Kobe Bryant Predicts Success in Game of Venture Capital – By Jay Greene Updated Oct. 26, 2016 1:59 a.m. ET

Former Laker unveiled fund in August


WSJ’s Dennis Berman asks former NBA player turned venture capitalist Kobe Bryant if he’s ready to accept high risks and potential losses in his portfolio. They speak at the WSJDLive conference in Laguna Beach, Calif.

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.— Kobe Bryant sees parallels between his hall-of-fame basketball career and his new role as a venture capitalist.

Failure—the frequent outcome for early stage investment—is something Mr. Bryant learned about on the court, the former NBA star said at the WSJDLive conference in Laguna Beach, Calif. Early in his career, Mr. Bryant recalled, he shot five straight air balls in the playoffs.

“I think my tolerance is incredibly high,” Mr. Bryant said.

Mr. Bryant had a 44.7% field-goal percentage—the number of shots taken that went in—during his career. Asked if he’d be comfortable with a 5% success rate that is more common among VCs, Mr. Bryant didn’t hesitate.

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LeBron James Wins For Cleveland and For All of Basketball – Sean Gregory 1:51 AM ET

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  LeBron James #23 and Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate after defeating the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

OAKLAND, CA – JUNE 19: LeBron James #23 and Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate after defeating the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

He’s done it so many times. It’s a signature move. An NBA player drives for easy fast break layup. Then LeBron James, legs chug-chugging like a locomotive, chases the player down from half-court, flies through the foul lane, and smacks the shot against the glass, leaving everyone bewildered once again. How does he keep doing this?

Such defensive highlights, SportsCenter regulars, illustrate LeBron in full. They showcase his freakish athleticism, his sheer will, his ability to grab hold of a basketball game. This particular block, with just under two minutes left in Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals — and with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors deadlocked 89-89 — just happened to help clinch LeBron’s third, and by far most important, NBA championship. Thirty-one years after he was born in Akron, Ohio; 13 years after the Cleveland Cavaliers selected him, the most hyped-up high-school athlete in a generation, with the first pick in the NBA draft; six years after he ditched Northeast Ohio for Miami, leading fans to burn his jersey and his team’s owner to call him a narcissist, selfish, and disloyal in a crazed comic sans letter; and two years after he returned to Cleveland, despite any lingering ill-will, James delivered on his promise: to end Cleveland’s major pro sports championship drought, once 52 years running, now over and done.

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Warriors Edge Thunder to Extend Dream Season to N.B.A. Finals By SCOTT CACCIOLA MAY 30, 2016

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors entered the N.B.A. playoffs having spent months chasing basketball magic. As they overwhelmed a conga line of opponents, the Warriors went about the uncharitable business of obliterating records, each new number more impressive than the last.

Yet the Warriors have remained aware that all their feats would be meaningless without an opportunity to vie for another championship, their victories consigned to the dustbin of near renown, their records reduced to footnotes of almost greatness. They have always wanted the whole package: the wins, the records and the trophy.

Golden State sustained the dream on Monday by defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder, 96-88, in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals at Oracle Arena. The Warriors, the defending champions, are bound for the N.B.A. finals, where they will face the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second straight year. Game 1 is here on Thursday.

“You appreciate how tough it is to get back here,” said Stephen Curry, who led the Warriors with 36 points. “That’s the one thing I’ve learned.”

Of all the Warriors’ accomplishments, this one may have been the most impressive. They had to win the final three games of the series to outlast the Thunder, whose miscues — missed shots, turnovers and wasted chances to advance — could haunt the franchise for years to come.

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Golden State Beats Oklahoma City To Force A Game 7

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) during the second half of Game 6 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals in Oklahoma City on Saturday. The Warriors won 108-101.

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) during the second half of Game 6 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals in Oklahoma City on Saturday. The Warriors won 108-101. — Sue Ogrocki/AP

Klay Thompson made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points, and the defending champion Golden State Warriors forced a seventh game in the Western Conference finals with a 108-101 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry bounced back from a slow start to finish with 29 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

The Warriors, who set the league’s regular-season record with 73 wins, will host Game 7 on Monday. The winner will play Cleveland in the NBA Finals.

“I just so proud of everybody, man,” Thompson said. “We were down almost the whole game and we never gave up.”

Oklahoma City dominated Games 3 and 4 at home, but the Warriors made 21 of 44 3-pointers on Saturday, while Oklahoma City was 3 of 23.

“About time we had a stretch in this building where we imposed our will,” Curry said.

