Numbers Don't Lie


Numbers Don't Lie

New Adventures in Counting and What Counts in Basketball Analytics

Yago Colás

376 pages
5 illustrations, 4 tables, 3 graphs, index


November 2020


$34.95 Pre-order

About the Book

A typical NBA game can yield approximately 2,800 statistical events in thirty-two different categories. In Numbers Don’t Lie Yago Colás started with a simple question: how did basketball analytics get from counting one stat, the final score, to counting thousands? He discovered that what we call “basketball”—name, rules, equipment, fundamental skills, techniques, tactics, strategies—has changed dramatically since its invention and today encompasses many different forms of play, from backyards and rec leagues to the NBA Finals.

Numbers Don’t Lie explores the power of data to tell stories about ourselves and the world around us. As advanced statistical methods and big data technologies transform sports, we now have the power to count more things in greater detail than ever before. These numbers tell us about the past, present, and future that shape how basketball is played on the floor, decisions are made in front offices, and the sport is marketed and consumed. But what is the relationship between counting and what counts, between quantification and value?

In Numbers Don’t Lie Colás offers a three-part history of counting in basketball. First, he recounts how big-data basketball emerged in the past twenty years, examines its current practices, and analyzes how it presents itself to the public. Colás then situates big data within the deeper social, cultural, and conceptual history of counting in basketball and beyond and proposes alternative frameworks of value with which we may take fuller stock of the impact of statistics on the sport. Ultimately, Colás challenges the putative objectivity of both quantification and academic writing by interweaving through this history a series of personal vignettes of life at the intersection of basketball, counting, and what counts.


Author Bio

Yago Colás is the author of Ball Don’t Lie! Myth, Genealogy, and Invention in the Cultures of Basketball. Currently an independent researcher and writer, he previously taught literature and cultural studies at the University of Michigan.


“Big data is revolutionizing the analysis and management of professional sport. In this important book Colás demolishes the misconception that our data is independent of our value judgments and challenges us to think about what it is we are really doing with data. Every data analyst working for a sports team, every writer or broadcaster who brandishes some statistic, everyone who thinks they know data, and anyone who trusts others to tell them what the data means needs to read this book. It will open your eyes.”—Stefan Szymanski, author of Money and Soccer: A Soccernomics Guide

“Yago Colás elucidates a dense observation that Charles Barkley once spat about how the proliferation of quantification in a game that was first tallied only by a soccer ball tossed through a peach basket in small-town Massachusetts has become as much a disclosure about race and culture in America as narratives written and uttered about the players who score, rebound, and assist. This is recommended reading for further understanding the complexity of sport and culture.”—Kevin Blackistone, ESPN panelist, University of Maryland journalism professor, and Washington Post columnist

“If you enjoy any team sport, Numbers Don’t Lie will take you on a journey of discovery unlike any you’ve been on before. You will finish with a deeper understanding of the person and player, the statistics that are relevant, the context they relate to, and you will begin to see the things that really matter in the game of basketball. Be prepared: you will never look at the game of basketball in the same way again.”—Fergus Connolly, coauthor of The Process: The Methodology, Philosophy, and Principles of Coaching Winning Teams

“A profoundly compelling and convincing analysis, Numbers Don’t Lie offers a vivid combination of cultural dissection, social explication, personal narrative, technological exposé, and existential contemplation. Through this heady synthesis Yago Colás meticulously unpacks the ‘science of moving dots’ through which basketball has come to be administered, controlled, understood, and experienced. In doing so he adds significantly to his unique basketball oeuvre and confirms his position as the leading scholar of the game.”—David L. Andrews, author of The Routledge Handbook of Physical Cultural Studies

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Introduction: Two Baskets
Introductory Interlude—Records
Part 1. Counting
1. The Science of Moving Dots
2. The Culture of Moving Dots
3. Counting, America’s Game
4. Counting America’s Bodies
Interlude—My Basketball Soul
5. Counting for Character
Interlude—One on One
6. Counting for Competition
Interlude—Measuring Sticks
7. Counting for Commerce in College Basketball
8. Counting for Commerce in the NBA
Interlude—Basketball Jesus
9. The Work of Moving Dots
Part 2. What Counts
10. Approaching Basketball Experience
11. The Ethics of Understanding Basketball
Interlude—Basketball Supernatural
12. Feeling Basketball
13. Counting What Counts in Basketball
Coda: When Counting Counts