Does home court advantage really help teams win?
This year's NBA's playoffs have had more than their share of drama. Kobe Bryant's and Phil Jackson's Lakers melted down at the end of their four game sweep by the Dallas Mavericks. Lebron James finally triumphed against the vaunted Boston Celtics. Now the conference finals feature four stellar teams in matchups that are as notable for their tactical and strategic contrasts—the star-studded Heat versus the defense-minded team concept of Tom Thibodeaux's Chicago Bulls—as for their outstanding players. And the archetypal confrontation between the Thunder's 22-year-old Kevin Durant and the Maverick's grizzled veteran, the seemingly unstoppable Dirk Nowitzki, promises still more scenery-chewing.
But beyond their individual stars and lineups, there's that intangible force of the proverbial sixth man—the ineffable but undeniable jolt that players get from a noisy fan presence in the stands. Playing on your home court in front of devoted fans who whoop it up and cheer you on while booing your opponent, creates an extra level of energy that is almost impossible to measure.
But instead of waving our hands at it, let's try to quantify it. As part of our ongoing study of the geography of sport, that's just what my MPI colleagues Patrick Adler, Charlotta Mellander, and I have been doing. Poring over statistics on wins, losses, and attendance, we've looked at series of conventional measures and tried our hand at developing some new ones that might offer a better gauge of fan devotion—and that will allow us to zero in on which teams have the most devoted fan bases and which either reward or punish their fans' loyalty. The maps below prepared under the steady hand of the MPI's Zara Matheson plot these metrics for the NBA's 30 franchise cities.