Tree Rollins! - credit Manny Rubio-US PRESSWIRE
Tree Rollins! – credit Manny Rubio-US PRESSWIRE

Quantitative data can tell us when Britain produced one new novel per month, or week, or day, or hour for that matter, but where the significant turning points lie along the continuum – and why – is something that must be decided on a different basis. (9)

After having spent the last 3 days in Boston for the Sloan Conference on Sports Analytics, Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees is quite the appropriate book to cap off the experience. Moretti’s book is primarily dedicated to exploring historical trends in literature using… wait for it… graphs, maps, and trees. Particularly instructive for basketball junkies is his insightful look at how British literary genres during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Moretti noticed that genres of novels rose and fell in clusters. The genre itself still existed. There may be no new surf rock records, but the surf rock genre still exists. So, why in the world do these genres rise and fall in popularity and new productions? Noticing that the cycle was typically 25-30 years, Moretti figured that it’s not the genre that falls by the wayside, but its readers.

Now, Moretti is quick to note that the simple concept of generations isn’t what dooms a genre, but it’s the cultural, social, and political climates and events of the times that forge and shape people into generations. These same events inform and manipulate the products of these cultures. Whether it means an older genre is no longer relevant, or a new one is salient.

Could the same thing happen in the NBA and with basketball?

It doesn’t seem that far-fetched that new events, technologies, fads, and social forces could force out one way (genre, if you will) of playing in favor of something new. Few people take hook shots these days. No one does two-handed set shots anymore. Corner three-pointers didn’t exist back in 1945. Without doing the full research now, my gut feeling is that basketball genres do exist.  Now to only figure out what events cause the genre changes.

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