Are U.S. roads deadly during the NBA finals? (2018 Study)

Dangerous roads during the NBA Finals are not uncommon. There are increases in fatal car accidents in the losing and winning team's home state on Finals game days.

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Zaneta Wood, Ed.S. has over 15 years of experience in research and technical writing bringing a keen understanding of data analysis and information synthesis to reach a wide variety of audiences. She studied adult education and instructional technology at Appalachian State University as well as technical and professional communication at East Carolina University. Zaneta has prepared technical p...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP®

UPDATED: Sep 15, 2020

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Here's what you need to know...

Since the birth of the NBA in 1946, the game has been a slam dunk with fans.

As of May 13th 2018, Facebook alone already had 33.93 million fans following the NBA.

But it isn’t all fun and games in basketball.

“Injuries to rotation players in the playoffs have almost doubled in two decades, from 34 in 1996 to 61 in 2016.” – ESPN

Unfortunately, injuries on the court are far from the end of it.

Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach’s wife, Ingrid Williams, was killed in 2016 when a driver crossed the center line and struck her SUV. And, on January 31, 2018, an NBA favorite, Rasual Butler, and his wife, Leah LaBelle, died on the scene from a crash caused by speeding . . . just to name a few.

Thousands of occurrences like these lead us to ask: Is the NBA more dangerous for players on the court or the general public on the roads?

10 Facts About Fatal Car Crashes During the NBA Finals

Click here for our methodology

The dedicated team of researchers at closely examine our nation’s roadways and constantly work to determine fatal trends. Our 25,000 data point case study is the very first to dissect the dangers the NBA finals inflict on American roads.

It’s clear the problem doesn’t end with an increase in playoff injuries. NBA games, especially the finals, correlate with an increase in alcohol consumption, state-wide traffic, and fatal car crashes.

#1 – The Game Day With the MOST Fatal Crashes: Winning State

Game and Year: Game 3 (2011)
Winning Team: Dallas Mavericks
Fatal Crashes in Home State: 16
Difference from Daily Average: +109.32 percent

On Sunday, June 5, 2011, during game three of the NBA finals, the Miami Heat stole the Dallas Mavericks’ home-court advantage right from under them with a “nail-biting win” by just two points.

Dallas’ game three loss was nothing compared to the loss Texas suffered on its roadways that day.

Sixteen fatal traffic accidents occurred in the Mavericks’ home state, which was a 109.32 percent increase compared to Texas’ annual fatal crash average.

The Mavericks went on to win the Larry O’Brien trophy on game six in Florida that year, but all the lives lost on that deadliest playoff day can never be won back.

#2 – The Game Day With the MOST Fatal Crashes: Losing State

Game and Year: Game 6 (2016)
Losing Team: Golden State Warriors
Fatal Crashes in Home State: 15
Difference from Daily Average: +63.54 percent

It was a Thursday night, June 6, 2016, when the Golden State Warriors visited the Cleveland Cavaliers’ home court and lost the battle with a final score of 115 to 101.

The scoring leaders for the Cavaliers, LeBron James (41 points) and Kyrie Irving (23 points), sent the Warriors home to pack for game seven in Cali.

That same day, there were 15 fatal car crashes in the Warriors’ home state, a 63.54 percent increase from California’s daily crash average.

The Warriors lost game three, five, six, and finally game seven three days later, but their greatest loss of the series was all the moms, dads, sons, and daughters who died in traffic accidents on the Golden State’s roads.

#3 – The Game Day With the LEAST Fatal Crashes: Winning State

Game and Year: Game 3 (2013)
Winning Team: Miami Heat
Fatal Crashes in Home State: 0
Difference from Daily Average: -100 percent

Game three and the Miami Heat are together again, but unlike in point #1, this time it’s a good thing.

The Spurs didn’t just win that game three on Tuesday, June 11, 2013 . . . they set records.

“It was the third-largest margin of victory in NBA Finals history. The Spurs’ 16 three-pointers set a record for the most in a finals contest.” – SB Nation

Despite Miami’s embarrassing loss by 36 points that night, its home state achieved a major victory.

That Tuesday the entire state of Florida had ZERO fatal car crashes even though the statewide annual fatal crash average in 2013 was 6.09 daily crashes resulting in deaths.

Game three of 2013 was also the only NBA playoff game day since 2010 for a winning state to not have any fatal crashes in its home state.

Miami also went on to win game four, six, seven, and ultimately the championship title that year.

#4 – The Game Day With the LEAST Fatal Crashes: Losing State

Game and Year: Game 4 (2012)
Losing Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
Fatal Crashes in Home State: 0
Difference from Daily Average: -100 percent

Out of the 43 playoff game days beginning in 2010, game four played on June 19, 2012, when Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Miami Heat was by far the least deadly.

On 2012’s NBA final game day four, there were not only zero fatal crashes in the losing team’s home state, but there was also the lowest number of fatal crashes combined for the winning and losing teams’ states with just two that entire day.

This game day had a rather impressive drop in fatal crashes in the winning and losing teams’ home states — a combined 167.51 percent decrease.

Now if only every state could lose the finals on the court without losing lives on the roads like Oklahoma did that day.

#5 – U.S. Roads During the NBA Finals

Do more fatal crashes occur during the NBA playoffs? Undeniably, yes.

Our intricate study of fatal crashes over the past seven years, determined there is a 4.7 percent jump in motor vehicle accidents resulting in deaths during the NBA playoff series.

Keep in mind, that seemingly small percent increase means a drastic increase in actual lives lost.

On average, every day during the playoff series four more deadly crashes occurred than normally would. During the NBA playoff series from 2010 to 2016, there were 142,438 car accidents in America resulting in deaths.

Fatal vehicle collisions often kill more than just one person. Just think about all the lives lost in those 142,438 horrific crashes. That 4.7 percent overall increase is no little thing.

#6 – The MOST Deadly Day During the NBA Finals

Game two of 2015 was the deadliest NBA final game day since 2010 with a total of 135 fatal crashes in just 24 hours.

Played on June 7, 2015, game two had more fatal traffic accidents than any other day during an NBA final series and a combined 94.23 percent increase in fatal car crashes in the winning and losing teams’ home states.

Although they ended up losing four out of six games, on game two the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors and earned their first-ever NBA finals game victory.

That night also meant another first: The first time in NBA finals history that both game one and two ended in overtime.

Our study concludes that all the suspense and excitement over the game at the Oracle Arena resulted in treacherous roads across our nation.

#7 – The LEAST Deadly Day During the NBA Finals

Out of the 93 days during the NBA finals beginning in 2010 (including the day before the series, off days between games, and the day after the championship) the one day with the least fatal car crashes was not a game day, which further proves how deadly playoff games truly are for U.S. roads.

On Monday, June 18th of 2012, the day between games three and four, there were 57 fatal car crashes in America—27.7 less deadly crashes than the national daily average.

With raised awareness of the impact American sports championships have on our public roadways, the team here at hopes that next year our study will be able to report on actual game days that show decreases in fatal car accidents.

#8 – Fatal Crash Rates During the NBA Finals

Below are the seven-year averages for both the winning and losing teams’ home states during the NBA playoff series compared to their typical daily fatal crash average.

– Winning Team’s State:

  • Day Before – down 6.2 percent
  • Game 1 – down 2 percent
  • Gap 1 – down 12.6 percent
  • Game 2 – up 0.2 percent
  • Gap 2 – down 19 percent
  • Game 3 – down 4.1 percent
  • Gap 3 – down 23.3 percent
  • Game 4 – down 21.1 percent
  • Gap 4 – up 19.3 percent
  • Game 5 – up 42.8 percent
  • Gap 5 – up 34.3 percent
  • Game 6 – down 3.2 percent
  • Gap 6 –  down 55.8 percent
  • Game 7 – up 1.1 percent
  • Day After – up 6.6 percent

– Losing Team’s State:

  • Day Before – down 15.4 percent
  • Game 1 – up 1.5 percent
  • Gap 1 – up 24.1 percent
  • Game 2 – up 1.5 percent
  • Gap 2 – down 38 percent
  • Game 3 – down 1.3 percent
  • Gap 3 – up 1.5 percent
  • Game 4 – up 1.5 percent
  • Gap 4 – down 6.9 percent
  • Game 5 – up 12.8 percent
  • Gap 5 – down 12.1 percent
  • Game 6 – up 20.9 percent
  • Gap 6 – down 29.4 percent
  • Game 7 – up 24.8 percent
  • Day After – up 1.5 percent

Game two, five, and seven had increases in fatal traffic accidents in both the winning and losing teams’ home states over the seven years.

