Data Analytics Program

Union Student in the Final Round of NBA Hackathon

Publication Date

This September, senior Economics major, Robert Harrington, participated in the final round of 2019 NBA Hackathon. I asked Rob to share his experience with our readers.

TD: What is the NBA Hackathon?

Rob: The NBA Hackathon is a data analytics competition that the National Basketball Association hosts annually. Participation is limited to undergraduate and graduate students who qualify through a competitive two-stage application process. Students who advance through the first two stages are invited to compete in the final round at NBA Headquarters. In the final round, the NBA provides competitors with real basketball and business data, and asks them to use the data to design projects aimed at solving challenges the league faces. Competitors present their work to a panel of judges, and the best projects are ultimately recognized as winners.

TD: How did you advance to the final round?

Rob: For the business track’s first round, applicants had to predict social media engagement based on a sample data set. My predictions exceeded a specific mean absolute percentage error threshold, which allowed me to advance to the second round. I was then assigned to a team with three other applicants who applied as individuals, and we prepared a research proposal that earned us entry to the finals.

TD: What tools did you use during the hackathon?

Rob: My team mostly used R and python.

TD: (Longingly) Did you get to keep the data?

Rob: Unfortunately, we were not allowed to keep the data. But we were given ample time to become familiar with it during the event.

TD: What was the best part of the experience?

Rob: There was a wonderful duality about the event’s atmosphere: the competition was as serious as it was fun. Before the start of the competition, we also had an opportunity to network with NBA and team employees. I enjoyed talking to them and learning about the different ways data analysis is used in the NBA. Becoming acquainted with my competitors during the day was similarly enjoyable.

TD: What advice would you give to students wanting to compete in next year’s competition?

Rob: Afford yourself the opportunity to do so: Apply. Beyond that, I applied as an individual, but most teams applied as groups. If you can, I recommend applying with a group of your friends or classmates. Knowing your teammates is just as important as knowing the data wrangling and analytical techniques you’ll use.

TD: Congratulations, and thank you for sharing!