Spot a Shot, App a Stat

Two innovations give fans fresh looks at sporting history
February 28, 2011

As Watson, the IBM computer that dominated on Jeopardy, proved, it's not accessing the Web's ocean of data that counts most, but sorting it. The same is true for fans seeking sports info, and now they have help from two new sources: Pennant, an iPad app that bears a trove of MLB history, and an interactive online chart, from, of the greatest NBA shots.

Pennant is the creation of Steve Varga, who began work on the app a year ago—before the iPad's release—as his master's thesis at Parsons design school in New York City. (His app, out this month, sells for $4.99.) Culling data from the online repositories Retrosheet and Baseball DataBank, Pennant lets users click, sort and scroll through six decades of data ranging from play-by-play to lineups to standings. Statistics "can be esoteric," Varga says. "The idea was to put the data in people's hands." Thus the presentation is key: intricate yet intuitive layers of color-coded, team-specific bars and easy-to-read charts that make it fun to sort through a maze of stats.

Brothers Jason and Matt Bailey, the cocreators of Hoopism got the inspiration for what they termed their "Valentine's Day gift for hoops fans" from a poster in a New Hampshire bar documenting famous shots in Celtics history. They expanded the scope to the whole NBA, then added streaming video. They also sought suggestions from basketball bloggers to plot 65 classic buckets—from Jerry West's 1970 Finals heave to Michael Jordan's shifting Finals layup in '91—on a full-court layout. Clicking a dot opens a YouTube clip. Says Matt, "One of the cool comments that came back was that real fans can look at the court and know what the video's gonna be."

Both new ventures stem from an uncommon intersection of passions. "We're sports nerds," explains Jason Bailey, "but I'm also a design nerd and Matt's a programmer nerd." The results have resonated beyond the limited crossover between those communities: went from drawing 50,000 visitors in three months to attracting a quarter million in the past three weeks, while Varga's app has garnered ink from Wired and Gizmodo. But those numbers aren't what drive the three designers. Says Varga, echoing the Baileys, "The main reason I create projects is because it's something I want to use."

PHOTOWWW.PENNANT.CC (PENNANT DIAGRAM)IT'S TOUCH AND GO Hoopism (above) puts Jordan's spectacular scoop on the map, while Pennant (top) goes deep. PHOTOANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (JORDAN)[See caption above] PHOTOHOOPISM.COM (COURT DIAGRAM)[See caption above]