The Illusion of Hot Hand

I have been playing basketball nearly all my life. I also play in two teams here in Singapore and the quality of the basketball league and how good it has been organized, has been really positive surprise. Not that positive surprise has been my shooting game, which has been uneven to say at least.

I have not had “a hot hand”, like they say.

One of the common beliefs in basketball involves streak shooting: if you have made your last shot you are more likely to make your next shot. Those who have played NBA Jam in nineties, remember that the player was “on fire” after three straight shoots.

This “hot hand” is purely a myth.

Good last shot does not predict your next shot in any way. Actually you might be more likely to miss it. Numerous studies prove this point. Amos Tversky and Thomas Gilovich went through years of NBA team Philadelphia 76ers statistics. The conclusion: Every field goal attempt was its own independent event. Jay Koehler and Caryn Conley got the same result by observing NBA three-point shooting contest.

Ok, now I know the facts. Do I believe in hot hand?

You bet, I do.
(Like actually 91% of serious NBA fans)

“Hot hand” is not based on actual statistics. It is in your mind. When you have the feeling that you are “on fire”, you tend to play better. Because simple truth in basketball is: the more you shoot, the more you tend to score. Average field goal percentage in NBA is little bit below 30%. That means that even the best players in the world miss about two out of every three shots. You need to have the illusion of “hot hand” to keep yourself positive when missing all those shots.

Winning streaks do not limit only to basketball and other sports.

People try to find patterns in random events where they do not exist. I have heard from numerous ad people that when you start losing pitches they always come in three. The reality is that every pitch is its own independent event. If you feel that you are on the roll, the setbacks feel just random mishaps. And if you feel that you have “cold hand”, every loss fulfills your prophecy of losing streak. So to succeed in business, it is important to try to be in state of streak shooter and then go with that emotion. And when you encounter losses you have to remind your rational self about the statistics and just try again.

There is not anything wrong to believe in “hot hand”, just do not fall into superstition when you are not “on fire.”

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