An excerpt from Marc Tracy’s report for Tablet Magazine on the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (a.k.a. sport’s nerdfest), The Joy of Stats.
After the panel, [Joe] Lacob [new owner of the Golden State Warriors] was in the hallway for the next hour-and-a-half, talking to whomever wanted to talk to him. Sometimes these people looked fairly important; other times they were kids, all light-blue oxford shirts and acne. I departed when Lacob did, around 12:30 pm—he got his bag and coat from the check immediately before I did—and I watched him wheel out, alone, a shortish man with tan skin and brown hair combed over what’s maybe a bald spot in the middle of his head, trying to figure out which exit of the vast, empty first floor of the Boston Convention Center would most quickly lead him into the cushioned seat of a cab. This is insane, I thought. And it was. Joe Lacob is worth millions, all of it self-made. Dude could have been anywhere. But he was at the Boston Convention Center at 9 in the morning on a Saturday in early March. Why didn’t he just stay in what is, after all, the Golden State? Or if he wanted to travel with his team, why wouldn’t he sleep in, or go eat a $60 brunch at one of Boston’s finest dining establishments? Why go, and then stick around talking to whomever wants to talk? How much of an “edge” could his team really get from that? And even if there is a slight edge to be gained, or the potential for one, well, it’s only sports.
To which the reply comes: Well, it’s only life. For a while, it astounded me that NFL quarterbacks are among the most scrutinized people on Earth despite the fact that they are actively relevant for roughly a few hours on precisely 16 days each year (and a few more hours on a few more days, if your team is really good). But I’ve learned that we do this to quarterbacks because we also do it to ourselves. We spend an astonishing amount of our waking hours establishing, mundanely, the foundations of a few happy moments. We expend massive chunks of time on our apartments or houses so that when we arrive home each day, the first 30 seconds will be slightly more pleasant. If we are lucky to have jobs we enjoy, these still mostly involve positioning ourselves for the comparatively few moments of triumph that make them worthwhile. We work to make money, and deprive ourselves of certain things to save more, so that we can travel someplace nice every few months, or eat an especially satisfying meal every couple of weeks, or buy someone we like a nice gift for her birthday. Yet it’s all worth it, partly because it has to be. When Lacob (not Jewish, alas) or Cuban or Okrent or Epstein or Schatz or you or I treat sports as though it is any other immaterial, bottom-line discipline—all while maintaining the crucial double consciousness that sports are one of life’s pleasures, and something we do “just for fun”—we are not making sports into something just as joyless as the rest of life. We are making sports into something just as joyful as the rest of life.