On Friday and Saturday (March 6-7), the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center was the home for one of the biggest gatherings of sports and analytics nerds. Founded in 2006, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (SSAC) is an annual platform for executives, players, industry leaders, students, and individuals in the field of data science and analytics to participate in discussions, panels, and networking to discuss the growing role of analytics in the sports industry. Co-chaired by Jessica Gelman (CEO of the Kraft Analytics Group) and Daryl Morey (GM & Managing Director of Basketball Operations for the Houston Rockets), the conference draws students from nearly 200 schools and representatives from nearly 100 professional sports teams across disciplines including the major American sports, e-sports, table tennis, volleyball, etc.
While Stephen A. Smith, Astros slander, and research papers made baseball a central topic of discussion on day 1, there were several instances of basketball taking center stage at the conference. We count down the top 3 basketball-related moments of this year’s conference.
Honorable Mention: Stephen A. Smith.
If you read my Red Sox Life posting about Stephen A. Smith being at the conference, you know it’s impossible to get through a list like this without mention of the expressive ESPN personality. I’ll leave here what I think was his most interesting comment of Friday:
“I’m told if he doesn’t get to the Finals, he’s leaving. I don’t know if that’s true or not.”
In a panel on player empowerment, Stephen A. Smith teamed up with Michael Rubin and Kendrick Perkins to discuss how players empower their leagues and each other. A primarily NBA-focused discussion took Twitter by storm on Friday when Perkins and Smith kept going at it—but the bomb on Giannis above may have stolen the show. You can track all discussion from that panel via the #PlayerEmpowerment hashtag on Twitter. Do you agree with Stephen A. Smith? Hit the comments section with your hot takes on the future of Giannis.
Player Empowerment: I've got the Power.
Kendrick Perkins: "To me, I think when we look at todays league, it's a players league. Lebron james is the face and the logo of player empowerment." #playerempowerment#SSAC20#RunTheNumbers
#3: Sue Bird and Danilo Gallinari on the evolution of basketball
Gallinari: “I'm glad I'm playing in 2020 and not [in 2001].”
If you watch or read about basketball, you probably realize how different the game is now than it was about a decade ago. The evolution of basketball has been a topic of controversy for a number of years now and roles are both emerging and dissipating faster than it ever has. On Saturday, Danilo Gallinari of the Thunder and Storm legend Sue Bird joined Spurs CEO R.C. Buford, former Grizzlies and Kings head coach Dave Joerger, and basketball writer Kirk Goldsberry in discussing the consequences of these changes. Goldsberry, who is also well-known for pioneering hexagonal shot charts in basketball analytics, provided visuals to describe the disappearance of the dominant post-up player, while Buford noted that coaches and organizations are no longer developing players in the same way. Meanwhile, Joerger sees positives from the coaching standpoint:
Joerger: “Growing up, players are doing more than just one role, that’s positive for sure.”
Some very telling and opposing takes came from the two players on the panel.
How do you feel about the evolution of the NBA? Do you feel as if Michael Jordan would have not fit in with the culture of the current NBA? Which style of basketball is more entertaining—old school or new school?
#2: The Twitter conundrum, Jaylen Brown, and his "main girlfriend"
Boston’s very own Jaylen Brown has made himself known in the community of basketball, not just through breakout play this season but also via his efforts to advance society behind his motto: faith, consistency, hard work pays off. Going by @FCHWPO on Twitter and having deep interests in education, technology, and fashion, Brown has emerged as a voice for several young athletes who are inspired to use the platform of their sport to impact positive change. On Saturday, he joined Rich Kleiman, co-founder of Kevin Durant's Thirty Five Ventures, TJ Adeshola of Twitter Sports, and Jay Williams, television analyst and former Duke Blue Devil, in The Boardroom, a diverse intellectual discussion surrounding the business of sports and the making of a superstar brand.
In the panel, Brown gave a preview of what he wants to convey via the social media platform, despite him realizing the dangers and side effects of getting overly engrossed in Twitter.
Brown: “I don’t tweet a lot because most of the content is not of my interest—it’s either trolling or discussing topics that is not making the society a more efficient place.”
Adeshola: “Earlier, people wanted to read the box score. Now, people want to know where Jaylen got that jacket from. [...] Embiid is really good at social media. His formula would not work for Jaylen.”
I’ll just also just put this quote out there with no further context because I can:
Jaylen Brown: “I think players, when they enter the league, the focus should be on what I call ‘your main girlfriend’ and that should be basketball. Absolutely. There’s an African proverb that says if you try to chase two hares at once, you’ll mess around and lose both.” #SSAC20
Amongst some of the most educationally driven people in the sports world, the Celtics' Enes Kanter had powerful words and inspirational storylines to leave attendees thinking in the last panel session of the conference. In a one-on-one interview and Q&A session hosted by Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck, Kanter addressed topics such as his long-lasting turmoil with Turkey, his attempts at positive societal impact via education and media outlets, and post-retirement aspirations. Kanter was able to address impending questions about his job with the Celtics while still displaying a deep personal side of himself, quickly endearing himself to the entire crowd that consisted of basketball consumers from a plethora of fanbases. I’ll just go ahead and put some quotes and words of wisdom from the session for you to soak in.
Kanter, former member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, plans to open a charter school called the Enes Kanter School for Exceptional Learning for grades 4-12 among low-income families. The school would also educate students from immigrant families with limited exposure to the English language. Kanter also plans to extend his efforts to other cities he has played for, including Boston. Despite his famed rivalry with LeBron James on the court, he credits the King with inspiring the efforts to promote education by his inception of the I Promise school.
Kanter also cites educational influence to note why Boston is so special to play in.
Kanter: "One of the biggest reasons I wanted to come to Boston [in free agency] was, besides basketball, because it's a very educational and influential town. [In other cities,] people used to say ‘good game last night, good win last night, good double-double last night.’ Now, people say ‘good op-ed yesterday, good article last night.’ People know what's going on here—this city is way bigger than basketball."
Speaking of his job with the Celtics:
Enes Kanter to @HowardBeck at #SSAC20: "We believe we can beat everybody on every court. We feel like we have enough in that locker room to go out and win a championship."
Kanter: "Don't be scared. Whatever you believe in, stand up for it—actually that's a commercial—sacrifice everything. I feel like what we do off the court is way bigger than basketball. You play basketball and play for 48 minutes, that's cool and everything. Always ask that question to yourself—how many people are you inspiring? How many people are affected? How many lives are you touching? Don't scared. No regrets."
All major panels from the 2020 conference were livestreamed and posted to the 42 Analytics Youtube channel and post-conference chatter can be accessed via the #SSAC20 and #RunTheNumbers hashtags as well as the official Twitter account of the conference. The full agenda for the conference is also viewable on the official website so you can match events with their videos online (the Kanter one-on-one is previewed below). Who do you want to see at the 2021 conference? What was your favorite moment? Which panels would you have been most excited for?
Follow the author at @AhaanRungta for updates on sports and the entirety of SSAC 2020, including interactions with panelists; read more Celtics material here.