Introducing the Ugly Index
The other night I was watching a vintage NBA Hardwood Classic from the early 1970s, a time in which there were two competing basketball associations. I was horrified at how unwatchable it was.
Missed shot... turnover... foul... clanker... foul... bad pass... excessive dribbling... and on and on and on. It was some ugly looking basketball.
We often complain about the brand of basketball being played today. I wondered how it compared to what they played back then.
So I came up with a statistical measure of Ugly Basketball to compare the aesthetic level of play through the eras. I call it the "The Ugly Index".
The Ugly Index
Obviously, the Index is subjective in nature. But I think its interesting nonetheless.
To come up with it, I asked myself, "What makes a basketball game aesthetically pleasing?" I decided sweet passing and scoring made games more pleasing to the eye. Since assists are so watered down, there's no reliable way to measure the first, so I use only scoring as my "beauty" variable.
Next I asked what makes games ugly. Missed shots, turnovers, and fouls. Those constitute my ugly variable.
So, its "Bricks, Hacks, and Kicks" divided by "Chord Music" and that is my Ugly Index.
Here are my results: BUCKS DIARY UGLY INDEX: 1974-PRESENT
The Pre-Merger 70s: Playin Ugly
Basketball, by its nature, draws from a very limited talent pool.
In my lifetime I've played alot of basketball against alot of people. I've probably played with/against less than 10 guys who had the average physical qualifications of an NBA player (6'5'' or above). That isn't even accounting for the necessary skill set. So basketball talent is rare.
In the early 1970s, the pool of qualified talent was probably even less because basketball was not as popular during the pool's formative years in the early 60s as it is today. And yet they tried to support two leagues with this talent. The results were ugly. The NBA's average Ugly Index in those years was around 0.91. Things changed dramatically, however, in the seasons following the 1976 merger.
The 80s were the golden age of basketball
If you grew up in the 80s like me you probably think basketball was better to watch then. By my standards, it certainly was. From 1983-84 until Michael Jordan went to spring training, every season was either a 0.79 or a 0.80 on the Ugly Index. The 80s were great, indeed. And its a myth that the Bad Boys of Detroit ruined the aesthetic. There was no dip whatsoever during their reign. That dip didn't happen until the late 90s.
The Strike and its Aftereffects
Actually, beginning the year before the strike, basketball took an ugly turn. In fact, the strike season returned us to the preMerger days in terms of ugliness: 0.89. The next season got better, but not by much. And the next few seasons were a bit better, but still well below the standard of basketball set during the NBA's Golden Age.
Then Steve Nash went west.
Did Nash save the NBA?
Coinciding directly with Steve Nash joining the Phoenix Suns in '04-'05, the NBA turned itself back in the proper direction. Last season it hit 0.81 for the first time since the first Jordan threepeat, and it has continued at that same level this season.
Actually, didn't David Stern crack down on handchecking that same season? Can't remember. But I still credit the Suns, because, unlike the 70s, early 00s basketball wasn't ugly because of a lack of proficiency. It was simply due to a lack of scoring, probably brought on by a lack of pace.
Nash and his Suns changed all that. They are play a very aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball. They are an incredible 0.69 on the Ugly Index. Now, if they could only defensive rebound...
Footnote: Why the Milwaukee Hawks failed
Just a quick footnote. If you ever wondered why the Milwaukee Hawks have been virtually lost to history, here's maybe one of the reasons. In their last season at the Milwaukee Arena, they recorded a shocking 1.17 on the Ugly Index. That means the hundreds of fans who actually went to see them play had to sit through more than one ugly play per point scored. That must have been exciting.