Palpable Momentum

Another sports inspired post … .

The game to game, quarter to quarter, and minute to minute momentum swings in the NBA’s Eastern and Western Conference Finals have been amazing. Those ten and fifteen point runs that the best basketball teams can pull off are breathtaking and awe-inspiring. And they’ve got me wondering about what momentum actually is.

It seems to me that for a team it’s a moment of harmony: A moment when each player’s mind is melded to his teammates and when each player’s mind and body are in sync.

What strikes me about momentum is how you can sense it as a force that is influencing what is happening on the court: It makes impossible shots go on, it makes sprints back on defense faster, it makes refs call close calls one way or the other.

What also strikes me is that momentum can discerned in the organized chaos of ten players doing ten different things really quickly. I think it’s rare that there’s confusion or disagreement about which team (if any) has momentum at any given moment and that knowledge is only partly related to the score. I wonder if momentum is something that we intuitively detect or a pattern we learn to see over time.