Thursday, December 23, 2010

Power Balance Bollocks - The Stat attack


a collaborative post by Bryan Gruneberg and Blaize Kaye.

Note : If you find this post useful, please consider doing a blog post of your own on some of the other athletes that have endorsed this product.


If you have seen any recent pictures of the infamous Shaquille O’Neal slamming, ramming, or generally ripping up the courts, you might notice that around his wrist he is sporting a shiny hologram powered energy regulation device. We’ll refer to this as the Power Balance Bracelet. Shaq, the 15-time NBA all star, has recently endorsed the Power Balance “Technology” behind the bracelet. The Shaq-Attack says that he “could feel something uncommon with the Power Balance wristband on” and when he took it off, “he just went back to normal.”
In 2010 SlamOnline reported that a number of NBA players have been using the Power Balance Bracelet. The players explicitly noted were Shaquille O’Neal, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza and Paul Pierce. Apparently Odom even doubles them up, wearing one on each wrist. Odom reportedly “feels a difference on the court when [he] wear[s] the wristbands... it gives [him] more energy and balance when [he is] on the court.”

Of course Shaq and the boys are respected athletes. If you can nab one of them as your two-a-side partner for a street ball game, you have significantly increased your chances of kicking ass. Similarly, if you find one of them on the opposing team, you might want to tap out early. However, this is no good reason to trust the Shaq-Attack-Brigade when it comes to the technology behind the Power Balance Bracelet.
According to PowerBalance.com, Power Balance Performance Technology is designed to work with your body’s natural energy fields. It supposedly does this by “optimizing the body’s natural energy flow”. The Power Balance technology is comprised of a hologram and some mechanism for keeping the hologram close to the body. It is the hologram in Power Balance that is “designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body.” Apparently the holding device is unimportant, as they seem to come in all shapes and forms ranging from silicon bracelets, to silver chains, to stickers for your surf board. Apparently water does not interfere with our “body’s natural energy flows”, but that is a topic for another post.
If the Power Balance Bracelet does in fact increase performance, as these athletes and the manufactures claim, then it is fair to expect that this performance increase should show in the players statistics. Now, one of the great virtues of US sports-fanaticism is that they are nuts about statistics. Their nuttiness is evidenced in the fact that Justin Kubatko started a site called Basket-Ball-Reference.com which provides in-depth statistics about leagues, seasons and, of course, the players themselves.

Good news for sports fans, bad news for unscrupulous manufacturers and peddlers of hokum and fakery.

So how about we take a look at the statistics for some of these players, and see if we can extract anything significant? We will use the “Free Throws” measure as our unit of analysis. We will do this for a number of reasons, but primarily because Mr O’Neal is now the oldest active player in the NBA and we don’t want to open ourselves to the criticism or counter claim that, because of his age the Power Balance Bracelet might be having some kind of effect, namely, countering the attenuation in athletic prowess that human beings naturally experience as they grow older.

This isn’t a problem with free throws. Mr Ted St. Martin currently holds the record for making the most consecutive free throws - 5221 in a row, it took him seven and a half hours - and was almost at retirement age when he broke the record for a fourth time in April of ‘96. The previous record holder, Thomas Amberry, was 72 when he broke St. Martin’s earlier record. Age doesn’t really seem to be a factor when it comes to free throws, in fact, one should probably get better over time due to practice effects.

But age issues aside, there are other reasons for using free throws as a standard. Unlike almost every other element of basketball play, the free throw doesn’t have an opposing team actively interfering with the player’s performance. Sure, there are the crowds trying to distract the players, but it’s about as close to a controlled environment as we’re going to get. Furthermore, if there was some advantage that the players were getting from the Power Balance Bracelet, it could be argued that the “edge” that any individual player might be getting could have been offset by the “edge” given to opposing players who might possibly have be wearing bracelets of their own.
Free throws it is.
As far as we’ve been able to ascertain, Shaq began wearing his Power Balance Bracelet a little before his transfer to the Cleavland Cavaliers - unfortunately we don’t have exact dates, but the press release for Shaq’s endorsement of the product tell us that he started wearing it some time during his stay with the Phoenix suns which was during the 2008-2009 season.
Shaq has a career average of 53% from the top of the key - that is, he’s made only 53% of the free throws that he’s taken. His career high came in the 2002-2003 season where, wearing his LA Laker’s vest, he was able to make 451 out of 725 baskets for a whopping 62.2%.
PowerBalance was only established in 2007 so, at the very least, we know that they had nothing to do with that bumper year.
So Shaq has been actively “using” (actually, just wearing) the Power Balance Bracelet for one season, his 2008-2009 stint with the Cavs - how did he fare now that his “energy balance” has been optimised? Well, not that well to be honest, in fact “O'Neal averaged career lows in almost every major statistical category”.
In terms of his free throw success rate, he managed to make a paltry 49.6% of his baskets - which is under his career average, let alone anywhere near his career high.

And given the current season’s stats (it’s still early in the season though - perhaps it takes a while for energy to become aligned) it looks like Shaq’s free throw percentage will fall somewhere between 50-60%, like it has for the last 18 or so years.

But perhaps we’re being unfair; It’s well known that Shaq has had trouble with free throws throughout his entire career. So let’s take a look at Lamar Odom, who - if you recall - likes to double up on his Power Balance bracelets. Can we expect the result to be doubly unimpressive?

Lamar Odom is a 6 foot 10 inch, 220 pound L.A. Lakers player. Looking over some of his on-court action shots, it is difficult to imagine that Odom’s “natural energy flows” (if there were such a thing) are in anything other than pristine working order.

Like with Shaq, it is difficult to establish exactly when Odom started wearing his double-whammy Power Balance Bracelets. Again, we know that Power Balance can’t have affected Odom’s pre 2007 statistics because the company was not formed until then. However, we do know that Odom openly endorses the product at the Power Balance site (http://www.powerbalance.com/athlete-lamar-odom). Odom claims that “playing at a championship level requires him to perform at his peak day in and day out” and that “the Power Balance silicon wristband helps him keep that balance” - but do the stats concur?

Odom’s career average is a nicely squared away 70%. This means that of the 3320 attempted free throws, he has sunk 2323. His career best year was in 2002 where he sunk 77% of his free throws. This was a comfortable 5 years before the Power Balance Bracelet was helping athletes out. Assuming that Odom started wearing the Power Balance Bracelets (yes - notice the plural) in 2009, it would be fair to expect that 2009 and 2010 would be record high years for him.

But alas, 2009 saw Odom only able to sink 69% of his 202 attempted free throws. That is 8% less than his career high, and a percentage point less than his career average. Unfortunately for both Odom and Power Balance, the 2010-2011 season is not yet shaping up to be much brighter, with Odom only achieving 67% of his attempted 107 free throws, leaving him 3% down on his career average and 11% down on his personal best.

Given the unambiguous claims made by Power Balance and the individual athletes that endorse them, we would expect that in 2009-2010 these pros would have bettered, or at least matched, their personal bests. In fact, neither of the players we have looked at here got close to their records. Both players actually performed quite averagely.

But what else could we expect from a little rubber band with a hologram attached? Thanks Power Balance.

References :

4 comments:

  1. Haha...awsome, I love this stuff, especially the subtle biting humour.

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  2. Ah, Blaize — you just don't fully understand the Power Balance Bracelet. You see the hologram embedded within in the bracelet unties any quantum entanglements that are occurring in the holonomic brain and therefore prevents any neurological wave interferences. Since athletes are such fine fit specimens of balance, strength, etc., most of these entanglements occur in other mental modules, such as speech. Haven't you noticed that Shaq is far more eloquent lately?

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  3. @Iain and Michael - Thanks guys

    @BM - well if someone had told me it was all QUANTUM then I wouldn't have questioned it - I thought it was all about energy, but if it's quantum then it's probably all above board ;)

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