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michael-jordan

It was 1 in the morning. They were flummoxed by a safe. Jordan hadn’t opened it in years, and he couldn’t remember the combination. Everything else stopped as this consumed him. After 10 failed attempts, the safe would go into a security shutdown and need to be blown open. None of the usual numbers worked. Nine different combinations failed; they had one try left. Jordan focused. He decided it had to be a combination of his birthday, Feb. 17, and old basketball numbers. He typed in six digits: 9, 2, 1, 7, 4, 5. Click. The door swung open and he reached in, rediscovering his gold medal from the 1984 Olympics. It wasn’t really gold anymore. It looked tarnished, changed — a duller version of itself.

http://espn.go.com/espn/story/_/page/Michael-Jordan/michael-jordan-not-l...

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A University of Washington graduate whose football team had the best defense in the country at the time, Costacos came up with the idea of making a “Purple Reign” T-shirt to honor the team, featuring a lineman in a purple jersey falling from a cloud in the sky. Costacos printed up the shirts, traveled to a road game at Stanford one fall weekend and sold them in the parking lot. The idea was brilliant. By the end of the first week, he later estimated he had sold 20,000. An idea was born. Along with his older brother, Tock, he parlayed those T-shirts into series of sports-themed posters that, like that first T-shirt, played on pop culture. Together, they created one of the most influential businesses in the history of sports marketing. Its lasting impact eventually would extend all the way to a New York City art gallery, where, 25 years later, those posters were viewed as art and sold for thousands. At one show Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White bought the entire gallery collection.

http://www.sbnation.com/longform/2013/2/5/3951634/costacos-brothers-spor...

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How is this guy still in the league? What more does he have to do to get kicked out?

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Twenty years after The Dream Team dominated unlike any other sports team in Olympic history, NBA TV’s behind the scenes look at the squad brought back many moments of nostalgia. The documentary entitled The Dream Team, narrated by Edward Burns, began by looking at the history of Olympic basketball, including how the Soviet Union team won the gold in 1972 and 1988 just when it seemed like the Americans’amateur players were good enough to win the gold every year.

http://vimeo.com/44080574

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This is a topological similarity network of 452 NBA players during the 2010-2011 season. Players (in circles) are connected to other players by edges (lines) based on how similar they are with regard to points, rebounds, assists, steals, rebounds, blocks, turnovers and fouls, all normalized to per-minute values in the 2010-2011 season. Further, the network is colored by a player's points-per-minute average, with blue being low and red being high.

For as long as basketball has been played, it’s been played with five positions. Today they are point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center. A California data geek sees 13 more hidden among them, with the power to help even the Charlotte Bobcats improve their lineup and win more games.

Muthu Alagappan is a Stanford University senior, a basketball fan and an intern at Ayasdi, a data visualization company. Ayasdi takes huge amounts of info like tumor samples and displays it in interactive shapes that highlight patterns like genetic markers that indicate a likelihood of ovarian cancer. It’s called topological data analysis, and it can be applied to sports, too.

That is exactly what Alagappan did.

Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki (41) is not a forward and Jason Terry (31) is not a guard, but rather a scoring rebounder and an offensive ball handler under an analytics model that reveals 13 new positions. Photo: David J. Phillip/Associated Press

He used the company’s software to crunch a data set of last season’s stats for 452 NBA players. He discovered new ways to group players (.pdf) based on performance after noting, for example, that Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics had more in common with Miami Heat forward Shane Battier than with fellow point guard Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs.

After reading his map, Alagappan came up with 13 new positions based on the three typical roles of guard, forward and center:

  1. Offensive Ball-Handler. This guy handles the ball and specializes in points, free throws and shots attempted, but is below average in steals and blocks. Examples include Jason Terry and Tony Parker.
  2. Defensive Ball-Handler. This is a defense-minded player who handles the ball and specializes in assists and steals, but is only so-so when it comes to points, free throws and shots. See also: Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry.
  3. Combo Ball-Handler. These players are adept at both offense and defense but don’t stand out in either category. Examples include Jameer Nelson and John Wall.
  4. Shooting Ball-Handler. Someone with a knack for scoring, characterized by above-average field goal attempts and points. Stephen Curry and Manu Ginobili are examples.
  5. Role-Playing Ball-Handler. These guys play fewer minutes and don’t have as big a statistical impact on the game. Hello, Arron Afflalo and Rudy Fernandez.
  6. 3-Point Rebounder. Such a player is a ball-handler and big man above average in rebounds and three-pointers, both attempted and made, compared to ball-handlers. Luol Deng and Chase Budinger fit the bill.
  7. Scoring Rebounder. He grabs the ball frequently and demands attention when on offense. Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge play this position.
  8. Paint Protector. A big man like Marcus Camby and Tyson Chandler known for blocking shots and getting rebounds, but also for racking up more fouls than points.
  9. Scoring Paint Protector. These players stand out on offense and defense, scoring, rebounding and blocking shots at a very high rate. Examples include Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.
  10. NBA 1st-Team. This is a select group of players so far above average in every statistical category that the software simply groups them together regardless of their height or weight. Kevin Durant and LeBron James fall in this category.
  11. NBA 2nd-Team. Not quite as good, but still really, really good. Rudy Gay and Caron Butler are examples.
  12. Role Player. Slightly less skilled than the 2nd-team guys, and they don’t play many minutes. Guys like Shane Battier and Ronnie Brewer fall under this position.
  13. One-of-a-Kind. These guys are so good they are off the charts — literally. The software could not connect them to any other player. Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard are examples, but you already knew that.

