TIME Sports

How Sports Makes a Clear Case for Immigration

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
Tony Parker #9 and Tim Duncan #21, and Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrate after defeating the Miami Heat in Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. Andy Lyons—Getty Images

David Berri is a professor of economics at Southern Utah University.

If you want to win, you have to look everywhere for talent

President Barack Obama is expected to announce executive actions that would shield 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation Thursday, and it is clear that views on this subject differ.

At least, that’s true for non-economists. Economists–a group that generally doesn’t agree on much–seem to agree for the most part on the value of immigration. They argue that immigration–especially of skilled immigrants–is good for a nation. Not only does immigration increase the pace of innovation, it also helps improve the performance of the entire economy. So if you wish to see the economy of the United States improve, you should be in favor of immigration.

Despite this consensus, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein has recently noted that people tend not to listen to economists on this subject. Sunstein offers some thoughts on why economists are ignored, but misses one possibility. Perhaps the problem isn’t the story. Perhaps the problem is with how the story is being told.

Those who teach sports and economics (such as myself) often argue that the study of sports often makes economics easier to understand. With that in mind, let’s think about sports and the economics of immigration.

As recently as 1980, almost all NBA players were born in the United States. Over the next three decades, though, the NBA increasingly broadened its search for talent. Today, about 20% of the league was born outside the United States.

Perhaps no team better exemplifies the global search for talent than the San Antonio Spurs. Last season the Spurs finished with the best record in the regular season. And in June, the Spurs won the NBA title.

There were 19 different players who logged regular season minutes for the Spurs in 2013-14. Of these, 9 were born outside the United States. Among this collection of international players were some of the most productive players the Spurs employed:

  • Marco Belinelli (born in Italy, 6.7 Wins Produced)
  • Manu Ginobili (born in Argentina, 5.9 Wins Produced)
  • Patrick Mills (born in Jamaica, 5.0 Wins Produced)
  • Tiago Splitter (born in Brazil, 4.2 Wins Produced)
  • Boris Diaw (born in France, 3.8 Wins Produced)
  • Tony Parker (born in France , 3.6 Wins Produced)
  • Corey Joseph (born in Canada, 2.8 Wins Produced)

These seven international players combined to produce about 32 wins for the Spurs, or more than half the games the team won in the regular season last year. Needless to say, without these players the Spurs would not have contended for a title.

This story goes beyond the NBA. A similar story can be told by the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have won four consecutive division titles. And no team in Major League Baseball has won more regular season games since 2011. Three key players in this team’s success are Miguel Cabrera (American League Triple Crown winner in 2012), Victor Martinez (2nd in American League MVP race in 2014) and Anibal Sanchez (led American League in earned run averages in 2013). And all three were born in Venezuela.

Clearly immigration has worked for the Spurs and Tigers. And immigration doesn’t just make these two teams better. It also improves the product offered by their respective leagues. By expanding the population of talent a league draws upon, competitive balance in a sport can improve. In addition, without immigration, talents like Robinson Cano, Jose Abreu, Jose Altuve, Felix Hernandez, Johnny Cueto, Joakim Noah, Ricky Rubio, Serge Ibaka, Dirk Nowitzki and Kyrie Irving would be playing outside the United States. And if all this talent were employed elsewhere, it would be more difficult for the NBA and MLB to maintain their status as the preeminent league in their respective sports.

All of this teaches a simple and important lesson. If you want to be the best in the world, you have to employ the best in the world.

However you define “best,” it is clear that you can’t be the “best” without employing the “best” talent. If you restrict your talent search to the population born in the United States–less than 5% of the world population–your odds of employing the “best” talent seem fairly low.

So the world of sports teaches a clear lesson on immigration. The search for talent can’t be confined to the borders of a single nation. Firms in the United States compete in a global marketplace. The success of these firms, whether they are in or out of sports, depends on the talent these firms can employ. If you wish to employ the best talent, your talent search must be global. And that means your borders have to be open.

David Berri is a professor of economics at Southern Utah University. He is the lead author of The Wages of Wins and Stumbling on Wins and continues to serve on the editorial board of bothJournal of Sports Economics and the International Journal of Sport Finance.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.


