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Anna Nicole Smith

2007 February 13
by Skip Sauer

What does Ms. Smith have to do with sports you ask? Celebrity misbehavior, argues Kevin Hassett of AEI. In an article on the Bloomberg Newswire, Hassett finds a parallel in the death of Smith, and a paper by my Clemson colleague, Todd Kendall. His paper examines the tendency of NBA players to “misbehave” – as in getting called for a technical foul on the basketball court. What are the characteristics of players who commit technical fouls at a high frequency per minute played? Here is Hassett on Kendall:

From Dennis Rodman to Lindsay Lohan to Paris Hilton, traditional boundaries of public behavior seem a thing of the past. Why do celebrities tend to be such boors? A study by Clemson University economist Todd Kendall sheds fascinating new light on the question.

Kendall considers a number of competing economic theories of boorishness. The first, the “Beautiful Mind” theory, is that people who perhaps genetically disregard norms are more likely to have a creative impact. These same people might well behave more poorly than a typical conformist.

Alternatively, it might be that high income makes an individual insensitive to the normal disciplines of society. A third possibility is that celebrities tend to be young, and youths are much more likely to indulge in destructive conduct. Finally, it might be that individuals who can’t be easily replaced tend to be the misfits.

To establish which explanation of bad behavior works best, Kendall gathered data from the National Basketball Association. Players in that league have been notorious for their rude and at times even criminal behavior. Fights on the court, brutish fouls, and even rape have been in the news in recent years. Kendall set out to discover which players behave the worst.

The NBA is a fine place to test these competing theories. Its players are young, have high incomes and guaranteed contracts. There is also significant variation in ability. Some players, like Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, have such preternaturally special skills that they fundamentally change the competitive level of their team. Others play their positions adequately, yet could be easily replaced. Do the irreplaceable stars tend to misbehave more?

You can get a copy of Todd’s paper here. The bottom line is yes, “people who know they can’t be replaced behave the worst.” Moreover, the tendency to get teed up during a basketball game is positively related to the number of arrests off the court.

Hassett’s piece has some interesting extensions of his analogy that are certainly worth reading. I’m not sure that Anna Nicole Smith’s talents were irreplaceable, but hey, she was a bad girl ;) and it’s a nice story.

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