What is the Key to LeBron James Phenomenal Performance?

And the answer is his superior memory. Sally Jenkins captured this in her article, “How is LeBron James always one move ahead? Let’s ask the scientists” in the 18 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. She begins, “Much as his brute-strength shoulders and legs define LeBron James, it’s the stuff in his head that elevates him.”

Ms. Jenkins continues, “Much has been made of James show-offy display of memory in his postgame analysis of Game 1. Replay it and notice not just the accuracy but the detail: in narrating six sequences in proper order, he noted the time on the shot clock, who took each shot and missed what, where the ball was inbounded from, and Jayson Tatum’s use of a Euro-step and right hand on a layup. When he was done, listeners broke into applause.

Zach Hambrick, a cognition-performance expert at Michigan State said, “It’s remarkable, but not surprising.” It is not surprising because there is a strong connection between cognitive science and human performance. Hambrick said, “This is one of the bedrock findings in research on human expertise: that experts have superior memory for information within their domain.”

Research has shown what seems to be “photographic memory” is really extrapolation based on habit-worn paths of knowledge, the vestiges and traces left in the brain by experience.

Adriaan de Groot conducted a famous study of chess players in the 1960s. Pieces were shown on a board for five seconds and then removed. The players were asked to recall what they had seen. Novices remembered poorly. The more expert the players, the more pieces they could recall, and the locations of the pieces. An important point in this study, which is frequently not mentioned, is that the superior recall of the experts only occurred when they pieces on the board were placed in a meaningful manner as would be found in a game between experts. If pieces were arranged in a random, nonsensical manner, the masters’ performance differed little from the novices. If so arranged in a meaningful manner, grandmasters could recall virtually everything.

Masters of games don’t just build static memories, but have a remarkable ability to intuit. Ms. Jenkins writes, “James’s anticipation is inseparable from his memory. Ericsson cited a study of elite soccer players where they were shown a game and the screen was halted at an unpredictable point. The best players remembered not only who was where but also predicted where they would go next.

Ms. Jenkins writes, “Think about the processes involved as James scans the court while moving down the floor. The optic nerves absorb and transmit small peripheral details, then shift to a sudden zoom focus as he throws a glancing no-look bounce pass that hits Kevin Love in the hands mid-stride. Then his attention broadens again stereoscopically to capture the whole floor. The cognitive flexibility to go in and out of those states fluidly is highly learned. And yet little short of magic.”

In 2014 researchers John O’Keefe, Maybritt Moser, and Edvard Moser won the Nobel Prize for explaining how the brain navigates. They answered the questions: How do we perceive position, know where we are, find the way home? O’Keefe found a specific cell in the hippocampus that throws off a signal to mark a specific place. The Mosers found that neurons in the entorhinal cortex fire in fields with regularity. When they drew lines corresponding to the neuronal activity they saw a grid. So LeBron James has a geometric projection in his brain that acts as a computation coordinate system. And so do we, but LeBron makes a much more effective use of this system.

There still is the question as to how James’s brain discriminates among multiple similar memories. Andre Fenton has published a possible answer to this question in the journal “Neuron.” The answer is that the “place” signaling is not so much a constant remapping. Actually it is highly synchronized. Think of the neurons in James’s head as birds. Starlings, “Like a flock of starling that takes on different formations while still maintaining cohesion as a flock,” Fenton said. “He’s not recording like a videotape. He’s not rebuilding. He doesn’t rebuild a picture of what is going on. He watches it evolve continuously and fluidly. There is a flock, and it’s moving down the court, and everybody has a place. All these birds form a structure, and the structure is important. We call it a flock. He calls it a play.”

Fenton says that this is actually what all human beings do. HM would add that this is also what many infra human species do. Our brains learn a series of models over our lives and is constantly making predictions.

Phenoms like James are masters of assessing the likelihoods of things. With an amazingly good set of models and expectations—of opponents, of teammates and of how the ball will move, it can look like total omniscience.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: