This is the live (mostly true) journal of my experiences here on Hardwood Paroxysm, continually updated throughout the conference. Some anecdotes will be explicitly factual, while others will be accentuated with a seasoning of exaggeration (or outright falsehood). But they will all be true to the experience, that’s my promise to you.
Saturday – 9:15 AM
The conferences organizers definitely know the lay of the landscape. Nothing of significance was scheduled until 9:00 AM this morning, giving people plenty of time to quietly shuffle around with their coffee, wiping the whisky crust from their eyes.
First of the bat today is 125-person round-robin Settlers of Catan tournament, sponsored by Adidas’ new Live Action Role Playing clothing line. The tournament will take most of the day to unfold, providing plenty of entertainment between panels. Obviously, Bill James is the heavy favorite in the tournament but Daryl Morey looks hungry as well and clearly has been training hard.
Saturday – 9:42 AM
My first panel of the day was Championship Analytics with Phil Jackson. It was a little underwhelming. Jackson slow-clapped himself onto the stage, loaded up the single powerpoint slide shown below, pantomimed an explosion with his hands (including requisite sound effect) then dropped the mic and walked off the stage.
The analytics are compelling and I can’t find any fault with his math. But it still feels like he’s leaving out something important. Nevertheless all the MIT and Harvard Sports Management students were frantically copying Phil’s equation into their mobile devices.
Saturday – 10:45 AM
Just before lunch the conference organizers scheduled an intellectual cage match between Malcolm Gladwell and David Epstein. It was a re-staging of the epic debate between nature and nurture, but this time words and ideas were replaced with loin cloths and tridents. On a side note, the cage seemed entirely superfluous. Both participants seemed utterly committed and willing to pay the ultimate price for their theory of human development.
The battle began with Epstein and Gladwell mocking each other, attempting to mimic each other’s voices and arguments. The crowd seemed uncomfortable with the childish display and eager for the drawing of blood. Gladwell approached first, attempting to leverage the incredible quickness he’s developed in the frequently shifting landscape of modern journalism. Epstein rebuffed with him a shield built from the accepted standards of scientific research.
After a brief struggle both tridents became hopelessly deadlocked and Epstein and Gladwell collided, rolling into a heap, wrestling and grappling for the upper hand. Somehow (don’t ask me to explain the physics of this) they both ended up with the other in a headlock. Vicious noogies were dispensed and in the end they tapped out simultaneously.
The cage was unlocked, Epstein and Gladwell left to tend to their wounds, and we were all still left wondering whether J.R. Smith is a terrible shooter because he was born that way or because of the accumulated experience of missing thousands and thousands of jump shots throughout his life.
Saturday – 12:28 PM
Just watched the presentation of PointWise: Predicting Points and Valuing Decisions in Real Time, from the Kirk Goldsberry-led collective of Harvard researchers. In short this presentation is about a giant gold-plated machine they’ve built capable of making very precise calculations about the future events. The machine is similar to one built by a British scientist in the early 70s to help locate the five Golden Tickets hidden inside the wrappers of Wonka Bars. Their machine allows them to project the likelihood of future events and with those likelihoods, evaluate decisions made in the present.
For example, they calculated the likelihood of a swarm of deadly Africanized bees attacking the conference at about 3.4%. Given that likelihood it was probably unnecessary for me to borrow Matt Moore’s custom made bee-repelling suit if armor. I wish had that insight this morning because the 49 distinct lead and copper plates have been incredibly cumbersome.
The bottom line is that this is a complete game-changer. Install one of these massive machines in your closet and get real time feedback on your wardrobe decisions as you’re heading out the door. Drop one in your car and make sure that you’re always driving the fastest route. Measure your decision making effectiveness when it comes to buying crap on Amazon that you may or may not need (It’s very likely that my purchase of a movie replica flying skateboard from Back to the Future 2 would not rate well. Especially since I didn’t realize that it didn’t actually fly).
Saturday – 2:00 PM
Malcolm Gladwell made another appearance today, interviewing NBA commissioner Adam Silver in front of a packed house. They ran through the current list of grave and mortal threats to the virginal sanctity of the league — tanking, public financing, the draft lottery, the playoff structure, poisonous snakes, ice storms and chocolate mousse that is just too rich for my blood. Silver did an admirable balancing act, offering honesty when he could and initiating showy soft-shoe dance numbers when he couldn’t. I know his reign of terror has just begun, but Silver already has a much more refined jazz hands technique then Stern ever showed.
The panel ended with a monstrously over-done closing number. As Silver (in high-quality replica Phantom of the Opera Mask) and Gladwell belted out “Master of the House” from Les Miserables (no information on why Silver felt it appropriate to wear Phantom mask) all 30 NBA owners aligned themselves around the stage, doing their best Rockette-style kick line. While this seemed like an incongruous arrangement the laser light show and pyrotechnics behind them were simply stunning.
Saturday – 4:30 PM
The conference has wound done, uttering it’s last shuddering gasps. The halls are lined with confetti from the closing ceremonies and the traces of bacchanalian revelry stain the walls. It’s quiet now as the attendees have wandered off to bars, restaurants, hotels and travel hubs. Relationships have been forged and business cards, the physical manifestations of professional contacts made are carefully tucked away in jacket pockets. A cold wind sweeps down Boylston street, carrying with it the hopes and dreams of those wild bigamists, lovers of number and sport, gently carrying them home.
Goodbye Sloan. See you next year.