NBA Suspends Hornets Forward Jeffery Taylor 24 Games

Charlotte Hornets forward Jeffery Taylor appears in a photo after his arrest on Sept. 25, 2014, in East Lansing, Mich., on domestic assault charges.
Charlotte Hornets forward Jeffery Taylor appears in a photo after his arrest on Sept. 25, 2014, in East Lansing, Mich., on domestic assault charges. AP

Taylor pled guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in October

The NBA announced Wednesday that it has suspended Charlotte Hornets forward Jeffery Taylor 24 games for his domestic violence incident.

Taylor was arrested Sept. 25 and charged with assault, misdemeanor domestic assault and misdemeanor malicious destruction of property, later pleading guilty to the latter two charges on Oct. 29. The assault charge was dropped as a part of his plea deal.

Taylor said in court that he pushed his then-girlfriend, damaging a wall in an East Lansing, Mich., hotel.

In his opinion, NBA commissioner Adam Silver highlighted his commitment to stopping domestic violence, saying the issue has the league’s full attention.

I have the responsibility to safeguard the best interests of the league and all of its constituents. In addition to its profound impact on victims, domestic violence committed by any member of the NBA family causes damage to the league and undermines the public’s confidence in it.

The Hornets suspended Taylor indefinitely the day after his arrest and said they would decide on his possible reinstatement after the NBA concluded its own investigation.

Because Taylor has already missed the first 11 games of the season, he must sit out 13 games to satisfy the terms of the NBA’s suspension. Taylor will be eligible to return for the Hornets’ Dec. 17 game against the Phoenix Suns.

Taylor’s arrest was the NBA’s first domestic violence incident after the issue became a national topic in the wake of the Ray Rice controversy in the NFL. In the NHL, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov was suspended indefinitely by the league after his October domestic violence arrest.

Taylor was sentenced to 18 months’ probation after his guilty plea. The domestic assault misdemeanor carries up to 93 days in jail, but the prosecutor in the case said at the time Taylor entered his plea that it wouldn’t object to the judge ordering Taylor to be placed in a probation diversion program.

A second-round pick of Charlotte in the 2012 NBA draft, Taylor has averaged 6.6 points in 103 career games.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Basketball

Jason Collins Announces NBA Retirement

Brooklyn Nets v Denver Nuggets
Jason Collins #98 of the Brooklyn Nets speaks with the media prior to a game against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on Feb. 27, 2014 in Denver. Justin Edmonds—Getty Images

Nine months after signing with the Nets

It has been 18 exhilarating months since I came out in Sports Illustrated as the first openly gay man in one of the four major professional team sports. And it has been nine months since I signed with the Nets and became the first openly gay male athlete to appear in a game in one of those leagues. It feels wonderful to have been part of these milestones for sports and for gay rights, and to have been embraced by the public, the coaches, the players, the league and history.

On Wednesday at the Barclays Center, I plan to announce my retirement as an NBA player. The day will be especially meaningful for me because the Nets will be playing the Bucks, who are coached by Jason Kidd, my former teammate and my coach in Brooklyn. It was Jason who cheered my decision to come out by posting on Twitter: “Jason’s sexuality doesn’t change the fact that he is a great friend and was a great teammate.”

Considering all the speculation about problems I might face within the locker room, Jason’s support was significant. It had been argued that no team would want to take on a player who was likely to attract a media circus from the outset and whose sexuality would be a distraction. I’m happy to have helped put those canards to rest. The much-ballyhooed media blitz to cover me unscrambled so quickly that a flack jokingly nicknamed me Mr. Irrelevant.

Among the memories I will cherish most are the warm applause I received in Los Angeles when I took the court in my Nets debut, and the standing ovation I got at my first home game in Brooklyn. It shows how far we’ve come. The most poignant moment came at my third game, in Denver, where I met the family of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student beaten to death in a 1998 hate crime on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo. For the past two years I have worn number 98 on my jersey to honor his memory. I was humbled to learn that number 98 jerseys became the top seller at NBAStore.com. Proceeds from sales, and from auctioned jerseys I wore in games, were donated to two gay-rights charities.

There are still no publicly gay players in the NFL, NHL or major league baseball. Believe me: They exist. Every pro sport has them. I know some of them personally. When we get to the point where a gay pro athlete is no longer forced to live in fear that he’ll be shunned by teammates or outed by tabloids, when we get to the point where he plays while his significant other waits in the family room, when we get to the point where he’s not compelled to hide his true self and is able to live an authentic life, then coming out won’t be such a big deal. But we’re not there yet.

