I’ve long taken issue with the work of the Wages of Wins Network, mostly in the form of twitter jabs or snide comments in the stuff I write. While the work being done on those sites is admirable, and they’re pursuing a noble goal–richer and more descriptive quantitative analysis of basketball–the prevailing no-questions-asked approach seems to fly in the face of what should be a scientific pursuit.
There’s no doubt an expanded use of advanced statistics and analysis has vastly improved out understanding of basketball. We have better ways of quantifying nearly every measurable event that occurs on the court. But we’re no closer to a Unified Theory of Basketball than physicists are to a Unified Theory of Everything, and yet the faith the WoW Network places in numbers often seems blind and absolute.
It’s one thing to insist again and again that Kevin Love is the best player in the NBA. We can talk all about the eye test offering proof that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and perhaps a few others are superior players to Love, but in the end we’re all just sharing opinions based on whatever criteria seem most appropriate. It’s quite another to assert that Green Bay, Wisconsin is incapable of supporting any professional sports team. But that’s exactly the conclusion reached by Arturo Galletti using a metric he devised to gauge a metro area’s capability of doing so. Green Bay is a casualty of a system that simply aggregates a huge amount of money and splits it into a few smaller sums. It’s Win Shares with dollars and cents in the place of rebounds and points.
If you examine the chart, you’ll see that Green Bay lands just barely on the positive side of the “Available Personal Income” divide. However, that calculation saddles Green Bay with only 30 percent of the burden for supporting the Packers. The rest falls on the already stretched thin Milwaukee metro area. In turn, that 70 percent stake in the Packers drives up Milwaukee’s “debt” and makes it the WoW’s number one candidate to have its NBA franchise relocated. If the full cost of supporting the Packers is shifted back to Green Bay, the city falls in the red. Galletti justifies the split by saying “the Packers are very much Milwaukee’s team as well”. But this is true of many franchises, particularly ones that represent a state’s only entry into a particular league. Why is Milwaukee the only one in which the calculations reflect this reality? What’s more, a 70 percent share in the Packers is outrageous. For any metric one could possibly devise, suggesting that any city other than Green Bay could bear a significant majority of the team’s “cost” is just wrong.
The scientific method places tremendous emphasis on falsifiability, and any theory that purports to be comprehensive has to hold in every case. So how have the Packers persisted in Green Bay? How can the tiniest market in the most popular sporting league in the United States compete with 31 other teams and win the Super Bowl? Because it’s about more than money. It’s about a fanbase that supports the team with greater fanaticism than any other. A fanbase that places newborn babies on a 955 year waiting list for season tickets. The Milwaukee Bucks currently lack such support. The Bucks can succeed in Milwaukee if they draft good players, make smart personnel decisions on the roster and in the front office, and play well. If they fail to do so, they will fail no matter which city they call home.