Which sport's athletes are the best?  JAN 30 2013

Sports fans are always looking for new ways to argue about sports. This, from Jeff Ely, is a pretty fun game: which sport's athletes are better at their sport than other athletes are at their sports?

The thought experiment is to compare players across sports. I.e., are basketball players better at basketball than, say, snooker players are at playing snooker?

Unless you count being tall as one of the things NBA basketball players "do" I would say on the contrary that NBA basketball players must be among the worst at what they do in all of professional sports. The reason is simple: because height is so important in basketball, the NBA is drawing the top talent among a highly selected sub-population: those that are exceptionally tall. The skill distribution of the overall population, focusing on those skills that make a great basketball player like coordination, quickness, agility, accuracy; certainly dominate the distribution of the subpopulation from which the NBA draws its players.

Here's Ely's lists of such sports: table tennis, soccer, tennis, golf, and chess. This question is similar to another I asked awhile back: which athlete is better at their sport than almost anyone else is at anything at some point in the past 5-6 years?

Off the top of my head, possible candidates include Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Lindsey Vonn, Tiger Woods, Marta, Shaun White, Jimmie Johnson, and Annika Sörenstam.

There is also Joe Posnanski's question about which athlete you'd choose to play for your soul.

The question Posnanski is essentially asking is: who is the most dominant athlete of all time across any sport? But not quite that question...Babe Ruth was quite the slugger in his day, but he might not fare so well against modern pitching. Same with Wilt, Jim Thorpe, Babe Didrikson, or even Gretzky. The game played is a factor as well. Aside from variants such as speed chess and Chess960, chess is chess and the board is the board...home field, wind, and teammates aren't really a factor. (Is chess a sport though? If so, I might take Kasparov against anyone.)

Love this stuff. (via marginal revolution)

Read more posts on kottke.org about:
Jeff Ely   Joe Posnanski   sports

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