We Have A Trade
Earlier this year, on the first day of the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, amateur and professional quants packed the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center’s largest room to watch five men talk for 75 minutes about advanced statistics in basketball. It was one of the weekend’s most anticipated panels. The audience consisted largely of people who might have killed someone—or at least modeled a cost-benefit analysis for killing someone—to parse through the same spreadsheets as some of the experts on stage. On one end was Mike Zarren, the Celtics’ assistant general manager, a Harvard Law School graduate who had clipped a shamrock pin to his lapel. In college, at the University of Chicago, Zarren had played quiz bowl, not basketball, and served as the team’s president the year it won the first triple crown of national championships in history. Twelve years later, he was sitting next to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who cut the imposing presence of a billionaire while wearing faded blue jeans and a ring-collared T-shirt that read “Talk Nerdy To Me.” These guys weren’t easily baffled by questions about NBA metrics. In fact, there weren’t and aren’t many people in the world with a better grasp on basketball numbers. But then someone in the audience stood up, took the microphone, and stumped just about everyone on stage.