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Does This Ex-Con, Ex-Referee Know the NBA Better Than LeBron? – By Pat Jordan June 14, 2015

Disgraced referee Tim Donaghy sees a different game from the rest of us. Which is why, out of prison, he’s now sports gambling’s golden boy.

Photographs by Simone Lueck

On Easter Sunday, Timothy Francis Donaghy, a self-described “good Irish Catholic boy from Philly,” attended the 7:30 a.m. Mass at St. Martha’s church in Sarasota, Florida, receiving Communion to cleanse his soul. “My mother calls every weekend to make sure I go,” he says, then adds, “I lived with my parents until I was 27.”

On this Easter, Donaghy attended Mass with his daughter, Molly, 13, and his girlfriend of six years, Carolyn Thomas, a blonde hairdresser. But some Sundays Donaghy goes to Mass alone. “I’m Catholic, I’m conditioned to confess,” he says. But “it’s been hard to forgive myself. My sins changed the lives of my four daughters. My wife divorced me. God had given me everything. A great job, money, a wonderful family. I knew it was wrong, but I thought gambling was a venial sin. That’s why I didn’t confess it to a priest until after I was caught.”

Donaghy had been an NBA referee for nine years when, in 2003, he began to place bets on NBA games — though he swore in an FBI lie-detector test, which he passed, that he never “fixed” a game with dubious calls. “I didn’t have to,” he says. “It was too easy using my insider’s knowledge.” After he resigned from the NBA and pleaded guilty in 2007, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison, lost what he describes as his $300,000 annual salary and his six-figure pension, and was ordered to pay $195,000 in restitution. His gambling exploits netted him only $100,000 in winning bets, he swears. “But I didn’t really do it for the money.”

A few days before Easter, at 8:30 a.m., Donaghy and I are sitting at the kitchen counter of his modest townhouse in Sarasota, studying his website, Refpicks. It’s a handicapping service for sports gamblers that employs a dozen other handicappers around the country who specialize in sports other than basketball. Donaghy himself only makes picks for the NBA, using his knowledge of the officials for each game. “I’m the only handicapper in the country who bases his picks on the refs,” he says. He’s successful roughly 60 percent of the time — that’s about five points higher than most professional gamblers, which means that in the world of sports gambling, the name Tim Donaghy is gold. In the real world, that name is mud. Donaghy is usually referred to in the media with a prefix, like a tail pinned to a donkey: “disgraced referee” Tim Donaghy.

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The NBA Draft Is Broken – By Seth Stevenson MAY 13 2015 2:42 PM

Here’s how to fix it.

Corliss Williamson and Andre Iguodala of the Philadelphia 76ers grab for the ball during a game against the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 12, 2005, at the United Center in Chicago. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 110–78. Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images
Corliss Williamson and Andre Iguodala of the Philadelphia 76ers grab for the ball during a game against the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 12, 2005, at the United Center in Chicago. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 110–78.
Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

This is the year that NBA tanking went off the rails. The Philadelphia 76ers, for starters, exemplified a whole new level of basketball seppuku with a team so willfully awful that the New York Times Magazine felt compelled to publish a feature story about their willful awfulness. The Sixers’ smarty-pants front office—Philadelphia’s general manager, Sam Hinkie, has a Stanford MBA, as the profiles of the team’s losing ways inevitably noted—believes that the best way to make a bad team good is to first make it horrific. By descending into “tank mode,” the Sixers hoped to lose enough games that they’d receive one of the valuable first picks in the upcoming NBA draft.

The team’s multiyear experiment in trading better players for worse ones and stockpiled draft picks is the grandest of the tank projects, but it’s not the only one. The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and other teams were accused of plunging into the tank for large swaths of this season. Which is sad. Tanking makes for ugly basketball and it throws off competitive balance. It encourages teams to sit their most exciting players (as, for instance, the Knicks did with Carmelo Anthony) or just trade them away (as the Sixers did with nearly every decent player on their roster). Perhaps worst of all: Fans of tanking teams find themselves not only watching putrid hoops but also perversely rooting against their hometown squads. You know something has gone awry when Knicks coach Derek Fisher feels pressure to apologize to fans for winning.

How to solve the problem? The best tanking solution would be relegation, as happens in European soccer leagues. Each year, the bottom three teams in the continent’s top divisions are kicked out of the league and relegated to a lower one. Regrettably, with NBA teams currently selling for $2 billion apiece, it’s unlikely we’ll get owners to agree that a few of them should be banished to the D-League each year to compete against the Sioux Falls Skyforce. (No one believes this will happen—otherwise we’d see a bidding war for last year’s champion, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.)

