Sports Outcomes and Randomness
By David Henderson
One thing I notice in most sports commentary about the game I love watching most on TV, NBA basketball, is how little awareness there seems to be about the role of randomness. The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers are clearly first-rate teams and are clearly better than the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers, the New York Knicks, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
But are the Cleveland Cavaliers better than the Golden State Warriors? That’s hard to say, just as it’s hard to say that the Golden State Warriors are better than the Cleveland Cavaliers. In their 7-game playoff, each team won 3 games by wide margins. By the end of 6 games, each team had scored exactly 610 points. In the one very close game, the 7th game, Cleveland won by 4 points. And if Kyrie Irving had not made an incredible 3-pointer in the last minute, the game would have been tied.
Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr, being the gentleman and good sport that he is, said in the press conference afterwards that the better team won. I don’t think that’s clear. And if the Warriors had won by a thin margin, I would also not have said that the better team won.
I wrote about randomness in sports earlier here.