Friday, December 18, 2015

The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls Would Kill the Golden State Warriors, Right?

Asked this week, Charles Barkley answered that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls “would kill” the current Golden State Warriors. That Bulls team [Jordan, Pippen] set the record for wins in a season, the current Warriors are the defending champions and are 25 and 1. The sports columnist Michael Wilbon wouldn't go so far as to say that it’d be a rout, but he was also sure that the Bulls would win.
Well maybe. But perhaps some perspective is in order. First, it seems reasonable to assume that the larger the pool of talent a sport is drawing on, the better that sport will be. In 1996, international players were pretty rare, today it’s rather unremarked upon that a player originated outside the U.S.
Second, it may be useful to look at a basic sport (virtually no technology involved) which provides an objective measure (a clock). Somewhat at random, I chose the 100 meter freestyle and 400 meter freestyle in men’s swimming. In the ’96 Olympics the 100 freestyle was won with a time of 48.74, and the 400 meter winning time was 3:47.97. In the 2012 Olympics those winning times would’ve finished 12th.

When Wilbon asks "who is going to stop Jordan?" He is, I think, asking the wrong question. The reason no one hits .400 in baseball anymore isn't because hitters have gotten worse since Ted Williams, it's because baseball players have gotten so much better. Implicit in the assertion that the Bulls would kill the Warriors is that in 20 years, with increased interest in the sport--thanks in part to Jordan--the game hasn't improved. A complicating factor is that the more it has improved, the less likely we will see today's best as better than yesterday's.




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