A more likely solution would be for the NBA to flatten out the lottery odds. Right now the worst team has a 25 percent chance at the top pick while the 14th-worst team has a 0.5 percent chance. We could switch to a true lottery, in which all 14 non-playoff teams would get an equal 7.14 percent chance at the top pick. Or, more progressively, we could massage the system so that each team’s odds are closer but not equal. But this still wouldn’t entirely remove the incentive to tank. Besides, NBA owners recently rejected a plan along these lines.

Another draft scheme that’s gotten lots of attention is “the wheel”—a system in which the draft order would be set far in advance so that a team’s draft position would have zero to do with its on-court performance. This would eliminate any reason to tank, but it would also do nothing to help bad teams get better. The worst team in the league might end up picking dead last in the draft. The best team might pick first. Making the rich richer and the poor poorer would be an unacceptable outcome of any lottery reform. As horrible as the status quo is, some version of reverse-order drafting—and the increased parity it helps create—is still a worthy goal. So the problem seems intractable.

But fear not, NBA fans! A superior answer exists, and a friend of mine has invented it. It’s fair, it’s elegant, and it’s fun. My friend calls it the “You’re the Worst!” draft.

How would it work? On the day before the regular season began, the NBA would hold a “You’re the Worst!” draft. Selection order for the YTW draft would be determined like any standard reverse-order draft—the team that had the worst win-loss record in the previous season would pick first, the team that had the best record would pick last. But the teams wouldn’t be drafting players. They’d be choosing the rights to another team’s position in the next NBA draft.

So, for example, the Minnesota Timberwolves, who finished this season with the worst win-loss record, would have the first YTW pick in the fall when the 2015–16 season started. One day before opening day, all of the league’s general managers would gather together in a room. The T-Wolves would look around that room and decide which team they thought would finish worst in 2015–16. (They would not be allowed to choose themselves, tempting as that might be.)


The NBA’s Golden Age of Gonzo Innovation Is Coming January 15, 2015 8:00 a.m. By Will Leitch

Photo: null/Getty Images

Last month, the Sacramento Kings fired their coach, Mike Malone, after he’d spent only a year and a half on the job. This was a shocking move for myriad reasons, most of all because the Kings were off to one of their best starts in recent memory and had only fallen into a slump because DeMarcus Cousins, the team’s first All Star–caliber player in years, had missed two weeks owing to viral meningitis. No other club would have fired Malone, let alone for the reason owner Vivek Ranadivé seems to have: because Malone refused to coach basketball like a lunatic.

Sure, Ranadivé and Malone had the normal contretemps that cause personnel fissures, but a tipping point, according to reporting right after the firing by Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, was that Ranadivé had a crazy idea that Malone wouldn’t get down with. The idea is four-on-five basketball — “cherry-picking,” as they might call it in middle-school ball. This is especially notable because, if you knew anything about Ranadivé before, it probably had to do with middle-school basketball. Middle-school girls’ basketball. Ranadivé is a Silicon Valley giant, but to the rest of the country he is most famous for his appearance in a Malcolm Gladwell magazine story, in which Ranadivé takes over coaching duties of his daughter’s not particularly talented youth basketball team, installs an insanely ferocious full-court-press defense (in which 12-year-old girls harass the other team like Rick Pitino’s college teams) and rides the strategy all the way to the national tournament.

Now Ranadivé’s the owner of the Kings. And he had a new idea. That idea is that one player, after his team scores, stays on his side of the court while his four teammates play defense against the other team’s five players. The defensive disadvantage of four-on-five, theoretically, would be overcome by what would happen if the offensive team missed: The defensive team would simply have to throw the rebound to the wide-open player and boom: instant basket. (And if that player is a wing, it could be an instant three points.)

It is difficult to overstate how insane a notion this would be in the NBA. NBA offenses are so advanced that it’s hard to stop them five-on-five; four-on-five would lead to easy (and violent) dunks and layups every time down the court, and even if a player happened to miss one, having one fewer defender to block out would make it more likely they’d get the rebound anyway. I’m fairly certain an NBA team deploying it for a full game could easily lose by 100 points. It is a horrible idea.

Which is probably why Malone — a college and NBA assistant for 20 years before finally getting his first head gig with the Kings — could not abide it. But the truly crazy thing may be that he’s still on the wrong side of history here. Pro sports are about to get disrupted by just this kind of throw-everything-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks thinking. If you look in the right places, they already are.

