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Asymmetric Penalties for the Double Technical—A Commentary by Ian Ayres ’86

The following commentary was posted on newyorktimes.com on June 7, 2010.

Asymmetric Penalties for the Double Technical
By Ian Ayres ’86

In Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner pointed out that asymmetries in payoffs could lead to collusion in sumo wrestling. But in the current NBA Finals, there is a different kind of asymmetry in payoffs that should lead the Lakers to try to have their own players called for technical fouls. Specifically, the Lakers should try to instigate double technical fouls.

I have been a bit surprised that Lakers coach Phil Jackson hasn’t had his center, Andrew Bynum, try to get in the face of Celtics center Kendrick Perkins and start a clenching and shoving match.

Double technicals are routinely awarded to both players involved in such an altercation early in a game, regardless of who instigated the altercation. (An example occurred in the first game when the refs called double techicals on Ron Artest and Paul Pierce.)

Double technicals for Bynum and Perkins would be disproportionately costly for the Celtics because:

Celtics center Kendrick Perkins is on the threshold of a one-game suspension after accruing six technicals — five of which are of the double-technical variety (two opposing players being called for technicals on the same play) . . .

The same tactic might also pay Laker dividends with respect to the Celtics bigs, Rasheed Wallace (who now has five technicals) and Kevin Garnett (who has four). It’s not impossible to believe that with a little Laker help, these Celtics could be double-T’d into suspension.

In the second game, the referees in one sequence showed a reluctance to call double technicals involving Perkins. Still the instigation strategy seems like a risk worth taking. At worst, one of the Lakers would be called for a solo T and the Celtics would get to shoot a free throw. A 50% chance of that bad outcome might be worth a 50% chance of a suspension for the Celtics center.

The rationality of trying to get technical fouls called on your own team is an example of what Steve Salop and David Sheffman call “raising rivals’ costs.” Sometimes it makes sense to increase your own cost of production, if you can raise the cost of your rival’s even more.