It was our annual “Another Broken Egg” breakfast. It had been a little more than a year since my friend, Karthik and I had sat at that same cafe as almost strangers sharing our first meal. Cliche, but I didn’t expect anything more than a typical college friend relationship: you first meet them, you share the couple interests you both have, you debate about who’s city is better/bond over the same one, you small talk about the weather and the number of siblings you have, and then you return to you own bubble of homework, exams, and future aspirations. Occasionally, you’ll remember to be thankful that you’ve made another follower on Instagram from that encounter, but there was not much substance otherwise…
Our friendship had become a stability in my life, after our first breakfast we bonded over shared experiences with immigrant parents, sports memes, and impossible engineering homework, and before I knew it, it had been one whole year. We were in the same cafe as close friends instead of strangers, and I was reminded of such when Karthik presented me with my birthday present, and the first quote from the top was a positive comment from Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks owner in case you all didn’t know, and Shark Tank investor). My precious friend, Karthik had always been a supporter of my wayward and wild dreams, I’ve told him I’ve wanted to write a book before, become a sports agent, own an NBA team, become the NBA commissioner, and finally (but not less ambitiously) submit a paper to the 2018 SSAC at MIT. Never did he ever tell me to rethink the feasibility, he would even tell me not to quit when I felt confined and in a career slump. Because of the history of our friendship, and Karthik’s enduring support I knew this would be a good read.
First of all, I really liked how this book was structured it was almost like a series of “MythBusters” where each chapter would tackle a common “saying” in sports and explain whether or not they are statistically backed.
Overall I enjoyed the tone and pace of the book, though it was talking about the dry subject of statistics and number crunching, the authors inserted the stats and even explained why they close certain variables they did in an anecdotal way, like sugar making the medicine go down (sugar being the stories). There were plenty of allusions sprinkled in and out the anecdotes, an average American high school student who half paid attention in their English classes would have been able to get them. There was mention of Mark Twain, Thoreau the Walden pond, and more. I was happy to finally feel like I got “credit” for actually reading the books we were assigned, because the understanding of those metaphors led to a deeper understanding of the anecdotes presented.
Finally the last chapter does warrant a disclaimer about how sports is an art and is it composed to humans who have emotions, so while statistics is a way to quantify probabilities in sports, it is not the only way to view and enjoy sports. I’m glad the authors included the last spiel and recognize the flaws in setting numbers to sports to generate stats.
Going deeper into the book, it covered many “sayings” that dad coaches used to spew at my peewee little league basketball/soccer/volleyball teams such as “There is no I in team,” and also phrases our high school athletic directors would scream in when the score was close such as, “TIMEOUT, we need to stop their momentum,” or “We’ve got home court advantage for these last few minutes.” After having read these analyses, I felt kind of old rethinking all the moments when my past coaches would use these sports adages and my past self would take it as the gospel without ever questioning it. It made me wonder if my coaches ever questioned “these truths” or if the words of Michael Jordan (“Defense wins championships”) was credible enough.
However though this was an interesting read, I’m glad I did not read this while I was still playing any sport competitively. Yes, statistics are supposed to help optimize the game, and this is why team managers of professional sports teams hire statistics consultants. However I’m glad I got to play as a kid, being able to make decisions in the heat of the gaming moment. I was able to judge each scenario with my alert eyes at the time instead of over-analyzing whether or not the probability of me taking the winning shot would eventually coincide with wining the pee wee championships.
This book definitely gave me interesting insight and I think the only myth it didn’t “bust” was whether or not athletes actually have an advantage being left handed (future research paper topic?).
At the end of the day, sports is still to me what I thought of it as when I was a little girl, something fun I do with my friends, not a subject to over analyze and crunch numbers over. If I could go back and play competitively, I definitely would throw aside all my books and run on the court, but since I have my physical limitations, I guess at least sports (stats) can help keep my mind and brain active.