An empirical approach to wildlife and athletics that digs deeper than superficial questions like “Does a bear shit in the woods?”
I only really care about basketball two times a year: in June during the NBA playoffs and the first couple of days of March Madness, though I only care about the latter because it offers me an excuse to get way too competitive with my friends and family (an opportunity I will never pass up). As you may know, today marks the start of one of those periods. To commemorate another year of overly athletic underage athletes participating in the greatest tournament in world history, I have decided to completely ignore them and focus on a research question that has been kicking around in the back of my mind for some time now… Could LeBron James guard a bear?
Now, the specifics of this inquiry get a little complicated. What kind of bear is it? Can it use its claws and/or teeth? Where are they playing? The forest or Quicken Loans Arena? Is the bear a post-presence or a shooter? Is the bear signed to an NBA contract? Don’t worry, I have considered these issues and come up with some suitable answers that should satisfy the ethics of scientific minds. Of course this will all be done through theory and speculation, because an IRB somehow deemed it “ridiculous” to have LeBron actually try and prevent a bear from scoring.
Here’s what I am thinking: The bear is a grizzly bear. I desperately wanted to use a black bear, because Jim Halpert and Dwight Shrute determined that was the “best” bear, but black bears are only like four to five feet tall when standing on their back legs. Thus, it would be far too easy for LeBron to guard such a little mammal. Seriously, I think I could guard a black bear and I am maybe 5 feet 11 inches and weigh 150 pounds. HOWEVER, a grizzly bear can get to almost 7-feet tall and weigh anywhere from 250 to 600 pounds. This makes for a better match up, because LeBron is 6 feet 8 inches and weighs between 250 and 270 pounds and he is also an intelligent human being. Basically, we get see all brawn and instinct go up against the most perfect combination of brain and brawn humankind has ever produced. I’m actually excited just thinking about it. For logistical purposes, let’s say the bear is also 6 foot 8 inches and weighs 500 pounds.
Next question: Can the bear use its claws and/or teeth? Hell no. LeBron isn’t guarding an oversized Luis Suarez. He is guarding a gentleman of a bear. This bear is vaguely aware of the rules and regulations of modern NBA basketball and is well aware of how awesome LeBron is. This bear doesn’t even want to slash, bite or maim LeBron. It just wants to score on him. This is a respectable endeavor for a bear.
Now, where are they playing? I love the idea of LeBron flying up to Alaska and throwing down some one-on-one with a bear in frigid temps for a few days. I like to think that they would play nonstop until one of them passes out and dies. Afterwards, the winner would carry the corpse of the vanquished out of the forest and ceremonially bury them in a display of respect. Unfortunately, they are just gonna play in Quicken Loans Arena because it is easier to regulate. These two are playing by NBA rules and have hired a team of refs to officiate their battle. Sad, I know. At least we can imagine the bear doing wind sprints to warm up in a cool pair of Jordans.
Is the bear a post-presence or a shooter? I don’t want a Steph Curry bear. I want a Shaq bear. Give me a Shaq bear every time. This bear works the paint and has limited-to-moderate regard for human life. (See two paragraphs above.)
Is the bear signed to an NBA contract? Yes, the Lakers are so desperate to tank right now that they could conceivably put pen to paper and sign an actual bear just in an effort to fill seats. The bear is on a one-year contract and is probably making just over the minimum NBA salary. Ballpark estimate, the bear is making $600k. Not bad.
Well, that should do it. Let’s get to the speculation.
Starting with the inherent differences in strength between the two subjects, we need to concede the fact that a grizzly bear is probably stronger than LeBron James. There was a National Geographic story that featured a bear casually fucking around with a 700-pound dumpster. Cool, right? It took like three strong humans to move that dumpster as far as one bear did. Admittedly, the Nat Geo grizzly was huge. He was 800 pound and over seven-feet tall on his hind legs. Our fake bear would be a little weaker, but still would outdo LeBron. Based purely off my ability to size people up, LeBron would equal about 1.5 of the dudes trying push the dumpster. Basketball Bear would be about 2.0. Furthermore, the bear pushing the dumpster was using his fore legs to do so, meaning LeBron is up against some serious upper body strength. Not to mention the bear’s hind legs are even stronger, so LeBron is probably gonna get tossed around if he tries to body this thing and hold position. Sorry, LeBron.
So, LeBron is naturally weaker than a bear. He’s also a lot slower. Apparently, grizzly bears can run up to 40 mph. How the hell is that possible? No one looks at a bear and thinks, “Yep, that thing is fast as fuck.” Yet, despite my writing this think piece, I really am not an expert on bears, so I understand that I am missing something. But, 40 mph? Really? Yeah. Watch this video.
Good. You’ve watched the video and now understand that LeBron James is slower than Basketball Bear. This is a good thing to know outside of this thought exercise, for survival skills or whatever, but it is an absolutely crucial thing to know within it. Basically, if LeBron is running back to get on defense while the bear has the ball, the Cavs are giving up two points. Though, I guess in theory the bear could try to pull up for a three. This would be unwise, as we have established it is a Shaq bear and not a Steph bear. (God, the concept of a Steph Curry bear is irrationally offensive to me.)
