A big number without context is like Donald Trump — all show and no substance. Not only is context a reality check for political grandstanding, it also ascribes value and perspective to cosmology, economics, archaeology and other grand disciplines ruled by big numbers. In business parlance, percentages place accomplishments in proper context and validate “outcomes versus output.”
Context makes sense of large numbers in sports, too. With percentages and ratios, historians and statisticians help fans compare players from different eras, rate all-star and MVP candidates, and occasionally resolve arguments.
IN BASEBALL, Babe Ruth is considered to be the greatest slugger of all-time, averaging a home run for every 11.67 at bats.
By comparison, the only baseball player to best The Bambino’s homers per-plate-appearance percentage was Mark McGuire, who muscled a four-bagger every 10.61 at bats. But he cheated. As did Barry Bonds, third best with 12.92 and Alex Rodriguez at 12th with 15.06. Hank Aaron, who with Ruth and Bonds make the 700+ homer club, ranks 37th with a 16.38 average. Thus, in context, it’s Ruth … and the rest.
IN BASKETBALL, most everyone rates players based on points per game. However, the ratio of field goals made to field goals attempted presents an alternative consideration: a player‘s shooting efficiency and proficiency. A field goal percentage of .500 or 50 percent or above is considered good.
NBA Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore ranks number one with a .599 field goal percentage. Other notable big men Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (.5595) and Wilt Chamberlain (.5397) rank 11th and 25th, respectively.
Magic Johnson ranks 54th; Michael Jordan, 135th; and LeBron James, 142nd. Missing the top 250 list altogether is none other than Kobe Bryant, who while averaging an impressive 25 points per game in his 19-year career, makes just 45.3 percent of his shots. Not surprisingly, Bryant holds the NBA record for most missed shots with 13,766. Judge for yourself who’s a gamer and who’s a gunner.
IN PERSPECTIVE, of course, winning still trumps percentages and context. Which is why we compete, and why we try, try again.
“You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take,” said hockey great Wayne Gretsky.