Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chaos Theory

The other day, my girlfriend committed an unpardonable sin: she asked me to move during a 11-2 run by the Cavs.

Let me explain. Every sports fan in the world has some sort of tic when watching their favorite team. For some, it's constant, optimistic chatter. For Cleveland fans, it's generally constant, pessimistic chatter punctuated by explosions of frustration. For that weird Virginia Tech guy in this Coke commercial, it's apparently drinking twice his recommended daily value of calories in cola form and then creating a Virginia Tech logo out of 20-odd empty cans (how does that guy afford this habit?)

Mine is not moving when one of my teams starts putting together a good drive, run, or inning. To be clear, I'm not just talking about not getting up or moving to a different room. I'm talking about not moving a muscle at all. If the Cavs go on a run when I'm texting my friend, I'll have to keep my hands on the cell phone. If the Indians start getting men on base when I'm rubbing my chin, I'll keep rubbing my chin. If the Browns start a promising drive while I'm doing a headstand, I'm watching that drive upside down, baby! Though, I'm really not sure whether a successful Browns drive is less likely than me doing a headstand, and that's saying a lot since I haven't done a headstand since my two gymnastics lessons in the first grade.

To be clear, this superstition isn't just limited to my own activity--it also covers the activity of others. For example, my friend Scott and I watched Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals together, and the Cavs lost. We then watched Games 3 and 4 apart, and the Cavs won. Scott, being a wonderful guy and a reasonable person, realized at the same time I did that these four results mean that we can never again watch a Cavs game together. And so we haven't. (On a side note, Scott was in Baltimore for Game 3. It's a good thing the Cavs won Game 4 with Scott watching at home or he would have had to make the 40 minute drive out to Baltimore for every Cavs playoff game thereafter. But, again, Scott, being a wonderful guy and a reasonable person, was ready to make this "sacrifice.")

So, the other night, when my girlfriend asked me to move so she could sit down, I was less than pleased. It's a total double whammy--not only would I have to move, but she'd be introducing a new variable into the system. Who knows how Larry Hughes will respond? And, when I explained my displeasure to her, she (as usual) laughed in my face--this from someone who never missed an episode of Cheerleader Nation AND The Real Coyote Ugly. My explanation, of course, was perfectly rational: Chaos Theory, the brand of science that holds that one set of events can, in some theoretically explanable way, be effected or affected by some other set of completely unrelated events. The classic example is the butterfly effect. According to Chaos Theory, me moving during a Cavs run may result in the Pistons storming right back--hence my behavior. Plus, for the record, my girlfriend has no explanation for why she was a fan of Cheerleader Nation and The Real Coyote Ugly.

Of course, I can immediately think of two responses detailing why my behavior is completely irrational. One is the scientific response--that I misapplied chaos theory. In reality, chaos theory holds that a small variation in the initial condition of a system can eventually cause large variations as that system evolves. There is, as near as I can tell, no "system" that encompasses LeBron James's ability to posterize Rasheed Wallace and my ability to watch 30 minutes of basketball after my legs have gone numb from sitting in an awkward position.

The other response involves taking my behavior at face value. It goes something like this: "OK, Rakesh, so your sitting in a certain position affects the way your teams play. Does your posture have to change between quarters? What if your team switches sides of the field and you were leaning in one particular direction? If you do get up for a dire emergency, does the position you were sitting in have its same effect when you sit back down?" And so on and so forth.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I have considered all these questions, and there is no easy answer yet. Hopefully, through years of more experimentation (during the regular season, of course--attempting experiments in the playoffs could be catastrophic), I can arrive at a comprehensive chaos theory for sports. If you'd like to help out, send me an email or post a comment. Together we can make a difference for sports fans everywhere.

In the meantime, if the Cavs go on a run tonight, you'll know it's because of the way my legs happen to be crossed. If the Cavs start playing poorly, you can bet that I'll change my position right away. And if you come over during a big run, I'll have to ask you to leave. But you wouldn't come over in the first place. You're not that unreasonable.

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