The Connecticut Huskies women's basketball team won 39 games straight during the 2008-09 season. In their 1971-72 season, the Los Angeles Lakers won 33 straight games.
Were these winning streaks due to hot hands, a term common in basketball where hitting a shot increases a player's ability to make the next shot, or were the victories plain fortune?
Hot hands has been a much debated aspect of sportsmanship, but research now suggests that the phenomenon may be real and not just a sport statistician's artifact.
Researchers at Yale School of Medicine analyzed over over 300,000 free throws during five regular NBA seasons between 2005 and 2010 and concluded that the hot hand exists with individual players.
In a two-shot series, players had a greater probability of hitting their second shot if their first was successful, Gur Yaari, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Pathology at Yale School of Medicine, and colleague Shmuel Eisenmann found. The study was published online Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE.
Our results set the stage for further physiological and psychological investigations of the origin of this phenomenon, said Yaari. While the example we studied came from the sporting world, the implications are much more far reaching.
The phenomenon has its supporters and doubters amid sports number crunchers. In November, Alan Reifman, a teacher at the College of Human Sciences at Texas Tech University, will release a book that breaks down the stats behind specific winning streaks.
The authors of the current study said that since the number of free throws taken by single players during a single game is low, further research is needed to verify the results.