Basketball Is the Worst Sport Ever (In Its Final Two Minutes)

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


A few days ago I was channel surfing and ended up watching the final tedious few minutes of a basketball game. It was at the point where the losing team was doing the intentional foul thing in a last-ditch effort to make a comeback. “Does that ever work?” I muttered. Now I have an answer:

Nick Elam, a 34-year-old middle school principal from Dayton, Ohio…has tracked thousands of NBA, college, and international games over the last four years and found basketball’s classic comeback tactic — intentional fouling — almost never results in successful comebacks. Elam found at least one deliberate crunch-time foul from trailing teams in 397 of 877 nationally televised NBA games from 2014 through the middle of this season, according to a PowerPoint presentation he has sent across the basketball world. The trailing team won zero of those games, according to Elam’s data.

What a waste. Elam has a provocative proposal about how to fix this, but it’s far too radical for the NBA to consider. After all, the league’s boffins won’t even consider changing the intentional foul rule or limiting timeouts. If they can’t bring themselves to make modest changes like that, what are the odds of ever doing something serious about the final two minutes of basketball games, which are widely considered the most tedious 20 minutes in all of sports?

On the bright side, at least basketball’s final two minutes are still better than soccer’s tie-breaking shootout—which is basically just a fancy way of flipping a coin. Personally, I’d make them keep playing until the players start collapsing on the pitch—and then leave them there until somebody finally scores a goal. Maybe that would motivate them.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest