Will Hiring a Pro Sports Bettor Backfire on the NBA?
Controversial Marc Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States recently announced that he had hired a professional poker player and successful sports bettor named Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris as the team’s new director of quantitative research and development.
Three Separate Aspects
There are three major aspects to this news. First is the idea of quantitative analysis in basketball. The second is the juxtaposition of quantitative analysis and development. Finally, by hiring a professional gambler in both poker and sports betting generally, Cuban is signaling to the entire sports world that he at least has embraced sports betting as the future of both professional and amateur sports.
Quantitative analysis as it relates to basketball is akin to three dimensional analysis in such games as chess, checkers, and Go. In these three games, spatial elements come into play. The best players can see the “board” in three dimensions, similar to how a general sees a battlefield.
Basketball is not like baseball in the availability of statistics. Baseball has spawned a massive sub-culture of statistical analysis called sabermetrics because baseball is the most stationary of all professional sports. In baseball, players stand around until they have to run at top speed. In that sense, every moment in baseball can be codified. Basketball is as close to a perpetual motion sports as there is. Ice hockey has more continuous action but American football is similar to baseball in this regard.
So, the Mavericks will use quantitative analysis to study patterns in their and in other team’s games. It will turn basketball into an observable three dimensional; activity. In addition to analyzing three dimensional patterns, Bob Voulgaris will use his expertise in mathematics and statistics to help the Mavericks set both offensive and defensive strategy and tactics for their games.
Rich by Betting on Basketball
Voulgaris has become very wealthy by successfully analyzing NBA games better than the professional sportsbooks can. He has developed his own method of predicting outcomes in the NBA playoffs. Voulgaris has a huge following on Twitter. He was betting six or seven figures every week on NBA games when he was still in his twenties. He has also made millions playing poker.
Coaches Decide Many Outcomes
Voulgaris cites as the key to his early success as a basketball sports bettor that he was able to predict with remarkable accuracy the tendencies of three NBA coaches at that time: Jerry Sloan of the Utah Jazz, Byron York, who coached five NBA teams, and Eddie Jordan, who coached three teams.
Adapting spatial analysis to the NBA will take understanding coaches’ and players’ tendencies to a much higher level.
Making the League More Interesting
Cuban has said that the league needs to think out of the box in order to generate renewed interest in its product. As in baseball, some teams are allowing themselves to become uncompetitive in order to rebuild the team on the court. This has reduced interest in many cities as the fans wait the long years before their team becomes competitive again.
Cuban sees this hire as a major step toward injecting sophisticated analytical tools into NBA strategy and tactics. Fans will talk about it. They will tune in on television to watch games hoping to see the results of sophisticated analyses.
No Longer a Dispassionate Observer
It remains to be seen how the Mavericks will use Voulgaris’s knowledge to direct strategic decisions. From Voulgaris’s perspective, he is now a partisan observer whereas before he was disinterested in who won or lost but rather in how he could maximize his profits betting on NBA games.
As a partisan Mavericks executive, he will be under the microscope to show results quickly. Even if Marc Cuban shows patience, the fans may not.
The NBA was at one time opposed to allowing legal betting on their games. That is no longer the case. The league has partnered with MGM Resorts giving the bookmaker access to league data that others may not be privy to.
Wide Ranging Implications
The hiring of an analytical expert steeped in the world of gambling by an NBA team has ramifications in other areas. The NBA has become possibly the most controversial professional league in North America as players try to move around and form “super teams”. As superstars join forces on a few select teams, the rest are left in the dust.
This summer LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers apparently because he sees the Lakers as the better team for him to sell the LeBron James brand. If the type of analysis Voulgaris brings to the NBA is successful, every team will look to one or another gambling expert to help itself compete. The league would become known as the gamblers’ league. That might erode fan support for the league.
There might also be some spill over into other professional leagues. In short, this move by Dallas Mavericks owner Marc Cuban may be a master stroke or it might be the first round of fire that will ultimately lead to the demise of the NBA as we know it with ramifications across the sports world.