The most significant combined increase our study uncovered was game seven’s shocking 55.6 percent jump in collisions resulting in deaths.

The crash data clearly demonstrates that the NBA finals cause dramatic increases in fatal car crashes, especially in the states home to the losing teams. On average since 2010, every game day had an increase in deadly crashes (except game three) in the losing team’s home state.

Over the past seven NBA playoff series, game five was the deadliest for the winning team’s state with a 42.8 percent increase, and game seven was the deadliest for the losing team’s home state with a 24.8 percent increase in fatal car crashes.

#9 – Fatal Crash Trends During the NBA Finals

As you can see in red above, the losing team’s state has more increases in fatal car crashes than the winning team’s state.

Science can help explain why this is the case.

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute conducted a study on over 3,500 participants across a three-year period and concluded that drivers who are mad, sad, or “emotionally agitated” are ten times more likely to get in a car accident.

The fatal crash data proves that all it takes for these hazardous emotions to be triggered is something as seemingly insignificant as a basketball team’s performance in the playoffs.

The emotions don’t have to be negative to be detrimental behind the wheel.

“Excessive emotions result in clouded thinking which leads to poor decision-making.” – PsycholoGenie

Although not as frequent, the winning team’s state had the largest increases in fatal crashes during the NBA finals including a staggering 55.8 percent jump on the day between games five and six—when that championship title starts to feel within reach.

#10 – Safety During the NBA Finals

This study shows that it doesn’t take much for there to be a spike in fatal car crashes.

Here are tips to help improve your driving:

  • Focus Fully – don’t drive while distracted or emotional
  • Practice Defense – be aware of your surroundings and follow the three-second spacing rule
  • Plan Ahead – have your seat and mirrors adjusted and your navigation device set before driving
  • Be Wise – keep distractions (phone!) out of reach, wear your seatbelt, and ALWAYS drive sober

The scary truth is that many of the dangers you will face behind the wheel are out of your control, such as inclement weather.

Usually, the NBA finals are over before summer begins. Be prepared for the hazards spring can throw your way.

Remember, just one mistake — one split-second decision — can mean saying goodbye to a loved one or walking away with a lifelong injury.

“You have to be able to accept failure to get better” – LeBron James

Our Play-by-Play

  • This article is a result of an in-depth study of seven years of NHTSA fatal crash reports.
  • Our team of analysts compiled nearly 25,000 data points of deadly accidents that occurred on the roads during the NBA playoff series.
  • To allow for the study of the complete trend for 2010 to 2016, our intricate data includes the days just before and after the NBA finals, days off in between games, and all the game days.
  • The most deadly and least deadly game days were determined by comparing the fatal crash data for that exact day to the U.S. fatal crash annual average and that state’s fatal crash annual average.
  • When looking at the NBA finals over the course of seven years, percent differences were determined by averaging the fatal crash totals and comparing those to the U.S. and state annual crash averages for those years.

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Complete Rankings: Fatal Crashes During the NBA Finals

– To sort the table by category, click on header columns.

– Click here for the full stats and sources for each category. For all media inquiries, please email: Josh Barnes

Day After785.4087714.30%5.105.10
Day Before785.4083628.60%4.305.10
Entire Series785.4089649.50%5.105.20
Game 1785.4081657.10%5.105.10
Game 2785.4097671.40%5.105.10
Game 3785.4082642.90%5.005.10
Game 4785.4085528.60%5.105.10
Game 5785.4098957.10%5.705.10
Game 6585.4080620.00%6.605.50
Game 7385.4088533.30%7.706.10
Gap 1785.40101585.70%6.305.10
Gap 2785.4082542.90%3.105.10
Gap 3785.4075514.30%5.105.10
Gap 4785.4099800.00%4.705.10
Gap 5585.4089860.00%4.805.50
Gap 6385.4081233.30%4.306.10
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