Zachariah Blott of EmptyTheBench.com has a brilliantly executed post this week on how LeBron James seemingly receives more star treatment from NBA officials than even the most cynical fan could’ve ever fathomed.
Through January 22, James played 1702 minutes and committed 77 fouls, good for one foul every 22.1 minutes of court time. Everyone else in the NBA logged 298,868 minutes and committed 26,473 fouls, good for one every 11.3 minutes. Comparatively, James is half as likely to be called for a foul than the other 300-odd players as a whole.
Blott takes great pains to examine and re-examine the astounding statistical aberration to confirm he isn’t misinterpreting data. Example: With the help of a Portland State professor, Blott employs a sophisticated statistics application called a “chi-square test” to analyze James foul numbers. After the “pain in the ass” calculations, Blott concludes:
The likelihood of LeBron’s foul counts occurring with his minutes is less than one in a million.
Blott also samples historical foul records of some of the NBA’s greatest individual seasons to confirm James isn’t merely receiving treatment previously afforded league superstars. Even the best seasons of Magic, Kobe and Michael Jordan cannot compare to the astonishingly low number of fouls called against James this season.
Okay, before we all start citing Tim Donaghy and the fix being in, let’s take a breath.
Consider that James has the most unique style of any player in the league. That is, though he can influence the game with his roaming defense, he rarely guards opponent’s best players and spends very little time banging with post players in the paint.
In other words, though James is a formidable physical presence on defense, he rarely is involved in heavy contact and does most of his damage cheating off less dangerous offensive players.
That alone though doesn’t resolve his incredibly low foul numbers. Those numbers are all the more worrisome in the context of accusations made by former NBA official Donaghy, who has claimed that star treatment is alive and well in the NBA. Donaghy even went so far to offer that the league is behind that seemingly subtle yet powerful agenda.
It’s unrealistic to think that star treatment won’t always exist in pro sports leagues. It’s human nature. But this sort of maddeing statistical distortion involving the highest profile player in the NBA points out that despite David Stern’s assurances that referees are as objective as humanly possible, that plainly isn’t the case.