Recency Bias: Legend Killer

Throughout the history of the NBA, people have always argued about who is better than who. While this could be caused by players’ careers being similar and easily comparable, this is not the case the majority of the time. A lot of the time, NBA fans will get bored and start comparing two players, such as Michael Jordan or LeBron James. However, some fans decide to be bold and say that a certain player is better than others purely based off of what that player recently did. This thought process is called recency bias.

Growing up a basketball fan, it can be easy to say that a player you have seen play is better than one that was before your time. This is where a lot of LeBron fans come from because, like myself, they weren’t around to see Air Jordan himself play. Recency bias stems from this debate and has spread all over the NBA. Fans can also sometimes be lazy with their research, not looking up stats and just going off what they’ve seen with their own eyes.

The G.O.A.T. debate has caused a lot of recency bias to occur in the NBA. Credit: Insider

One of the most recent cases of recency bias throughout the NBA is everything that happened in the Orlando bubble. T.J. Warren had an amazing string of games in the last couple of weeks of the 2019-20 regular season. This, while smaller than others, has caused a lot of fans to use recency bias and say that he is on the same level as some All-Star level forwards such as Jimmy Butler and Khris Middleton. Another case is from Jamal Murray’s amazing play in the bubble playoffs. People have began to debate that Murray is better than star guards such as Kemba Walker, Ben Simmons, and even Russell Westbrook. As you probably know, most of the debates are stopped due to people not using stats but rather recent events to sway their argument.

Recency bias has also caused NBA fans to discredit the careers of NBA stars. Both Russell Westbrook and Paul George were traded away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2019 offseason. Obviously at the time it was unknown if the Thunder were going to benefit from these two trades, as they had just lost their two stars, even after a career best year from Paul George. Recently though, Westbrook being hurt and not performing at his best and Paul George having an atrocious playoff performance, have made fans believe that the Thunder were the clear winners of their trades. However, these events have caused some fans to discredit the careers of both All-Star level players. Paul George is now donning the nickname “Pandemic P” throughout the NBA community, making fun of his self-made “Playoff P” nickname.

Russell Westbrook is a different case than the now infamous “Pandemic P”. People are taking it one step further and completely discrediting the MVP award that Russ won in the 2016-17 season. They are arguing almost four years later that he didn’t deserve it and that it should’ve went to someone like James Harden, who was also a finalist for the award that year. The majority of these arguments, though, begin because people see how badly Westbrook was doing recently.

Recency bias has caused fans to debate about Russell Westbrook’s MVP in the 2016-17 season. Credit: ClutchPoints

Most likely, no NBA fan is going to want to watch a player that has a boring play style. One player that could be labeled “boring” is Tim Duncan. Duncan is one of, if not the best, power forwards of all time. He has five NBA championships, three Finals MVPs, two MVPs, fifteen All-Star appearances and was on multiple All-NBA and Defensive teams. While that lineup of awards is nothing short of spectacular for the now NBA Hall of Famer, people have already started to debate whether he was a better player than the recent NBA champion, Anthony Davis. Both Duncan and Davis are star players. There is no need to debate that. However, some fans are taking it a little overboard and are taking AD over Duncan in debates of their careers. This all stems back to the “boring” play style of Tim Duncan. People see the flashy, guard-like moves of Anthony Davis and immediately rule out the stats and awards that Tim Duncan retired with because he was more fundamental than flashy.

Personally, I see recency bias as a major problem in sports media. It can discredit careers of superstars and legends, it can sway someone’s opinion on the G.O.A.T. debate, and it could lead to some hilariously bad hot takes. The NBA community should take into consideration if a player is only having a few good games or if these games are the start of a career that is worthy of debate with other stars. Just remember to steer clear of these hot takes because you don’t want recency bias to cloud your opinion.

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