whatever the perceived deficiency, there is a chemical that will treat it. Why are athletes supposed to be treated differently? Why should they be exempted from the hysterical western philosophy of 'I can be better than the person I was born as', or 'I can cheat death just a little bit longer'? It seems unfair to single out athletes as amoral in light of what is happening in the rest of society.

Networked Basketball Confounds

Regarding a futurist's first attempt at the next golden age of professional sport:

Perhaps the ultimate manifestation of this third golden age would be the Anti-Olympics (aka Global Village Basketball). Over the past century we have noticed a shift in the Modern Olympics from a nationalist-in-a-multinational-sense sporting event to an ideological-nationalist-in-a-globalized-sense sporting event. Now that new technologies (predominantly communication-oriented) are shifting the geographic focus to becoming more glo-localized, sport forms must adapt to reflect this reality.

Said in the context of McLuhan's Laws of Media, as the Modern Olympics accelerate beyond their useful existence, they will obsolesce and reverse into an anti-Olympic environment. In this case, I am proposing that we will see the networked meta-event of Global Village Basketball.