Ranadivé, perhaps inevitably, is a product of tech culture. He earned his money to buy the Kings from a technology company he founded in the ’80s and from Tibco, a software company he sold in a deal worth $4.3 billion earlier this year. He’s the sort of person who fits perfectly in a Gladwellian world, where wonkish experts come in from the outside, without all the baggage and institutional bias, and Think Different. Ranadivé has other ideas for the Kings too, and they’re of the similarly off-the-wall variety. As coach of the Kings’ development-league team the Reno Bighorns, for instance, Ranadivé brought in David Arseneault Jr., the 28-year-old son of the Grinnell College coach famous for the high-speed “Grinnell System,” which posits that the first shot is the best shot and employs a “designated shooter.” (This is why Grinnell has had individual players score more than 100 points in a game.) In Silicon Valley parlance, Ranadivé, since taking over, has decided, well, to break shit.

And, loopy as it sounds, this is the direction everything in sports is going. In each of the three major sports, innovative owners and executives are in the process of dramatically reshaping how the sports you love are played. In many ways, this is the next logical progression of the Moneyball revolution of advanced statistics and analytics. Sabermetrics changed how people evaluated players and looked at and analyzed the games, but it didn’t change the way the sport was actually played. Now that the market has been saturated with stats — now that everybody has access to the same information about player performance — everyone’s looking for the next edge. And that edge may be found in strategic lunacy.

Last year, MLB Advanced Media introduced StatCast, a video tracking technology that allows you to see exactly, down to the millimeter, where a player is positioned, how far he has run to catch a ball, even the trajectory and the angle of the batted ball. This technology, combined with historical databases of every hitter’s tendencies, has already led to something totally unique in baseball history: The fielders are moving all over the place, not just in marginal adjustments to the familiar even array across infield and outfield, but in wholesale defensive-strategy redesigns that place the third baseman between first and second (say).

And those defensive shifts are considered one of the main reasons, along with the increasing strikeout rate, that run scoring has fallen lower than it has in a generation. It’s bizarre, when you think about it, that we ever place fielders in set positions in the first place: Putting the shortstop where he is, and the outfielders where they are, is a generalist maneuver in an increasingly specific world. These shifts are just the beginning. In the future, it is not difficult to imagine defensive positioning looking more like it does in football — not players just trotting out to preestablished positions on the field but adapting dynamically, play by play, to the particular dynamic of an at-bat (maybe even a particular pitch). Against certain hitters, in certain situations, wouldn’t it make sense to have six fielders on one side of the field and one on the other? Or to have five outfielders? The baseball world is just starting to understand the possibilities. Though it’s still ahead of basketball, where a similar all-seeing video system promises to reshape the way teams do everything from defensive positioning to rebounding and shot distribution (and is already making the mid-range jumper, possibly the least efficient shot a player can take, seem like a relic from an earlier generation).

The NFL has always had fad innovations, from the “46 defense” to the “wildcat” to the “read-option.” But even more than other sports, it has learned from the wild experimentation of the college game in recent years. This is largely thanks to coach Chip Kelly, who nearly won a national championship at Oregon before heading to the Philadelphia Eagles to turn a moribund franchise deep in a rebuilding process into one of the most thrilling offenses in the game. Kelly’s innovation, to oversimplify, is to run plays at ludicrous speed — incredibly complex formations, with 11 people doing 11 different jobs but all working together at the same time. The idea is that if you can be more organized and more streamlined than the defense — if you can get ready quicker than they can get ready — you have an advantage that overwhelms talent or inherent skill.

Of course, with all this innovation, sometimes it’s helpful to remember one’s history. Five years ago, Kelly was criticized throughout college football for having a “gimmick” offense … before everyone copied it. This year, that criticism has been directed at Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, whose Yellow Jackets nearly won the ACC this season playing the ­“triple-option” offense, which features the quarterback running the ball himself or giving it to one of his running backs.

Sound radical? This is a version of the most basic offense in all of football: the T formation. You could argue that it is in fact as old as football itself. Only two or three college football teams use it. Everyone else considers it a gimmick.

*This article appears in the January 12, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.

New Players In The NBA: Big Data, User-Controlled Jumbotrons – NPR STAFF November 02, 2014 6:18 PM ET

This sample image from Second Spectrum shows the company's data visualizations for the NBA. They crunch game data — past and present — to show live statistics and information during games.

This sample image from Second Spectrum shows the company’s data visualizations for the NBA. They crunch game data — past and present — to show live statistics and information during games.