The 13 positions are based on how players compare to the league average in seven statistical categories: Points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots, turnovers and fouls. The stats were normalized on a per-minute basis to adjust for playing time, so starters got the same consideration as backups.

That said, the names of some of these new positions could use a bit of work. For example, Rondo, the Celtics’ floor leader, is classified as a “role player,” which is commonly used in basketball to describe a so-so player with a specific, if unremarkable, set of skills.

This is the same topological network of players, with red regions indicating the Dallas Mavericks. This representation shows the diversity of playing styles of Mavericks’ players.

Even if no one is going to refer to Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks as one the league’s best “scoring rebounders” any time soon, Alagappan’s prize-winning analysis could change how coaches and general managers think about the roles their players fill. Alagappan proved the title-winning Mavs had a solid diversity of “ball handlers” and “paint protectors,” giving them the ability to put a balanced lineup on the floor with few weak spots. The Western Conference cellar dwellers the Minnesota Timberwolves, on the other hand, had too many players with similar styles and a dearth of “scoring rebounders” and “paint protectors,” leaving them vulnerable along the front line.

This is the same topological network of players, with red regions indicating the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Alagappan’s findings won the award for best Evolution of Sport this spring at the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

Whenever sports and numbers meet, the Moneyball question inevitably arises: Is it possible to use big data sets to find undervalued players? Alagappan believes it is.

He isolated the 40 players in the “scoring rebounder” section who best epitomized that group. At the top were the stars you might expect: Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire of the New York Knicks, along with Nowitzki and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Paul Gasol. But lesser-known players like Marreese Speights of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Lakers’ Devin Ebanks produced statistically similar per-minute results. Even better, where Anthony’s salary averages around $18.5 million per year, the Lakers are paying Ebanks about $740,000.

Another inevitable question: Could Ayasdi’s software have predicted the success of Knicks rookie Jeremy Lin? Alagappan concedes Lin’s college stats wouldn’t have suggested or predicted Linsanity, but he did create a similarity network to identify those players most similar to Lin in college. Three names emerged from the 3,400 analyzed: DeMarcus Cousins, who the Sacramento Kings picked fifth overall in the 2010 NBA draft; Alec Burks, picked 12th in 2011 by the Utah Jazz; and Nik Raivio, a University of Portland guard currently playing ball in Kaposvar, Hungary.

The lesson? For teams who buy into this new classification of players, the next Jeremy Lin might be in Hungary, awaiting your call.

Photo: Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki (41) and Jason Terry (31) defend Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade during the second half of Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals. Photo: David J. Phillip/Associated Press

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Those ubiquitous cardboard trading cards of your youth? Yeah, those sure were nice, especially how thin they were and the way they didn’t require a charger to operate when they ran low on power.

But the Panini HRX, in what is being touted as the world’ first video trading card, sure does need its own power supply. That’s so it can store enough juice to play the HD video (up to 30 minutes worth) stored on its 2-gigabyte flash drive. But don’t worry. Technically, it’s still made of cardboard.

Jason Howarth, the company’s VP of marketing, said they “wanted to make sure that there was a level of uniqueness and collectibility.” I’d say they’re aces on that one, as the cards are slated to be inserted randomly into the company’s Totally Certified Basketball line. It’ll debut in June, just as the NBA Finals are wrapping up, and a pack of five cards will retail for $20. (Mind you, that still doesn’t guarantee you get one.)

It’s just a prototype in the promotional video seen above, but the final version should have a button in front that will start and stop video playback, while a micro-USB port on the side will be used for charging and connecting to standard USB cables. Footage shown on the card will be shot exclusively for Panini, and the card can also be used as an external drive when you plug it into your computer.

It’s a shame that Los Angeles Clippers star and reigning Slam Dunk champ Blake Griffin couldn’t seem any less interested, as he and three other players — Kobe Bryant, Washington’s John Wall and Oklahoma City’s Kevin — will be the guinea pig participants hoping to get this initial effort off the ground.

Although, that Panini and Recom Group (which provided the tech know-how for this operation) couldn’t produce a final, fleshed-out product for Griffin after 18 months of R&D may not bode well for the future of video trading cards.

Personally, I thought it was revolutionary when 8-year-old me got his hands on a Baseball Talk system, which featured super-sized baseball cards that had a little vinyl recording glued to the back. Yes, this was 1989, but if you put the card into the proprietary audio player and closed the lid, you heard Mel Allen interview the player on that “card.” At the time, that seemed like a true technological breakthrough.

But with video embedded and available everywhere these days, we’ll see if video-enabled pieces of cardboard are really what consumers demand.

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