2328: Space Basketball
Title text: My shooting will improve over the short term, but over the long term the universe will take more shots.
| This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a METEORIC BASKETBALL. Should discuss expected time to make 30 shots in a row at 30% (and other percentages), odds of meteorite impact, possibly a chart of expected rate of learning for someone Randall's age with reasonable persistence, and maybe NBA Jam and Space Jam. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.|
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.
Randall wishes to play basketball against outer space, hence the title Space Basketball. (His previous attempt at creating a "New Sports System" for multiplayer socially-distant basketball was not very successful.) His goal is to make thirty baskets in a row before the universe puts a meteor through his hoop.
It should be noted that while may be technically correct to call the falling space object in this case a "meteor", when it hits the ground moments later it would be known as a meteorite. See also Terminology section below. See also 1405: Meteor, for what Randall's thoughts are on this.
Randall estimates that his success rate at free-throw shooting is approximately 30%. Therefore, the chances of Cueball making 30 shots in a row is (0.3)^30, or about 1 in five quadrillion (2×10^-16); for comparison, there are approximately 150 quadrillion seconds remaining before the Sun engulfs the earth (5 billion years), so if Randall has a chute set up under the basket and enough basketballs to sustain a constant high rate of shooting, he has "decent" odds of achieving his goal before the Sun burns out. But really, Randall has comparably rapid learning at this task, whereas asteroids have extreme persistence far beyond Randall's life, so when he says the odds are comparable he is abstractly weighing his unique skillset against that of small stellar bodies. Still, the lifetime odds of being killed by a meteorite have been estimated at 1 in 75,000 or 600,000 or 700,000 . These calculations are usually based on the probability of being alive at a time when a huge impact kills billions of people. Randall just uses the chance of one meteorite shot on Earth hitting this hoop (hoop-area / Earth-area = 3.2×10^-16) which is in the same range as (0.3)^30. Actual meteorite fall statistics report an average of 1.2 meteorites per year hitting the European continent which suggests that the average probability of Cueball winning after each shot attempt is about equivalent to a meteorite passing through the hoop over the period of 10 hours. Therefore Cueball has a better chance of winning than the universe "on the short term" if he makes more than 840 free-shot attempts per year for the rest of his life. The expected time for the universe to actually "complete" the challenge would be in the range of 8 billion years, the same magnitude to the current age of the universe and longer than the estimated remaining lifetime of the solar system.
In the title text, Randall assumes that he would get better at free throwing shooting with practice in his lifetime ("the short term"). Some of the world's best basketball players have free-throw percentages over 90%, and even professional players with reputations of being "poor" free-throw shooters (e.g. Shaquille O'Neal) are above 50%. If Randall can improve his percentage to 50%, his odds of sinking thirty baskets in a row improve to "nearly" one-in-a-billion, while a member of the elite 50–40–90 club would have a probability better than four percent of making thirty free-throws in a row. Some specialists have achieved much higher success rates, with the record for most consecutive baskets being held by Tom Amberry with 2,750. The NBA regular season record is 97 FTs in a row, set by Micheal Williams in 1993 (during the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons).
However, he acknowledges that in "the long term" (the life of the universe, or at least the Earth), the Earth will be hit by very many meteorites; even though it is more likely that Randall will make his thirty free-throws before a meteor passes through his basket, he does not possess the cosmic lifespan required to surmount the odds against him and actually have a good probability to witness either event.
A piece of space debris falling through the atmosphere is a meteor. A piece of space debris that makes it all the way to the surface of the Earth (or any planet) is a meteorite. Most meteors burn up completely and do not become meteorites.
The concept of a meteor passing through a basketball hoop, ten feet or less from hitting the ground, is so uncommonly discussed that the terminology could be a matter of some debate. Unless it is very large, a meteor this close to the ground will have slowed to terminal velocity and will no longer be burning up; it will therefore not be incandescing like a conventional meteor, and it is certain that it will become an actual meteorite within just a moment.
(Any meteor still incandescing within 10 feet of the ground, on the other hand, would presumably destroy both the basketball hoop and any nearby observer, meaning that poor Cueball, if still shooting, would lose the game in a much bigger way.)
Many scientifically-aware people have the habit of correcting "meteor" to "meteorite," so it may be safest to use the latter term among nerds other than Randall, or you could out-nerd them by pedantically pointing out a reason to still call it a meteor.
- [Cueball, holding a basketball in front of him in both hands, is looking up at the basketball hoop in front of him. The hoop is on a standard board, but at the foot of the rod holding the hoop, there seems to be growing grass up, indicating it is outside.]
- Cueball: Okay, here are the rules:
- Cueball: I have to make 30 shots in a row before a meteor falls through the hoop.
- Cueball: I'm a 30% free throw shooter so the odds are actually pretty even.
- Cueball: Ready...Go!
- [Caption below panel:]
- My hobby: playing basketball against space
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