The Distribution of NBA Title Odds Would Be World’s Most Unequal Economy

By Kurt Bullard

With last night’s slate of games in the books, the 2016 NBA season has officially begun. While at the beginning of each season, each fan base is usually filled with some feeling of hope and optimism for the upcoming season (well, maybe not Sacramento), that hope for 28 franchises—if it still exists at all—severely diminished on Independence Day with Golden State’s signing of Kevin Durant.

Now, many fan bases have already accepted as truth that the Golden State Warriors will be the 2016 NBA Champions, even after last night’s less than stellar debut. More than ever, the regular season just seems like a formality that, in the grand scheme of things, is meaningless for the vast majority of NBA teams and NBA fans that don’t happen to reside in California or Ohio.

This is not only reflected in fan sentiment, but also in the betting market. The line for the Warriors to win it all for the second time in three years is -125, which implies that the Dubs have a 55 percent chance of winning the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Cavs come in second at a line of +300, which translates to a 25 percent chance of winning it all. Only one other team—the ol’ reliable Spurs—have a greater than 6 percent of winning an NBA Championship in 2016.

If one were to think of the distribution of NBA title odds among the 30 teams in the league as an economy, one could measure the equality of the league in its given state. The conventional way to do so—and a metric that has become an HSAC favorite over the years—is the Gini Coefficient. In short, the Gini coefficient is a measure from 0 to 1 of how equally distributed a resource (such as family income) over a given population. If everyone in a country had the same income, the Gini Coefficient would be 0, while if one person in an economy made all of the money, the Gini Coefficient would be 1.


Now, we can do the same for the NBA, but instead of family incomes, we can use NBA title odds as the “resource” of interest. In doing so, we can find the Gini Coefficient is .757, which is an extremely unfair economy. The graphic below is the Lorenz curve, which visually represents inequality in an economy. The further away the red curve is from the diagonal line (which represents perfect fairness), the more unequal the economy is.

To see how that stacks up against global economies, I’ve produced a table with the Gini Coefficients of multiple notable countries, according to data I found on the World Factbook.

As is evident from the above, the NBA would be the world’s most unequal economy if one considered NBA Title odds as the resource of measure. No other country distributes income in a more unequal way than the NBA currently has with title odds and talent distribution.

This doesn’t bode well for competitive balance in the NBA this season. But, folks, there is a reason why the game isn’t played on paper. Let’s just hope that’s true.

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