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This evening, the sportsfan takes a break from graduate school (and the first week of his new internship) to digest some career advice from the top, halfway around the world. (And also some Zachary’s Chicago Pizza. Not quite as good as Giordano’s, but it’ll do.)

Background: David Shoemaker is the chief executive officer for NBA China, headquartered in Beijing. He graciously agreed to speak with me this past Tuesday evening (PDT) about his career, for an informational interview I conducted in coordination with my studies per the sport management master’s program at the University of San Francisco and my own career goals. With his blessing, I am posting my thank-you letter here.

Dear Mr. Shoemaker,

Did you make a mistake today? I wouldn’t be surprised if you did, but I sure would be if you ever make it again. I have been thinking about my past mistakes since we spoke. Perhaps my biggest mistake has been to not make more of them. If I had sought more during my undergraduate education–more advice, more chances, more responsibility, more dreams–perhaps I would not have felt the need to spend more money on graduate school. That would be a most terrible mistake to repeat.

Though we seldom spoke directly of it, I felt our conversation revolved around pace. Coming to better understand your pace, both daily and through your career, was a privilege. We also discussed the pace of business: ideas, opportunities, and risks that slow and speed one’s working environment. There is the unprecedented pace of the NBA’s new 365-day approach to marketing. The pace of national, institutional, and individual progression. Even the pace of conversation. Timing is everything. I briefly brought up John Wooden; one thing he said is that there are no big things, only little things, little details. Being on-time, every time. Not pushing yourself a lot more, but a little more every day. Of course the difference between reading words in a book (even one by John Wooden, or Steve Jobs, for that matter) and hearing the voice of a current working executive is paramount.

Actions speak louder than words, and in a conversation one can only make so much noise. But as I progress through my schooling and career beginnings, I will keep your shared wisdom ringing in my ears, or at the very least remember to go swimming, not golfing. Even if I’m not surrounded by Ivy League lawyers, I’ve got to keep busy proving myself, at the moment as an intern, graduate student, and seeker of advice from other leaders in the sports industry. Still, from time to time I’ll keep an eye on the Weibos, RenRen, and other happenings in the second most important NBA market in the world. I can see the recurring blog feature now: “Holy Yao! The Latest in NBA China’s Development”.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

Colin Weaver

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Yesterday Kirk Goldsberry, contributor at Grantland, put up an impressive, super cool, honestly just exciting piece about the recent developments in the use of big data in the NBA. The timing was perfect. In writing “DataBall“, Goldsberry essentially said, “Hey Colin! Feeling down without football? Need to be caught up with the awesome stuff happening in basketball, which you know much less about? Here is this great article about the current state, and future potential, of basketball analytics.”

Cool, right? This is a positively exhilarating time for the NBA, or at least for nerds that like basketball, or at the very least NBA executives and coaches that like winning. The spread of improved technology will make this season the source of the most data of any year in basketball history. Though a little daunting to work with, the data are useful, useful useful useful, in a practical sense, and can quantify essential, previously quantifiable player traits and skills.

A Game of Big Men, and Bigger Data

SportVU technology, of STATS LLC, tracks the movements of every player on the court. Constantly. Precisely. Using SportVU, one can make a replica of the play like the one below: Tony Parker’s assist to Kawhi Leonard’s game-winning three in a February 13th, 2013 game San Antonio played in Cleveland. Check out Goldsberry’s article to actually run the continuous animation; these are just screen shots.

Screenshot (91)

Screenshot (92)Screenshot (93)

Very cool. Very very cool. This animation exists because Cleveland was one of fifteen NBA teams to have SportVU cameras and what-not installed in their arena last season. But before this season, the NBA installed SportVU in every arena. This season there will be data on everywhere a player goes, every time he steps on the floor. Last season, in half the games, SportVU produced 800 million player locations. The academics Goldsberry speaks of, presenting at MIT’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference later this month, used 93 gigabytes for their work, using only last season’s data.1 And there will be twice as much this year, and in years to come.

Future Discoveries of NBA Basketball

It is foolish to quantify a player’s talent with a single number, and equally foolish to think the league won’t learn a lot from this newfound data. Which players create the best possessions for their teams? No longer must this question be gleaned at from filtering assists, shot charts, player efficiency ratings, and whatnot. Using SportVU tracking, with over a billion player positions every season, different floor positions can be assigned probabilities for different outcomes. A player open under the basket with the ball has a high probability of scoring two points; without the ball, a slightly less probability depending upon his probability of receiving a pass; closely guarded but with the ball, a slightly different probability based on his shooting percentage, his defender’s prowess, etc.

