ESPN’s “Sports Science” is a recurring SportsCenter segment that attempts to quantify athleticism and put it into context using wild comparisons.
For example, there was once a segment called, “John Wall is quicker than a cheetah?” In the segment, they measured Wall’s reaction time in a lab test, determined that it was roughly as fast as a the time it takes a cheetah to make one stride at top speed, and extrapolated that out to imply that an NBA point guard is fast as a cheetah.
The construction is simple, like when an elementary school teacher tries to explain magnitude by saying, “The moon is so far away, you’d have to stack 300 billion pennies to reach it!”
This weekend, Sports Science did a segment on LeBron James. The boldest claim — LeBron throws his passes faster than Tom Brady does.
From the segment:
“LeBron can get off a 40 mile an hour dart in under two-tenths of a second. That’s twice as fast as the average NFL quarterback releases a pass. That means from 35 feet away, or nearly 12 yards, LeBron can hit his man faster than Tom Brady can hit his target from the same distance.”
The problem here is that passing a basketball is different from throwing a football. We’re sure if you measure the release time of any NBA player (even, say, 7’2″ Roy Hibbert) it’d be quicker than Tom Brady. The fundamentals of the action are inherently different. It’s like measuring that a cyclist goes around a hairpin turn faster than a race car driver and using that to imply that bikes are faster than cars.
Sure, it’s technically true that LeBron can throw a basketball pass 12 yards faster than Tom Brady can throw a football pass 12 yards. But the implication — that LeBron James throws passes faster than Tom Brady — is false and misleading.
So really, this LeBron-Brady comparison tells us nothing. In an attempt to put LeBron’s exceptional passing in context, Sports Science actually hinders our understanding of it.
The ESPN segment:
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