This article originally appeared on SI.com


Police Confirm Dwight Howard Child Abuse Investigation

Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets shoots from the free throw line during the Los Angeles Lakers first regular season NBA game against the Rockets on Oct. 28, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets shoots from the free throw line during the Los Angeles Lakers first regular season NBA game against the Rockets on Oct. 28, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

"Dwight Howard will continue to act in the best interest of his children and do whatever is necessary to protect their welfare and best interests"

Police in Cobb County, Ga., confirmed to SI.com on Tuesday that there is an active child abuse investigation involving Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard.

TMZ first reported the allegations against Howard, and NBC News reported earlier Tuesday that Cobb County Police were re-opening an investigation of Howard.

A Cobb County Police sergeant told NBC News that the investigation stems from an incident from this summer. Originally, police said they did not have enough evidence to proceed past an initial investigation, but new information came to light to trigger renewed interest from authorities in the case, according to NBC.

In response to earlier reports about child abuse allegations against Howard in Florida, the eight-time All-Star released a statement to The Orlando Sentinel through his attorney rejecting accusations of abuse.

“It is troubling to see a mother use her son as a pawn against his father, which is what is happening in this case,” the statement reads. “Dwight Howard will continue to act in the best interest of his children and do whatever is necessary to protect their welfare and best interests.”

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Basketball

NBA and Adidas Roll Out First-Name Christmas Jerseys

2014 Addidas NBA Christmas Day Games Jerseys
2014 Addidas NBA Christmas Day Games Jerseys Addidas

Only one player's jersey will remain the same

The NBA and Adidas officially unveiled a new way to sell more jerseys this holiday season: Put the players and fans on a first-name basis.

The 10 teams set to play on Christmas — the Washington Wizards, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, L.A. Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers — will sport the new NBA Holiday Collection gear for their games. Only Nene, of the Wizards, will be saved from the gambit.

Adidas said in a statement that the new jerseys serve “as a nod to [the players] familiarity and popularity with the NBA fan base around the world,” which makes sense when you consider LeBron, Kobe and Carmelo. But who would want to pay $109.95 for Tim [Duncan], John [Wall] and Kevin [Durant] jerseys? Every hoops-obsessed Tim, John and Kevin, of course.

The real question is how did they not think of this sooner? They put sleeves on the jerseys last year.

MONEY Sports

NBA Chief Says, ‘Place Your Bets!’

Nationwide legalized U.S. sports betting just got a surprising ally: NBA commissioner Adam Silver.


NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: Legalize Betting on Pro Sports Games

Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Four
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Andy Lyons—Getty Images

"Sports betting should be brought out of the underground"

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has penned an op-ed that calls for the legalization and regulation of gambling on professional American sports.

Silver argues in the New York Times, published Thursday, that fans already skirt the law to bet on sports games — an estimated $400 billion is wagered per year — and writes that those actions should be controlled. “I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground,” he says, “and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.”

He notes that many states sanction other types of betting like lotteries, legal casinos and even online gambling. And he points to global examples like England from which the U.S. could learn.

Silver’s message is a radical change from the NBA’s official stance just two years ago, when the league joined the NCAA, NFL, MLB and NHL in suing New Jersey over its efforts to legalize sports betting in casinos and race tracks. The leagues won the suit, though Gov. Chris Christie has since signed a bill lifting the ban on betting in the state.

But Silver also believes the benefits of legalization on sports gambling outweigh the potential pitfalls: “Without a comprehensive federal solution, state measures such as New Jersey’s recent initiative will be both unlawful and bad public policy.”

This isn’t the first time Silver has suggested the NBA would benefit from such a move. “It’s inevitable that, if all these states are broke, that there will be legalized sports betting in more states than Nevada,” Silver said at the Bloomberg Business Summit in September. “We will ultimately participate in that.”



NBA Takes Away LeBron James’ Triple-Double

Would have been the 48th of his career

LeBron James‘ latest triple-double is no more.