Every game state–the location of all ten players and the ball, in relation to each other and their respective baskets–has an expected point value for both teams. If this sounds like how Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats determines his Win Probability Calculator, his Fourth Down Calculator, etc, that is because it is fundamentally the same analysis.2 But because basketball is a little simpler, having only ten players out there, and because each NBA team has around a hundred possessions every game, and plays 82 games a season, the analysis can become way more complicated awesome.

With a good estimate of the expected value of every game state in the NBA, breakdowns like the following become possible:

Leonard Options Expected Values

Staring at this graphic is just… enthralling. Look at it! Aaaauuuggghhhhhh!!! Who is the best passer in basketball? No longer is “Well, Player X has the most assists” or “Player Y has the lowest turnover rate” or “A team’s most points per possession come when Player Z mans the point” the best we can do. Now, we can say “Player A made a pass that maximized his team’s expected possession value on 94 percent of his passes, while Player B made a pass that maximized his team’s value on only 82 percent of his passes.” No, it does not have the same ring to it, but damn, is it sexy?!?

Forget passing, which player is the best decision maker?3 In the above image, Leonard’s shot probability is tied for the most likely outcome, even though by expected possession value it is his worst option; passing to anyone would be better. And these numbers can be tailored to individual players! With substantial sample sizes for individual players over the course of thousands of possessions, we do not have to settle for “Shooters make X percent of open corner threes”, we can specify that “Player Y makes Z percent of open corner threes”. Which point guard best understands his teammates’ strengths and weaknesses, the differences between the starters and the subs, etc? Which big man has the most added value when getting the ball at the post?

The answers to these questions will not be 100 percent perfect; a single number, or even a combination of numbers is unlikely to completely quantify what a player brings to the floor.4 But we will know more than we do now, in really an unprecedented way. The moral of the story is: with football over, I will be watching more basketball now. What perfect timing.


  1. Ninety-three gigabytes is a lot of data. For some perspective: the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, the extended editions, on BluRay at 1080p definition, is 12 gigabytes. The complete series of Breaking Bad is 40.3 gigabytes. Of course, the Library of Congress estimates that they add five terabytes of content a month, or 93 gigabytes every 13 hours or so. 
  2.  The Markov model, kids. Read about it. 
  3. My money is on Lebron James. Remember in the 2011 Finals when everyone shamed James for passing off to Wade in clutch moments? Maybe those passes were smart! Or, maybe they actually were terrible. From now on, with unprecedented objective data, we will have a much better idea. 
  4. Obligatory reminder: if a player sells out the house night after night, does his owner still care as much about his less than optimal expected possession value added? Probably not. 

Reading one of Andrew Sharp’s whimsical #HotSportsTakes yesterday on Grantland (which I still agreed with in parts), I discovered this tweet from Detroit Tiger’s ace/2011’s American League Cy Young winner/Kate Upton’s “on-again” boyfriend Justin Verlander1:

Just a quick aside: Verlander’s current profile-description-about-me thing on Twitter reads: “My house smells of rich mahagony and I have many leather bound books! -Anchorman”. Hold on, I have to go follow Justin Verlander on Twitter. Back. Wait, I have to tell Justin Verlander that he’s misspelling mahogany.

Okay, back. Hang on, that’s not even the quote, Ron Burgandy mentions the leather-bound books first… one sec.

Okay, all set. Remember this?

It’s David Ortiz, at home in the playoffs, hitting a game-tying grand slam off Tigers’ closer Joaquin Benoit with two outs in the eighth inning. What if after circling the bases, Ortiz had screamed this into the cameras:

I’M THE BEST HITTER IN THE GAME! WHEN YOU TRY ME WITH A SORRY PITCHER LIKE BENOIT, THAT’S THE RESULT YOU GON’ GET! DON’T YOU EVER TALK ABOUT ME! DON’T YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH ABOUT THE BEST!

Questions to consider: Would baseball be better or worse? How quickly would Ortiz be forced to apologize (if at all)? Would people like to see him suspended? Would people be concerned he was taking performance enhancing drugs that also affected his behavior? (And wouldn’t people find this outburst just f#!%ing bizarre?)

