More touching means more winning?

Should the Dallas Mavericks pull off an NBA Finals upset over Miami’s Big Three, everyone’s top two reasons will likely be: Dirk playing like Dirk, or LeBron James … not playing as well.

Researchers from Cal have another hypothesis:

… last fall, three researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, took a serious look at one of the most obvious signs of camaraderie on a team—touching.

The study, which was titled “Tactile Communication, Cooperation and Performance: An Ethological Study of the NBA,” was authored by Michael W. Kraus, Cassy Huang and Dacher Keltner. After reviewing broadcasts of games from the 2008-09 season, they concluded that good teams tend to be much more hands-on than bad ones. Teams whose players touched the most often were more cooperative, played better and won more games, they said.

The Wall Street Journal decided to use the 2011 Finals as a test case:

The results couldn’t be more definitive. The Mavericks, with 250 slaps, hugs, taps or bumps, are almost twice as touchy-feely as the Heat, who had only 134 instances of televised contact. In those three games, the Mavericks were 82% more likely to high five.

James led the Heat with a mere 41 high fives. But the touchiest Miami player might be veteran forward Juwan Howard, who averaged 38 high fives per 48 minutes, good for the highest rate on the Heat.

So there ya have it: it’s the amount of love, not talents, that may matter most in South Beach. We’ll learn more during Game Five tonight.