After reviewing the tape of the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ 118-111 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday, the NBA league office removed one rebound and one assist from James’ line of 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

The triple-double would’ve been the 48th of James’ career (including the postseason), though its validity was doubted even before the NBA adjusted his stats. James’ seventh assist came with 3:27 remaining in the third quarter, when point guard Kyrie Irving finished a fastbreak layup. But as pointed out by The Big Lead, James’ involvement in the play was essentially limited to a tipped rebound. Tristan Thompson caught the deflection, and then found Irving up the court to trigger the fastbreak.

Via Cleveland.com:

The change came through the league’s customary review of games to check the accuracy of statistics. The two plays in question were:

• With 3:27 remaining in the third quarter, James was credited with an assist on a play in which he tipped a rebound to Tristan Thompson. Thompson then passed to Kyrie Irving who dribbled the ball from half the floor and scored.

• Then, at the 6:03 mark of the fourth quarter, James was incorrectly credited with an offensive rebound when he tipped a blocked shot back to teammate Mike Miller.

MANNIX: LeBron James and the Cavaliers show their strength in win over Pelicans

Statistical miscues aside, James’ performance was key as it gave the Cavs their first back-to-back wins of the season. Cleveland started the season 1-3 before stringing together wins against Denver and New Orleans. James currently ranks fourth in the league in scoring at 24.8 points per game.

Another worthwhile milestone for the Cavs: Monday’s game was the first this season where the new “Big Three” — James, Irving and Kevin Love — each topped 20 points.

This article originally appeared on SI.com


NBA Guard Wayne Ellington’s Father Killed in Philadelphia Shooting

Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns
Wayne Ellington #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on October 29, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona. Christian Petersen—Getty Images

Wayne Ellington Jr. has taken an indefinite leave of absence from his team

The father of Los Angeles Lakers guard Wayne Ellington Jr. was shot dead in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Police received a call about an traffic collision in nearby Germantown and found 57-year-old Wayne Ellington Sr. in the front seat of his Oldsmobile with a bullet in his head, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Ellington was immediately taken to the nearby Albert Einstein Medical Center for surgery, but was pronounced dead about three hours later.

A motive for his murder is not yet clear, and the city has offered a $20,000 reward for any further information.

Ellington Jr., who grew up in Philadelphia and joined the Lakers as a free agent in September, took an indefinite leave of absence from the team before traveling home earlier this week.

“I encourage anyone with any information to come forward to help authorities solve this case,” he said in a statement.

TIME Sports

Kobe Bryant v. Michael Jordan: Sizing Up the Greatest Player of All Time

2003 All Star Game
NBA All-Star Michael Jordan (L) of the Washington Wizards watches Kobe Bryant (R) of the Los Angeles Lakers miss his second free throw that would have ended the NBA All-Star game at Philips Arena on February 9, 2003 in Atlanta, Georgia. AFP—AFP/Getty Images

David Berri is a professor of economics at Southern Utah University.

Bryant may be on his way to surpassing Jordan's career points this season, but other numbers tell the fuller story of who should go down in basketball history

The Los Angeles Lakers are off to one of their worst starts in franchise history. The early returns not only suggest that the Lakers will not contend for a title in 2015, they also suggest that the Lakers are unlikely to appear in the playoffs.

Although the Lakers as a team appear destined to struggle, one positive event seems quite likely. Entering the 2014-15 season, Kobe Bryant had scored 592 fewer points in his career than Michael Jordan in his entire career. And given how much Kobe is scoring in the first few games of the 2014-15 season, we can expect that Kobe — if he stays healthy and keeps his scoring pace — will pass Jordan before Christmas.

When this happens, people might be tempted to ask: Is Kobe “better” than Jordan?

Brandon Jennings, the starting point guard for the Detroit Pistons, already answered this question before the season started. According to Jennings, Jordan had more help winning titles. As Jennings noted, Jordan never won without Scottie Pippen, while Kobe won two titles without another “great” player. Therefore, Jennings argues that Kobe is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time).

I suspect that few people agree with Jennings. At least, I think most people will agree that Jordan did more in his career than Kobe. But I also suspect that Kobe is “like Mike.” In other words, I imagine many people think the gap between these two players isn’t that large. The data, though, seem to tell a different story. Jordan isn’t just better than Kobe; in fact, when we measure the difference, we see that no one should suggest these two players are similar.