Setting aside those questions, one thing is clear: if Ortiz had said that, Verlander, and presumably other Tigers pitchers, would throw 95+ mile-per-hour fastballs at Ortiz’s head.2 Baseball has a built-in corrective mechanism for such antics. There is a league office to fine players, the risk of ejection, and rarely a beaning will start a full-scale brawl, but players learn to keep their showboating to a minimum, lest they spend the rest of their at bats fearfully ducking for cover.

This got me thinking about other sports. As a fan, my general perception is that the NFL and NBA have more rude, childish behavior than the NHL and MLB. Perhaps this has more to do with the physical consequences–both their magnitude and their ease of execution–players can inflict on one another.

Such physical dangers are relative to the baseline for the sport. Football is quite physical already. The little catfights NFL players get into, while perhaps drawing a 15 yard penalty, do not pose any additional pains. Basketball has a lot of contact, although less forceful. Shoving matches and the occasional punch are more or less on par with the physicality in the game itself.

Baseball and hockey are different. In MLB, physical contact is very rare, while pitchers can easily brush off opponent hitters. Hockey has a lot of hitting, though it’s often more fluid than in other sports. A hockey player is a scarred player, but longer-term tears and breaks are less common.

Like baseball, hockey has a built-in mechanism for players who show off, taunt, and are generally just dicks. Enforcers and fighting are ingrained in hockey, and the two-minute penalties that come with them are frequently off-setting. NHL fighting penalties are usually not worse than any other penalty, and the players who receive them are usually less skilled. The NHL and MLB have milder deterrents for hitting back.

Is there actually less needless, immature, look-at-me, plain obnoxious behavior in MLB and the NHL than in the NFL and NBA? It’s hard to say. An exhaustive study would take a lot of thought and work. Googling a few things and drawing sketchy conclusions, however, is not too hard.

The table below shows the number of Google hits for some particular search terms, as of earlier this afternoon, January 23rd, 2013. The search terms are on the left; for example, the NFL search terms were “nfl”, “nfl football”, “nfl playoffs”, “nfl taunting”, “nfl taunts”, “nfl trash talk”, and “nfl insults”.

Trash Talk by Sport, Google Hits, 1/23/2014

[league] + “…” NFL NBA NHL MLB
[league only] 118,000,000 186,000,000 52,300,000 105,000,000
[league + sport] 553,000,000 360,000,000 189,000,000 136,000,000
Playoffs 126,000,000 98,000,000 61,400,000 87,700,000
~([league + sport] – Playoffs)~ 427,000,000 262,000,000 127,600,000 48,300,000
Taunting 515,000 241,000 147,000 132,000
Taunts 533,000 295,000 162,000 189,000
Trash Talk 13,800,000 11,600,000 956,000 1,050,000
Insults 2,710,000 1,900,000 392,000 296,000

Neat-O! While “taunting” and “taunts” did not yield much difference, there are many times as many hits for “trash talk” and “insults” in the NFL and NBA than in the NHL and MLB. Might that be conflated by the fact that some leagues are more or less popular than others? That is why I have included baseline numbers for each league. How about the fact that MLB is in the off-season currently, while the NBA and NHL are in full swing, and the NFL’s popularity is likely peaking as Super Bowl XLVIII nears?

Those are valid concerns, also this is not a scientific study in any way. To maybe-sorta-kinda get an idea, here are the Google hits for each sport’s “trash talk”, as a percentage of the playoffs-adjusted number of Google hits for [league + sport].3

Trash Talk by Sport, Google Hits Percentage, 1/23/2014

[league] + “…” NFL NBA NHL MLB
Trash Talk 3.23% 4.43% 0.75% 2.17%

There you have it! Football and basketball have to put up with more of this nonsense than hockey and baseball because it is easier for hockey and baseball players to punch back, with more bite, and fewer punishments from their leagues’ offices. From an individual (or microeconomic) perspective, running your mouth is more costly in the NHL and MLB than in the NFL and NBA.

As much as I might respect Sherman as a football player, and loath his (un)professional conduct, I have got to hand it to the Stanford communications major. He is really good at what he does. In the span of just a few hours he gave us this:

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Seattle SeahawksAnd this:

Screenshot (89)The adage “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” is there, if you want it. But in this case, I choose another old favorite: hate the game, not the player.


  1. Tagline for this already-extensively-titled post: “the intersection of Andrew Sharp, Cy Young, Kate Upton, and Justin Verlander”. Catchy, right? 
  2. If not immediately, in the midst of a tight playoff game, then later in the series during a game that was in hand, or certainly in a game this coming season. 
  3. Ie, the number of hits for “nfl football” minus the number of hits for “nfl playoffs”. Why this number? It scales better than other figures to the number of hits for “trash talk” and “insults” across all four sports, and more importantly, WHY NOT

There were some technical difficulties today, presumably all around the world and definitely in my own laptop. Specifically, said difficulties concerned my ASUS “SmartGesture_Win8_64_VER225” touchpad driver, or whatever. This was not the first time. I was Not in the mood. Technology ultimately prevailed, but has left me exhausted and weak, physically and emotionally, much like yesterday’s NFC Championship game.

So this is not a post, but a repost, indeed a reposting. The following have been the most popular articles on Crossroads:

  1. Confessions of an Economic Sportsfan: I Just Spent 8 Hours, 1/4 of a Bottle of Whiskey, & 5,000 Words On the Greatest Sports Plays of All Time (Part 1 of 2)

    Around midnight of December 18th, I sat back with a fairly comprehensive Bleacher Report article (as they go), my laptop, a bottle of whiskey, a recliner chair, a big screen TV, and a YouTube to investigate what makes the “All Time Classic Plays” just so. Eight hours later, I had many thoughts, maybe even answers.

  2. Confessions of an Economic Sportsfan: I Just Spent 8 Hours, 1/4 of a Bottle of Whiskey, & 5,000 Words On the Greatest Sports Plays of All Time (Part 2 of 2)

    The results of this positively unscientific and whimsical process couldn’t be clearer: it’s a play’s impact on a game’s outcome, and how unusually the players pull it off, that are most likely to set a play apart.

  3. Confessions of an Economic Sportsfan: I Am Going There! NFC Wildcard EXCLUSIVE Preview-49ers at Packers-with Pictures! (Part 1 of 2)

    “Arctic blast”? What kind of s#$% is that? Most times there’s a winter storm, or even a blizzard. This time there’s going to be an “arctic blast”? Hell no. WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE

  4. Early Betting Super Bowl XLVIII: Who Will Win “The Big One”?

    As they were months ago, Seattle and Denver seem to be the heavyweights, but then, so did the 2007 Patriots six years ago.

  5. Home Economics: The Sportsfan’s Cost-Benefit Analysis of Snowshoeing This Chicago Winter

    By assigning probabilities to different outcomes, the expected net benefits of both owning versus renting snowshoes this winter (between January 1st and March 15th) become apparent.

  6. Weighting the Coin: A Theoretical Case for Nomentum

    Forget sports (just for a second, don’t worry) and think about a coin flip. Say it’s a fair coin, and you flip heads two times in a row. Does the coin have momentum? Is the coin more likely to come up heads on the next flip? You’re smart, you know the answer is no.

  7. The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: Winners & Losers of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw

    Who got off easy? Argentina, no question. In addition to being in their element in South America (theoretically), they drew a Bosnia-Herzegovina team playing in its first tournament as its own nation (being formerly part of Yugoslavia), ranked 21st, Nigeria, ranked 36th, and Iran, ranked 45th.

  8. Mike Tomlin, Player Fines, and What the NFL Really Cares About

    The average NFL salary is $2.016 million ($2,015,942), with a median of $0.753 million ($753,229). The average fine ($14,543) is 0.72% of the average salary, and 1.93% of the median salary. For half of all players, the average fine is a harsher punishment than Tomlin’s 1.74% loss.

  9. ESPM Presents: The Search for the Best (& Worst) Contract in Football, LBs

    You should not be surprised to see that as quarterbacks are the most expensive players, the most expensive defenders are those whose job it is to get to the quarterback.

  10. NEWS FLASH: Many of the Best NFL Players Are Pro Bowl Snubs

    Flowers and Talib, 85th and 66th respectively among all cornerbacks, both make the cut with impressive negative grades. Anyone want to bet how many times announcers mention their Pro Bowl inclusion tomorrow in a context affirming their, uh, “quality” play this season?

Hi there! This is Part Two of a Two-Part Confessions of an Economic Sportsfan feature: I Just Spent 8 Hours, 1/4 of a Bottle of Whiskey, and 5,000 Words On the Greatest Sports Plays of All Time. (Click here for Part One.) Around midnight of December 18th, I sat back with a fairly comprehensive Bleacher Report article (as they go), my laptop, a bottle of whiskey, a recliner chair, a big screen TV, and a YouTube to investigate what makes the “All Time Classic Plays” just so. Eight hours later, I had many thoughts, maybe even answers!1 In Part Two I continue analyzing the remaining 25 most amazing plays in that article, before tallying up the results to determine which factors are most likely to make a play one we’ll remember forever.

#25: Best Ping Pong Rally of All Time
  • Atmosphere: 3
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 4
  • Play Significance: 1
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 0
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

… Alrighty then, moving on.

#24: Brian Kownacki Makes Superman Leap
  • Atmosphere: 1
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 10
  • Play Significance: 7
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 0
  • I’ve seen this before: You bet your #%# I have.

This is freakin’ awesome. A great play, also I’m totally kindred spirits with whoever is calling this game, whatever it is. Apparently a college affair between, at-best, middling teams. But listen to the announcer go! All the important details, including what a miraculous comeback this is completing. Oh yeah. Adding the quality of the play-by-play call to the list of factors I should have included.

#23: Antonio Freeman
  • Atmosphere: 6
  • Game Significance: 4
  • Originality: 5
  • Play Significance: 8
  • Star Factor: 5
  • Vegas Panic: 4
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes. (Oh yes. Live I think. The ball on the helmet/neck area brings it all back.)

I totally remember seeing this. Very nostalgic. I was in the fourth grade, and I definitely talked about it at school that week with a new girl in our class, who loved football and Brett Favre, and had moved to my town from Kansas. Super nostalgic. Also pretty crazy even as crazy catches go.

#22: David Tyree Catch
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Game Significance: 10
  • Originality: 8
  • Play Significance: 8
  • Star Factor: 4
  • Vegas Panic: 10
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes.

Oh my goodness, this is only good for #22? I still don’t know what’s more amazing, that Tyree caught it or that Manning didn’t get sacked. Also against Brady and quite possibly the best football team in history? IN THE SUPER BOWL? Kind of a bummer it was in Phoenix. Also I didn’t actually see this one live; with the Pats leading in the second half, I went with my host family in Mascota, Jalisco, Mexico out on the town. I heard they lost a couple of hours later. The thing is, normally I re-watch most 49er games, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to see the 2011 (season) NFC Championship game or last year’s Super Bowl since they happened. I can’t even imagine how agonizing this play is for Pats fans. I’m guessing like at least 10-50 times as bad as Kyle Williams fumbling those punts.

#21: Jim Edmonds Leaping Catch
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 4
  • Play Significance: 3
  • Star Factor: 3
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

I can only assume The Catch (in baseball, though oddly sort of almost San Francisco, coming in one of the final years of the Polo Grounds) from Willie Mays is coming up? Because it’s pretty similar, AND he had to hop back up and make a throw to the plate?

#20: Mikael Nilsson Curls It Around the Wall
  • Atmosphere: 3
  • Game Significance: 5
  • Originality: 4
  • Play Significance: 6
  • Star Factor: 2
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

It took me a couple takes to figure out what’s wrong with this video. At first I kept thinking what made it so unusual is that Nilsson puts the ball to the wrong side of the wall, the side where the goalkeeper already is. For instance, if you go back and watch Roberto Carlos’ free kick (which, to be fair, is the perfect free kick), you’ll notice the goalkeeper is to Carlos’ left of the wall, and he puts the ball around (his) right side. But it’s not Nilsson’s fault; the wall isn’t lined up on the near post, or any post, it’s just in the middle of the goal. That’s super dumb and inexcusable. The whole point of the wall is to make the goal smaller, not to split the goal into pieces far away from each other that the keeper must still protect. Dunno what PSV was doing.

#19: Music City Miracle
  • Atmosphere: 7
  • Game Significance: 7
  • Originality: 8
  • Play Significance: 10
  • Star Factor: 3
  • Vegas Panic: 7
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes.

Another factor I maybe should have mentioned: controversy. The announcers pick up on the forward lateral, live, up in the booth. They didn’t even need a replay. And while I may have missed one or two, I think this is only the fourth play on the list so far to have a true name, after the Bluegrass Miracle, Miracle at the New Meadowlands, and the 0.4 Shot, which curiously all ranked next to each other at 49-47, respectively.2 Hm.

#18: Full Court Miracle (MUST WATCH!)
  • Atmosphere: 1
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 6
  • Play Significance: 10
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 0
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

WOW!!! Wow wow wow wow wow. Wow. Definitely worth a watch. The ole’ chuck-it-towards-the-hoop-there’s-no-time-left maneuver is hardly original, but from underneath your own basket, off a rebound, with 0.6 (!!!) seconds left? No way. Just no. Unbelievable. Someone tell me this YouTube video is a hoax. Oh, also apparently that was in overtime. The whole Guilford college thing is all that’s bringing this down. Oh also his name is Jim Snipes. Classic.

#17: Buehrle’s No-Look
  • Atmosphere: 4 (Opening day!)
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 9
  • Play Significance: 1
  • Star Factor: 5
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes.

Only a nine for originality because come on Buehrle, you’re just copying Federer! Move on, dude.

#16: Earl Campbell Runs over the Rams
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 2
  • Originality: 7
  • Play Significance: 5
  • Star Factor: 7
  • Vegas Panic: 2
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Can you imagine if we had the Internet, and memes, and hashtags in the 1970s (Thinking…) DON’T. Can you imagine if Earl Campbell was 25 years old and ripped off that play today? Crazy. The best part is how nonchalantly he jogs off the field to get a new jersey (and comes back in one play later). What a B0$$.

#15: Willie Mays the Catch
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Game Significance: 10
  • Originality: 8
  • Play Significance: 8
  • Star Factor: 10
  • Vegas Panic: 5
  • I’ve seen this before: Uh, yeah, my dad might have made me watch it twenty or a hundred times or so (quite justifiably).

There it is! Say Hey! Remember when I said “The Catch” (baseball edition) is everything and more than that silly Jim Edmonds’ wimp-#^@ diving catch is? See how right I was? Running back, looking over his head for several yards. Game One of the WORLD SERIES. Leaping back up afterwards to throw home and keep those base runners from scoring. WILLIE MAYS. Magical.3

#14: Flutie Hail Mary
  • Atmosphere: 5
  • Game Significance: 4
  • Originality: 3
  • Play Significance: 10
  • Star Factor: 6
  • Vegas Panic: 4
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes.

Pretty much nowhere close to as miraculous as the Bluegrass Miracle… except Doug Flutie! Look at him go! What a guy.

#13: Roberto Carlos vs. Tenerife
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 7
  • Play Significance: 5
  • Star Factor: 5
  • Vegas Panic: 0
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes.

More ridiculous than the free kick I suppose, what with it being a live ball and everything, but also… stupider. Not bad though. (I mean, I probably couldn’t do that.)

#12: Jeter Flip
  • Atmosphere: 7
  • Game Significance: 7
  • Originality: 9
  • Play Significance: 8
  • Star Factor: 10
  • Vegas Panic: 3
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes. (My father and I completely lost it when this happened. What was he doing? How did he know?)

I broke my rules and looked up some things about this play. Apparently Jeter had been practicing it all season long at the suggestion of Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer, after a throw got away in a similar fashion in spring training. You know, because he’s Derek Jeter and he needs to be ready FOR EVERYTHING. Just in case. Good call, Derek. Good freakin’ call.

#11: Boise State Miracle (MUST WATCH!)
  • Atmosphere: 9
  • Game Significance: 8
  • Originality: 11
  • Play Significance: 11
  • Star Factor: 2
  • Vegas Panic: 10
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes. Live, and many, many times after.

Okay, so Bleacher Report’s Austin Schindel cheated by putting two plays in one, but it doesn’t matter in the slightest because both plays would receive the same score independent of one another because they are both ludicrous and probably tie for the second best play in college football ever, and I love them more than my family. (Well, almost as much.) And if you even try to refute that Boise State turned it up to 11 on those plays, I will punch you in the solar plexus. 4th&18? Fine. A magical play that scores a touchdown? Sure. OFF A HOOK AND LADDER? You bet. ON NATIONAL TV AGAINST A NATIONAL POWERHOUSE NO ONE THOUGHT YOU DESERVED TO PLAY IN THE FIRST PLACE? Why not? That’s play one. Then, maybe ten minutes later in overtime, ANOTHER absurd trick play, even more ridiculous than the last? Okay… ON A 2 PT CONVERSION ATTEMPT when the conventional wisdom says you kick the extra point and keep playing? Every college football game I have watched since then, I’ve only watched on account of my hope that something even half as fantastic will happen again. Oh yeah, also the on-field marriage proposal right at the end… well done Ian Johnson. And well done Boise State. Frickin’ A.

#10: Immaculate Reception
  • Atmosphere: 9
  • Game Significance: 8
  • Originality: 7
  • Play Significance: 10
  • Star Factor: 9
  • Vegas Panic: 7
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes.

An alleged conversation the refs had with the Pittsburgh Police Department before actually ruling the play a touchdown (it took them some time):

Ref:

How many police can you get here to escort me out after the game?

Pittsburgh Police Department:

I dunno, maybe six?

Ref:

SIX?!? Well in that case, SIX FOR PITTSBURGH!

#9: Vince Carter Dunks over Weis
  • Atmosphere: 4
  • Game Significance: 3
  • Originality: 4
  • Play Significance: 1
  • Star Factor: 6
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Ehh, isn’t Nate Washington stuffing Yao Ming cooler?

#8: Rooney Bicycle Kick (MUST WATCH!)
  • Atmosphere: 6
  • Game Significance: 4
  • Originality: 6
  • Play Significance: 8
  • Star Factor: 9
  • Vegas Panic: 4
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes.

Yeah… a bicycle kick is incredible. Scoring one, more so. Off a high-speed cross, more so. To win the game in the final minutes, more so. Against your team’s big rival, more so. In the English Premiere League… I could go on.

#7: Jerome Simpson Flip
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 2
  • Originality: 7
  • Play Significance: 3
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes.

Certainly makes those guys who settled for merely hurdling the defense look like a bunch of chumps, right?

#6: Marshawn Lynch Beast Mode (MUST WATCH!)
  • Atmosphere: 9
  • Game Significance: 8
  • Originality: 7
  • Play Significance: 9
  • Star Factor: 7
  • Vegas Panic: 10
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes. (Live, of course.)

As a lifelong fan of the San Francisco 49ers, and a friend of a Saints fan with whom I was watching the game, I must say that this is a positively glorious run by Marshawn Lynch. We remember how we laughed our #%#es off that the 7-9 Seahawks were in the playoffs at all, let alone hosting the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the first round. After playing well the whole way, the Seahawks saw the Saints get within a touchdown. They had to answer. And Lynch did, about seven or eight times, throwing a defender down to the ground in the process. And I know Seahawks fans are down on me after I seemingly took a big crap on their stadium yesterday, but I love how the noise builds over the course of the 67 yards. The Marshawn Lynch train is coming through town and it’s not stopping for nobody, no matter how many Saints march into that number. I just watched it like three times, it’s so great. I listened to it with my eyes closed. The announcers point out right at the beginning that the stadium has grown quiet. It’s perfect.

#5: Blake Griffin: Monster
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 2
  • Originality: 2
  • Play Significance: 2
  • Star Factor: 6
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Certainly one of the more powerful dunks in history, but other than that…

#4: Jose Guillen Has a Cannon
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 5
  • Play Significance: 4
  • Star Factor: 4
  • Vegas Panic: 1
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

It’s all in the improvisation. He goes for the up-against-the-wall catch, and upon failing immediately finds the ball and trebuchets that %#^$er in there to third from the track in right, without a hop. Ichiro’s may have been more impressive in that he nailed a speedier runner, but still, a pretty darn good throw.

#3: Ovechkin Goal
  • Atmosphere: 1
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 9
  • Play Significance: 1
  • Star Factor: 6
  • Vegas Panic: 2
  • I’ve seen this before: Yes.

Once again, how come more people don’t like hockey? (But also seriously why did we put an NHL team in Phoenix? We know their NBA team is “the Suns”, right? Not so good for the hockey.)

#2: Amazing Catch by Alabama Receiver
  • Atmosphere: 2
  • Game Significance: 1
  • Originality: 9
  • Play Significance: 4
  • Star Factor: 1
  • Vegas Panic: 3
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Helluva’ catch, helluva’ catch. Obviously this list predates the Alabama catastrophe that was the 2013 Iron Bowl, which should surely find itself among such lists in the future.

We’ve nearly reached the end of Bleacher Report’s 50 Most Amazing Plays of All Time (published back in February, 2012), down to the number one play. Of the 49 so far, I’ve taken a sip of whiskey for the 30 I had not seen before. I’m feeling in touch with the list, and my sportsfan self, and I’m betting a shot that the number one play is The Play, the Cal-Stanford “THE BAND IS ON THE FIELD!” Play. If I’m right, I win by saving whiskey for later; if I’m wrong, I win by taking a shot of whiskey and going to bed. And here we go!

#1: Tiger Woods on the 16th Hole

AAAAUUUGGGHHH OF COURSE! The cover picture was Tiger! No golf the whole way through, and then this! ALSO HOW DOES THE CAL-STANFORD PLAY NOT GET ON THIS LIST? THE SAINTS’ LATERAL PLAY GETS ON THE LIST FOR A MISSED EXTRA POINT, BUT THE CAL-STANFORD PLAY, COMPLETE WITH PERCUSSION AND WIND SECTIONS, DOESN’T CUT IT? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME BLEACHER REPORT??? … I really did not see that coming… like any most amazing sports play? Well, muck it.4

#1: Tiger Woods on the 16th Hole
  • Atmosphere: 7
  • Game Significance: 9
  • Originality: 10
  • Play Significance: 10
  • Star Factor: 10
  • Vegas Panic: 2
  • I’ve seen this before: No.

Alright, I will concede that this is an amazing shot, and probably one of the most difficult feats of any of the plays. And the drama is incredible! Obviously it’s going in if it’s number one, but it slowed down so much I did wonder for a few fleeting moments. Well, that’s my score of the 50 plays. Which brings us to…

The Results

Overall Scoring Breakdown

  • 1. Play Significance: 301, average 6.02, standard deviation 3.3
  • 2. Originality: 295, AVG 5.9, SD 2.6
  • 3. Atmosphere: 207, 4.14, 2.89
  • 4. Star Factor: 206, 4.12, 3.16
  • 5. Game Significance: 167, 3.34, 2.92
  • 6. Vegas Panic: 127, 2.54, 2.58

The results of this positively unscientific and whimsical process couldn’t be clearer: it’s a play’s impact on a game’s outcome, and how unusually the players pull it off, that are most likely to set a play apart.5 The atmosphere of the game and the presence of any stars in the sport are significant, but lesser contributions to a play’s ultimate “amazingness”, with the significance of the game itself being lesser still. The Vegas Panic stat that I completely ad-libbed was generally irrelevant, although I’m confident it had its moments (like the first Pats-Giants Super Bowl).

In terms of straight-up plays that are most likely to be remembered, I’d bet that game significance would become, uh, more significant. For instance, The Catch (football, not to mention The Catch II and The Catch III) isn’t as technically difficult as many of the (football) catches Schindel selected, but it’s probably more widely remembered than all of them combined, because we now know that the play launched the 49ers into the first of their four Super Bowl Championships in the 80s, cementing them as the team of the decade. (Also Vin Scully’s call is fantastic.)

My Top 10

After adding up scores for all 50 plays (not bringing in other plays even if I thought they were worthy), here are the ones I graded the highest (sum score of all six factors in parentheses):

If I had added other plays in? Off the top of my head, there are some baseball home runs missing (Bobby ThomsonCarlton FiskKirk Gibson), a few basketball game winners (JordanJordan…), a few soccer goals (MaradonnaMaradona again in the same match…), Olympic craziness (Jason Lezak, Phelps’ Touch-Out), and I already mentioned how all the women are missing. Oh, and The Play, duh. I know there are some others I can’t think of at the moment, so drop me a line in the comments or on Twitter (@candid_colin) if you know of something I need to see. I already can’t wait to do this again. Until next time.


  1. And of course a great deal of questions as well. Why are people so awesome and put together all these YouTube videos? How could Bleacher Report do this to me? Is it light outside? 
  2. I guess you could throw in “The Helmet Catch” for David Tyree, and many people dub Carlos’ free kick “The Ultimate Masterpiece”. 
  3. Check out what Wikipedia says about The Catch! Many of the same questions I myself have grappled with in this feature. 
  4. I took the shot in two parts. I think that’s fair, as this post is two parts. Also looking at the comments on the article, author Austin Schindel replies to a list of not-featured plays, including “THE BAND IS ON THE FIELD!”, as such: “All great plays and a bunch of those were in the last 5 out. It’s hard to find the most amazing plays accross (sic) the board but I appreciate the comment.” You’ve got like a half-dozen plays of college football, yo. You’re saying you remembered the band and decided it really wasn’t one of the most amazing plays? (shakes head sadly) 
  5.  At least for the 50 plays Schindel chose. As usual, more research is needed. I demand more research. And I’ll be supplying it too. Stay tuned. 
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