The ping pong balls love the Cleveland Cavaliers. Tuesday night the Cavs won the draft lottery, despite having only a 1.7 percent chance of doing so according to math geniuses. This would be impressive enough by itself, but you have to remember, the Cavs have actually won the draft lottery three times out of the last four years.
Once makes you think they’re lucky. Twice makes you think they’re incredibly insanely Justin Verlander-dating-Kate Upton lucky. Three times and you start concocting Red Bull-and-vodka-fueled conspiracy theories.
But what if I told you that you should all put away your Red Bull, your vodka and your conspiracy theories, because winning the draft lottery three times in four years really, when you know a few things about how numbers work, isn’t that crazy?
Maybe these conspiracy nuts are not familiar with the gambler’s fallacy. This fallacy is the mistaken belief that if something happens more frequently than normal during some period, it must by necessity happen less frequently in the future. It’s the trap people fall into when they say “it all evens out.”
Another way of stating it is this: Say you flip a coin nine times and it comes up heads all nine times. Those not familiar with how odds work might argue that there must now be a better-than-even chance of the coin coming up tails on a tenth flip, because it has to even out. If you understand the gambler’s fallacy, you realize how bad this reasoning is.
In truth, the odds that the coin will land tails on the tenth flip are exactly the same as they were on the first flip, the second flip and so on. The odds of a coin landing tails are always 50-50.
There is no law of nature that dictates things must even out. So any arguments you may be seeing on the web saying the chances of the Cavs winning the lottery last night were 10,000,000-to-one or some astronomical thing, according to some law of evening out, that’s just horse manure. The odds were 1.7 percent.
Last night’s lottery was an independent event like a coin flip. There was no magic property of probability carrying over from the prior years.
Yes, it was crazy that the Cavs got the No. 1 pick again, but it did not defy the laws of nature.
You don’t need a conspiracy theory to “explain” the Cavs winning the draft lottery again, you just need a basic grasp of statistical probability and logic. You just need to recognize one simple fact: crazy things happen all the time.
The whole concept of “crazy” is a matter of perception anyway. Objectively, how nuts was the Cavs’ accomplishment? Mind-bendingly “oh my God the universe has clearly gone off the rails” crazy or just “hmm that’s interesting” peculiar?
I’d say the second.
Again, it helps to have a basic grasp of how probability works. One person’s mind-explodingly bizarre event is another person’s somewhat amusing statistical oddity.
It kind of all depends on what you want to believe. All conspiracy theories depend on a bit of “Jesus in the grilled cheese sandwich” syndrome. If you’re a Sixers fan and you’re really ticked off at what you think must have been a plot to destroy your own personal happiness, you’re liable to perceive evidence of some evil agency at work. Cause that’s how fanaticism works. It bends perceptions.
Plus, people have been making up conspiracy theories about the NBA draft lottery for years. It at least goes back to when Patrick Ewing “mysteriously” ended up on the Knicks. So it becomes a kind of engrained belief among people who don’t realize the whole thing was a joke to begin with. Engrained beliefs become engrained due to a lack of hard thinking about their origins.
Lack of hard thinking leads to dubious, even idiotic, conclusions.
For instance, this idea that the NBA would rig the lottery to favor the Cavs. Stop and think about that for a second. Why in seven hells would the NBA conspire to give Cleveland all the good players? How does that benefit them? Why should they fix things to have a good team in Cleveland of all places?
Cleveland doesn’t matter, and trying to make it matter serves no useful purpose.
I hesitate to even address the conspiracy theories, because it only dignifies them. You don’t even need to dive into that cockroach-infested hell hole of bad logic. All you need to know is that 1.7 percent, though a very low number, is still not zero. Something looking crazy on the outside doesn’t make it impossible or even as highly unlikely as you think. There’s no conspiracy against your team.
God isn’t out to get you.
And Adam Silver isn’t trying to fix it so LeBron James can go to the Knicks and duke it out against the loaded Cavaliers for the next five years. So stop it.