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The Analytical Michael Jordan: Data and Analytics in Sports

By Todd Sprinkel
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As a kid, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life growing up. Actually…that’s not quite true. Like everyone growing up in Chicago in the ‘90s, I wanted be Michael Jordan. Unfortunately, I never possessed the requisite skill (or height for that matter) to turn that dream into a reality.

I knew I liked math and solving problems, but I had no clue how to turn that passion into something useful. When I was about 16 or 17, I read Freakonomics, written by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, and it truly changed my life. I was fascinated by the idea of using the power of data and economic methods to try to satisfy an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I admired his drive to answer questions that no one else had even thought of before. Does being a lazy parent harm your kids? (Turns out, no. Not really.)

“We don’t know what we don’t know.”

There it was borne out in print right in front of me. This professor had made his entire career out of thinking about questions he wanted to answer and going out to find the data to support or refute his hypotheses.

That’s what I want to do.

There can be no denying that data and analytics really is EVERYWHERE. Try and read the sports pages and you can’t make it halfway without running into WARP, Total QBR, adjusted plus-minus, true shooting percentage, or any number of advanced statistics that have grown in popularity over the past few years. Take as an example, this great post by Kirk Goldsberry on Grantland on the next wave in basketball analytics. Using a collection of cameras, combined with players’ unique skill sets, the expected value of the play can be calculated at any given moment during a game. Going a step further, they then calculate which players contribute the most expected point value via their individual contributions based on information gathered from hundreds of games.

Ultimately, I decided to study economics because it offered me the tools and skills to examine and understand the world we live in. That study ultimately led me here to Logi, where I spend a significant portion of my time analyzing our own data to better enable our customers to analyze their data. I’m constantly challenging assumptions and exploring to find what the data can teach me.

The amount of information and data available to us today is nothing short of staggering. Human beings are by nature curious, and as the capabilities of technology continue to advance, there is no limit to the questions we can answer.


Originally published June 26, 2014; updated on August 10th, 2017

About the Author

Todd Sprinkel has over five years of experience in marketing automation and operations.