The Wages of Wins is Factorial

Posted on November 21, 2007 by


The one major criticism from the academic reviewers of The Wages of Wins – and I mean the reviewers charged with looking at this before publication1– was that there are too many end notes.  They start on page 227 and go on until page 267.  Yes, there are 40 pages of end notes providing additional details (apparently too much detail) on each story told in the book. 

My sense is that few people ever bothered to read any of these, which means some “gems” have been missed.  One such gem is the first end note of Chapter 10.

Five games into his NBA career Glenn Robinson made the following observation quoted in an Associated Press article written by Jim Litke (1994): “I expect to do what I’m supposed to do. But a lot of people that don’t know the game, they think it’s all about scoring. I look at it from a team perspective. We have to do well as a team. I don’t need to go out there and score 30 points a game and have us lose. That won’t do us any good. It would help me individually.” Robinson added: “But I want to see all of us get something done.” So a very young Robinson notes that scoring helps him individually but may not help the team. It is interesting that this quote captures the essence of the argument we make in this chapter. Scoring does help a player earn more money. Wins, though, are about more than scoring.

This quote is interesting because it captures one of the basic stories we tell in The Wages of Wins.  Scoring gets you attention and it will get you paid. But scoring by itself doesn’t win games.  Robinson knew this basic lesson five games into his career.

Three days ago we learned that another player also understands this basic lesson.  Tommy Cragg – writing in New York Magazine – offered the following about Stephon Marbury:2

 In the midst of our upbeat Charleston conversation about religion and the new season, he raised the subject of his reputation for selfishness. “If I didn’t play the way how I played, I wouldn’t have gotten no max contract,” he said. “They can talk about whatever they wanna talk about me, because I got maxed. I’m a max player. Don’t get mad at me, because I’m telling you what’s real. One plus one is two, all day long, and it’s never gonna change. And that’s factorial.”

Again, this is the same story.  Marbury is a scoring point guard.  And Starbury explains quite clearly why he plays the game this way.  Scoring – or selfishness – is what gets you a maximum contract. And it appears he is right. As noted last week (see Starbury Loses His Star), for his career Marbury has been above average with respect to scoring, but only about average with respect to wins. 

Despite all this, Marbury got his money.  And people can call him “selfish” or anything else, but it’s clear Marbury understands the NBA.  Scoring gets you paid.  And you can’t argue with something that is so “factorial.” 

– DJ

1 I love end notes.  I think I should start placing these in columns.  For example, for this column it would be good to note that The Wages of Wins was published by Stanford University Press.  Academic presses subject their books to peer review before publication.  The critique I noted above (about end notes) came from the peer reviewers charged with reading this book before it ever was released.

2Hat Tip to Henry Abbott of TrueHoop for the Cragg story.