Fast breaking bears aside, we are more concerned about whether or not LeBron could guard a grizzly in the paint. So far we have established that the bear is stronger and faster than LeBron. These are two important traits for both basketball players and bears. Fortunately for LeBron, bears are very uncoordinated and basketball is a sport that requires a lot of coordination, whereas being a bear requires very little. Basketball Bear’s lack of coordination is really only a problem under the hoop. Even if it is able to body LeBron down into ideal layup position, it still has to twist around and get its arms up fast enough to get a decent shot off. I don’t see this happening. LeBron is too fast of a defender to not get his hand on the ball before the bear puts up his shot. If Basketball Bear were up against James Harden, he would certainly score. Likely because Harden would be neglecting to cover the bear. In fact, Harden would probably be talking to the ref about the bear being in the game. They would have their chat, in which Harden would voice his displeasure about playing basketball with a grizzly and then the ref would go talk to the grizzly to inform him of what was going on. Here is how this conversation would go:
Ref: Hey, large bear, I just got to let you know that some of the guys aren’t too keen about having you in the game.
Large Bear: *Growls* (TRANSLATION: I know, but every day I rise and grind just like them. I can’t let the haters get to me. This is what I am supposed to do. I was born to be a subject in a basketball based thought project.)
Ref: Right, but I mean you’re making people uncomfortable. Maybe clip the claws or something. You look downright terrifying.
Large Bear: *Roars* (TRANSLATION: Hey, man I am only as God made me. I love myself and I love the way I look.)
Ref: I get that and I respect it. But, you just snarled at a 240 lb man and he shit his pants.
Large Bear: *Cocky Snort* (TRANSLATION: Good. Fuck the haters. I’ll put them on their backs all day.)
Ref: I’m just saying be a little more polite…
At this point, I imagine the bear would either eat the ref or storm off and start looking for garbage. Let’s take the time to remember that he is still a bear.
Anywho, let’s not take this too far. I can pretty confidently say that LeBron could “guard” a grizzly bear and limit its productivity inside the paint. But, let’s use some math to try and see how well he could guard the bear. In this scenario, we are going to give the bear ten opportunities to score on LeBron James. Let’s figure out how many times the bear gets the ball in the basket.
To do this, we can rely on our previously established conditions. The bear is faster and stronger. LeBron is smarter and much more coordinated. We also can add some new conditions. Let’s account for wingspan, jumping ability and LeBron’s defensive efficiency. Afterwards, we’ll conduct a binomial distribution and run a simulation based on its results. We’ll then average out the simulation scores and see what this bear can do against LeBron James.
LeBron’s wingspan is seven-feet long. That is a long wingspan. It helps explain why he is good at basketball. The bear’s wingspan is, at best, six-feet long. In fact, it’s probably less for Basketball Bear. Let’s settle on 5 feet 10 inches. As much as I want this bear to be able to score at least three baskets on LeBron James, I’m pretty certain a lack of wingspan is going to ruin its chances. This is a real bummer, but we can’t give up now.
Can bears jump? After doing a concerning amount of research on this, I have concluded that a bear can not jump for shit. This bear’s vertical may only be about half-of-a-foot. What a bummer. Things are looking pretty awful for this bear. With a small vertical, this bear will have to actually try and toss the ball into the hoop about one-and-a-half to two feet over its outstretched arms. Luckily, this is possible. Check out this clip of a family watching a bear pick up huge rocks and toss them around. This will give you an idea of how strong the bear is and how uncoordinated it is as well. Fortunately, the rocks the bear was throwing weigh way more than a basketball, so a bear could conceivably lob a ball at the hoop. Thank God. I was getting worried for this bear.
Now, LeBron is a good defender. He averages .8 blocks and 1.7 steals a game. He is pretty efficient against big men and is even better against smaller players. These stats are against professional athletes, not bears. It’s pretty safe to say that he would stuff, swat or block the bear’s attempts at least three times out of the bear’s ten chances. We’re not going to worry about steals, because the bear doesn’t need to worry about dribbling. These things are so uncoordinated that I think it would be rude of us to make the bear dribble as it backs LeBron down. Seriously, bears are not the most nimble things God ever made.
Taking all this into account, we gave the bear a 17% chance of scoring on LeBron James. The binomial distribution gave the animal a range from 12% to 25%. This is such a huge range, that it made me actually angry at the field of statistics. Math and I have always held a tenuous relationship, but when math starts providing a weak answer to a bear’s paint production… Well, I more or less lose my shit.
As you could probably tell, I outsourced the math work to my nerd friends who enjoy that stuff. They ran the binomial distribution and quantified the bear’s athletic prowess. Then they ran the simulation one thousand times. Guess what the bear’s average was – actually guess. I’ll give you the answer in the next paragraph, but take a moment to guess how many times the bear scored on LeBron Fucking James.
The bear would be lucky to get a basket to drop on the King. LeBron James is evidently so damn good at basketball that he could guard a bear so well, that it would be lucky to put up two points on him. I mean, this makes sense, but it makes me pretty angry.
Well, I’ll admit it. I am pretty disheartened. I wanted this bear to be able to perform at a respectable level against the most respectable athlete alive. But, no, apparently we cannot have nice things in this world any more. At this point I have written over two thousand words dedicated to a bear’s basketball potential and all I have to show for it is that a bear may score on LeBron once in ten tries. Man, math sucks. I’m sure we ran the simulation wrong, but I don’t know if I could handle any further heartbreak. I guess I can be happy that I gave you the image of a bear doing wind sprints in Jordans. But, honestly, what use is that? Wind Sprint Bear can’t do anything against LeBron James. Man, math is the worst.
Contributing Nerd Friends: