The “Hot Hand” Myth in Professional Basketball

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology

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Jonathan J. KoehlerUniversity of Texas

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Caryn A. ConleyNew York University

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The “hot hand” describes the belief that the performance of an athlete, typically a basketball player, temporarily improves following a string of successes. Although some earlier research failed to detect a hot hand, these studies are often criticized for using inappropriate settings and measures. The present study was designed with these criticisms in mind. It offers new evidence in a unique setting, the NBA Long Distance Shootout contest, using various measures. Traditional sequential dependency runs analyses, individual level analyses, and an analysis of spontaneous outbursts by contest announcers about players who are “on fire” fail to reveal evidence of a hot hand. We conclude that declarations of hotness in basketball are best viewed as historical commentary rather than as prophecy about future performance.

Jonathan J. Koehler is with the McCombs School of Business, Univ. of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712-1175; Caryn A. Conley is a graduate student at the Stern School of Business, New York University, New York, NY 10012-1126.

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