Saturday, May 09, 2009

# Posted 2:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MEA CULPA -- MORE ON GLADWELL AND GIRLS BASKETBALL: There has been quite a backlash against the story by Malcolm Gladwell that I praised on Thursday.

Perhaps the real lesson is this one: Woe unto him who cites Malcolm Gladwell as an authority on any subject without some serious fact-checking first.

Most of it has focused on Gladwell's profound misunderstanding of basketball and reckless generalization about basketball strategy based on the example of one junior girls team. Rush the Court explains:
Gladwell completely misses the mark on this one - the full court press as a strategy works great when you’re dealing with 12-yr old girls whose teams are generally all at roughly the same skill and confidence levels (i.e., not very good), but as you climb the ladder and start to see the filtration of elite talent develop in the high schools, it actually becomes a weapon that favors the really good teams, the Goliaths, more than that of the underdogs.
This point is similar to my earlier comment (second from the top) that even if Gladwell is seriously wrong about basketball writ large, the success of the 12-year-olds in his story illustrates how underdogs can exploit the unspoken rules of any game -- whether it's basketball or guerrilla warfare -- when the overdogs are trapped by their own assumptions.

For more commentary, check out these posts by Chad Orzel and Steve Sailer. And there's more here and here and here.

But what if Gladwell is completely wrong even about the 12-year-old girls in question? One commenter suggested that the story of Vivek Ranadive's team is simply false, because one of the girls was a actually a ringer who went on to play college ball at Duke. So far, I can't find any validation of that. As Gladwell notes, one of the team's assistant coaches had played at Duke, but that's different than having a ringer. If anyone out can clarify the situation, please help me out with a comment and a link.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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