Courtesy of Second Spectrum

The NBA ushered in the new season this past week, and fans at the Staples Center for the Los Angeles Clippers’ opening game had access to some new toys.

The Clippers were the first NBA team to roll out new features for the huge monitors that hover just above the playing floor. For instance, sometimes the video replay was enhanced to show overlays of intricate new statistics, displaying the game as if viewed from the point of view of the Terminator.

“We have this product called DataFX that combines storytelling, video, advanced stats and special effects, all together to tell sort of the hidden side of what is going on in the game that you might not see,” says Rajiv Maheswaran, CEO of Second Spectrum, the company behind this new sports tech.

Another application, called Clippertron, allows fans to “take control of the Jumbotron in real time,” Maheswaran tells NPR’S Aruth Rath. Fans use their smartphones to ask for whatever video clip they want — like a shot by Blake Griffin or a DeAndre Jordan dunk — to immediately go up on the big screen. The name of the person requesting it shows up on the Jumbotron, too.

Ballmer: “Do It Now”

When former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer bought the Clippers for a cool $2 billion back in August, one of his first stops was Second Spectrum’s modest two-room offices in downtown L.A.

“We had a bunch of projects that we had been working on … we thought would be really good for fans down the road,” Maheswaran says. “We demonstrated that to him, and he said, ‘This is great. Let’s do it now.’ ”

Maheswaran says the company pulled a working version together in six weeks, but that the version out there today will continue to evolve and improve.

In a video demonstration using a massive 82-inch touchscreen, Maheswaran demonstrates one of the models that he’d originally shown to Ballmer. He pulls up a video that explains one of the most famous plays from last season’s championship series: the Miami Heat’s Ray Allen hitting a game-tying 3-point shot with five seconds left in regulation.

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Why Fans Are Now More Into Free-Agent Negotiations Than Games –  By Will Leitch July 27, 2014 9:00 p.m.

Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

At halftime of game two of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals in May, ESPN analyst Bill Simmons voiced a strange theory about why LeBron James, the best player in the NBA, had played poorly in the first half. LeBron’s Heat were down 1-0 in the series to the Pacers, and even though Miami led at halftime, LeBron had struggled, looking lifeless and distracted. Simmons, who, like the rest of us, had been watching the NBA draft lottery before the game (in which LeBron’s former team, Cleveland, had secured the No. 1 pick), had a guess as to why.

“LeBron came out kind of strange,” Simmons said. “I was almost wondering, Did someone tell him Cleveland won the lottery? Was he thinking about that?

Now, it is probably worth pointing out that this makes no sense. LeBron James was going for his third consecutive NBA title, his team was behind in a critical series, and he had to carry aging, injured teammates on his back. Of all the things on his mind at that moment, a Ping-Pong ball coming up Cleveland was rather far behind I am thirsty from all this running around and jumping (if anyone had even told him in the first place). The notion that something so profoundly beside the point would somehow affect James’s game—the thing he is better at than anything else in the world—was absurd. If LeBron James really were distracted by such silliness, he would spend most of his time on the court tripping over his own feet.

And yet: I got what Simmons was saying. Because I had been thinking the same thing. And that’s because I wasn’t thinking like a professional athlete; I was thinking like a fan. I can’t comprehend what it’s like to play in the NBA Finals, or to have to memorize thousands of inbounds plays, or to find the open man on the fast break, or to dunk. (Or even to dribble without falling.) Those things are beyond my imagination. What I can grasp is what happens off the court. Draft lotteries. Salary-cap maneuvering. Free-agent negotiations. Roster construction. And not only grasp: Like just about every other sports fan in America, I’ve been doing all of those things in fantasy sports for two decades. Also like just about every other sports fan in America, I’ve started to think I’m pretty good at it. We all have. Which has made the action on the court, or the field, feel somehow like the subplot.

This phenomenon only got more pronounced in the NBA Finals, when people seemed to stop paying attention to the games entirely. LeBron James was, with an undermanned army of teammates, fighting for a championship against a historically entertaining San Antonio Spurs team, but no one wanted to talk about that. They wanted to talk about the offseason. They wanted to talk about where LeBron was going to go next. And with good reason: The weeks after the Finals—as LeBron, along with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, decided where he would be taking his ­talents—were more entertaining than the Finals themselves. We were tracking flights online, peeking in LeBron’s windows, interviewing random people in golf carts outside LeBron’s house to see if they knew anything. We broke down cap sheets, studied up on the mid-level extension, wondered which team would have to trade whom to free up space for LeBron.

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