The Lede, Friday, March 2,, 2018
By David Royse
On this day in 1962, Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in an NBA basketball game, a record that still stands (and very well may forever). Chamberlain’s Philadelphia Warriors won the game, played in Hershey, Pa., 169-147 over the New York Knicks.
Why Good Ideas Sometimes Don’t Get Very Far
This newsletter – actually much of what we try to cover at LedeTree – deals, at least in part, with good ideas. I’m interested in things that work – new ways of looking at problems and new approaches for solving them. I’m fascinated by how and why people decide to approach certain problems in certain ways.
But sometimes, an idea works, and yet people don’t adopt the idea. If something works, but nobody does it, it’s not so good at solving the problem.
Which brings us back to Wilt Chamberlain and that crazy night in Hershey.
If you’re not a basketball fan, or even a sports fan, hang with me for a bit anyway. This is about more than a game.
Chamberlain seemed unstoppable on that hundred-point night – as he seemed on many nights to his NBA opponents. He dominated as few players have ever dominated in any sport. That season (1961-’62) Chamberlain set another incredible record, averaging 50.4 points per game. He led the league in scoring seven straight years and was the top rebounder in the league in 11 of his 14 seasons.
But he was stoppable.
You could stop Wilt Chamberlain – all you had to do was foul him. Because he was a terrible free throw shooter. He averaged just over 50 percent from the foul line – which means if you fouled him, he was usually going to hit one of two free throws. If you could hold Chamberlain to one point on several possessions, instead of two, you had a chance. One year, he shot just 38 percent from the free throw line.
So teams quickly figured out the best way to play Chamberlain – you just had to put him on the free throw line.
At least for most of his career.
There was one year that was an exception. One brief period when the game plan didn’t work as well against Chamberlain – including that ridiculous 100-point night, 56 years ago today, when Chamberlain hit 28 of 32 free throws. The 28 made free throws that night remains tied for most ever in an NBA game. That year, 1961-62, stands out when you look at Chamberlain’s stats That year, Chamberlain made 61 percent of his free throws – not incredible, but far better than his career average.
That’s because he changed the way he shot.
That’s the year that Chamberlain shot free throws underhanded. The granny shot. The way one of the greatest free throw shooters ever, Rick Barry, shot free throws when he was in the NBA.
I know about this because of an incredible podcast by Malcolm Gladwell – an episode of his “Revisionist History” podcast called “The Big Man Can’t Shoot.” I can’t recommend this episode of this podcast enough.
Gladwell from the podcast:
“So Wilt Chamberlain switches to a better shooting technique. It pays off in the greatest basketball game ever played. … Then, something incredible happens. Wilt Chamberlain stops shooting underhanded, and he goes back to being a terrible foul shooter.
“Let’s think about what he did for a moment,” Gladwell continues. “Chamberlain had a problem. He tested out a possible solution. The solution worked and all of a sudden, he’s fixed his biggest weakness as a player…..Chamberlain had every incentive in the world to keep shooting free throws underhanded and he didn’t.”
He didn’t because almost nobody else was doing it.
I’m also including a link to a Youtube version of the Gladwell podcast (just audio) below. Again – if you’re interested in how people make decisions about why they do things, this is a must listen. In addition to the Chamberlain example, he talks about research showing that if NFL teams never punted, and instead went for it on fourth down all the time, they’d win two more games a year. Coaches know this. But they won’t do it.
What’s at work when someone knows intellectually that something might work, but won’t do it because nobody else is doing it is explained by sociologist Mark Granovetter, who studies social network theory, and is known for proposing the“threshold model” for group behavior, which says that people’s behavior often depends on the number of other people already engaging in that behavior.
That is to say, it isn’t very often that someone is willing to do something new, even if they’re pretty sure it will work, because the price of not being accepted is too high – the chance that the person will be a societal outcast is too much to bear.
In looking at why some ideas are slow to take hold, or don’t take hold at all, it’s worth remembering Wilt Chamberlain’s one good free throw shooting season, and that one magical night 56 years ago. If only he’d kept at it.
TALES FROM THE CRYPTO ECONOMY
Politicians are taking campaign donations in Bitcoin. CNBC
NOTES FROM THE AGE OF DISRUPTION (the Rick Barrys of the corporate world – not afraid to be different):
Is ending its separate news feed experiment. NYT
Is working on a new version of its wearable Spectacles LedeTree
Is starting a new company to develop self-driving tech. The Verge
Is investing in Blade, to pursue a helicopter hailing service (flying ridesharing). NYT
Is bringing its gig service to Austin in time for SXSW. LedeTree
NOT SMALL POTATOES
Boise, Idaho is the fastest growing major metro in the United States.
From Forbes, which did the rankings with Moody’s:
“While Boise ‘is not necessarily a place you would associate with really robust growth,’ notes Adam Kamins a senior economist at Moody’s, ‘it’s got the pieces in place. It’s got the location, it’s got low cost, a healthy tech presence.’
In fact, Kamins argues that Boise is benefiting from a third wave of tech dislocation. First there was the San Francisco Bay Area, next up were places like Seattle and Denver. As more people get priced out of housing in those cities, they are looking to more affordable places like Boise and Austin, Texas (no. 8 on our list).”
And if you believe in threshold theory, you might say, it’s OK to move to Boise now, because everybody’s doing it.
Let’s go out with Rick Barry, showing how it’s done from the free throw line. Too bad, Wilt Chamberlain didn’t have as high a threshold for taking his own path as Barry did.
Have a great weekend.