The NBA tracks a variety of box score statistics to measure player performance. When we look at these numbers for Jordan and Kobe, it is clear that the former has a significant edge. For example, when we compare what Jordan did for the Chicago Bulls to what Kobe did for the Lakers (before this season), although their scoring totals are similar, Jordan was the more efficient scorer. With the Bulls, MJ had an effective field goal percentage of 51.83%. In contrast, Kobe’s mark with the Lakers is only 48.72%. To put that in perspective, the average shooting guard in the NBA (since the 1979-80 season when the three-point shot was added to the NBA) has an effective field goal percentage of 48.56%. In sum, Kobe has not been much better than average with respect to shooting from the field.

Jordan’s advantages with respect to Kobe, though, are not confined to shooting from the field. On a per-minute basis, Jordan also did more than Kobe has with respect to rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. Jordan was also less likely to commit turnovers, less likely to draw a personal foul and more likely to draw a foul. In sum, with respect to everything in the box score, Jordan was simply better.

We can do more than just stare at the numbers. The NBA’s box score numbers can also be translated into how many wins each player produces. What this analysis reveals is that wins in the NBA are primarily about gaining and keeping possession of the ball (rebounds, turnovers and steals) and then turning that possession into points (shooting efficiently). We have already seen that Jordan did more than Kobe with respect to all the factors that matter most with respect to wins. And when we turn to wins produced, we can see how Jordan’s impact on outcomes was so much bigger than Kobe’s.

Let’s begin with each player at his best. In 1988-89, Jordan produced 26.5 wins as a 25-year old shooting guard. Kobe’s best season was in 2002-03. As a 24-year old shooting guard for the LA Lakers, Kobe produced 13.0 wins. So each player hit his peak in his mid-20s (that is actually fairly normal for a basketball player). And at each player’s peak, Jordan was nearly twice as productive.

Across each player’s entire career (up until this season), it’s the same story. Jordan finished his career with the Bulls in 1998 (we will ignore his ill-fated return to the Washington Wizards when he was 38 years old). Here is what MJ did for the Bulls:

  • 35,887 minutes played
  • 204.8 wins produced
  • 0.274 wins produced per 48 minutes

Meanwhile, here are Kobe’s career numbers before this season:

  • 45,225 minutes played
  • 138.7 wins produced
  • 0.147 wins produced per 48 minutes

Again, Jordan’s production of wins dwarfs Kobe’s. And contrary to what Jennings argued, Kobe actually had better teammates across his career. Entering this season, Kobe’s teammates averaged 0.117 wins produced per 48 minutes. In contrast, Jordan’s teammates with the Bulls produced only 0.106 wins per 48 minutes.

So Jennings appears to be quite wrong. Kobe has not come close to Jordan. And I want to take this a bit farther. Kobe has also not been as productive as a few other shooting guards. For example, Kobe has produced fewer wins in his career than the career production of Clyde Drexler, Reggie Miller and Ray Allen. And on a per-minute basis, Kobe has done less across his career than both Manu Ginobili and Dwyane Wade.

A key difference between Kobe and these players is shooting efficiency from the field. Each of these shooting guards were simply better than Kobe at getting shots to go in the basket. And that means each player had a larger impact on his respective team’s ability to win games.

Kobe’s inability to excel with respect shooting efficiently was noted recently in an article by Henry Abbott for ESPN The Magazine.

Bryant has fired away for nearly two decades. He’s fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, trailing only Kareem, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan. He’s also just a few weeks’ play from setting an all-time league record for misses. “The problem is, he’s just not as good as he thinks he is,” says one source in the Lakers’ inner circle. “He’s just not as efficient as he thinks he is.

This passage essentially captures the weakness in Kobe’s game. Kobe will soon pass Jordan in scoring totals. But he will also soon pass everyone else in missed shots.

Those missed shots matter. The key to evaluating players is to make sure you measure accurately the positives and the negatives. In other words, accurate evaluation requires you get past the “scoring illusion” (i.e., placing too much emphasis on scoring totals in evaluating basketball players). When you take that step, it becomes clear that Jordan did much more than Kobe, and Kobe is nowhere close to being “like Mike.”

David Berri is a professor of economics at Southern Utah University. He is the lead author of The Wages of Winsand Stumbling on Wins and continues to serve on the editorial board of bothJournal of Sports Economics and theInternational Journal of Sport Finance.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser