Harry Potter and the Talents of South Beach: An Exploration of Quidditch Free Agency
Tyler Lauletta and Brian Kraker are two dudes who love NBA free agency and Harry Potter. When J.K. Rowling released a new short story about “The Boy Who Lived” at the Quidditch World Cup, these two started emailing back and forth. The following are actual emails exchanged between two supposed adults.
Brian Kraker: Harry Potter is officially on the comeback trail! J.K. Rowling has gone full Michael Jordan and is coming out of retirement (because posting short stories online is the literary equivalent of playing for the Washington Wizards). The story is written from the perspective of notorious gossip columnist Rita Skeeter, who is reporting from the Quidditch World Cup. While the short story focuses more on the personal lives of Rowling’s heroes, I’m way more interested in the competition. Maybe I’m still just caught up in actual World Cup fervor or I’ve spent too much time traversing the wormhole of NBA rumors that are floating around the Twitterverse, but I’m more interested in the fictional competition than Harry Potter’s graying mane.
It was Zach Lowe, who knows basketball better than Hermione knows A History of Hogwarts, who really got me thinking with this tweet:
Because you know Viktor Krum is chasing that max deal, regardless of whether it clogs his team’s magical salary cap.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 8, 2014
There is so much more to the Quidditch world than just golden snitches and hula hoops on sticks. Has Rowling ever considered roster construction, salary caps, mid-level exceptions? Would you give Victor Krum a max deal at the age of 38? If you’re the GM of your very own Quidditch team, how are you handling your team?
Tyler Lauletta: Let me start by saying, no, Rowling has never considered roster construction, salary caps, or the potential for Viktor Krum to hijack the World Wide Leader in Wizarding Sports with his own version of “The Decision.” It is an indisputable fact that these are things Rowling has never thought about. I know this because she hardly considered the basics of the sport she invented.
Rant time: I loved the Harry Potter series. Those books (along with A Series of Unfortunate Events) shaped the way I perceived storytelling and set a bar for what child Tyler considered quality prose. But I always was angry about Quidditch, particularly the logistics of the Golden Snitch. When a team’s Seeker catches the Snitch, his or her team is rewarded with 150 points and the game is declared over. In official matches, the game can only go final if the Snitch has been captured. This is absurd. Some deep wiki-searching informed me that when teams are qualifying for the Quidditch World Cup games are ended after four hours in order to combat player exhaustion, but some recorded matches have lasted days, weeks, even months.
Why is it only in World Cup Qualifying that matches have a four hour limit? Why not include this as an official rule of Quidditch? Most matches would still end with Snitch capture (I’ve seen the movies, and Harry never took longer than like 30 minutes to find his golden ticket to the winners circle), but if a Snitch went AWOL or both Seekers got transfigured into chickens, we would at least have some recourse to determine a winner. This always bothered me. If Rowling had put enough thought into Quidditch, I am convinced the games would’ve had a finite time limit for logistics sake.
But my problems with Quidditch never were more prominent than in the opening chapters of Goblet of Fire set at the 1994 Quidditch World Cup. One of the subplots follows the Weasley twins as they bet their life savings (37 Galleons, 15 Sickles, and 3 Knuts) on the following outcome: Ireland would win the final, but the Bulgarian Seeker (the aforementioned Viktor Krum) would secure the Snitch to end the match.
As a gambler, I can tell you that this is the stupidest thing anyone has ever bet on. It doesn’t make sense. The game only ends when a team has secured the Snitch, and any good Seeker would wait until their team was within 140 (as the Snitch is worth 150) in order to ensure victory for their team. Why would Krum, known around the world as the greatest Seeker alive, catch the Snitch to lose the WORLD CUP FINAL?
But it happens. The Weasleys win their stupid bet on long odds and Ludo Bagman has to pay up. If I am remembering correctly, the Irish team was turning it into a bloodbath and Krum wanted to end it before anyone got hurt, or something like that. But the final score was 170-160 Ireland! Krum just needed to hold out for one more Quaffle-score from a teammate and it would’ve been a tie.
I spent an hour trying to figure out a real world equivalent to this. The closest thing I can think of is if Clayton Kershaw intentionally balked in the winning run of Game Seven of the World Series because he was afraid his teammates would get beaned if they went to extra innings.
So for those two reasons, I do not think that JK Rowling has thought about the complex minutia of constructing a Quidditch squad capable of powering through a World Cup tournament, or the ideal roster construction of a team. But it doesn’t mean we can’t!
I just took a stupid BuzzFeed quiz telling me that I would be a member of House Gryffindor. If I am managing their team in a post-Potter world, I start by putting our most skilled flyer at Seeker. After that, my second priority would be finding two big men who rely more on precision than brute force to be my Beaters. Then find a suitable Keeper, probably through open tryouts. I feel like Keeper would be similar to being a goalie in any other sport – it’s a completely different game, and you either have the skills or you don’t. But open tryouts gave Ron Weasley to Gryffindor, so clearly it can work. Finally, I would find whoever to fill out my roster with Chasers.
Chasers could only be relevant if you had a squad of them so talented that they could consistently gain a 150 point lead before the Snitch was caught by either team. Otherwise, they are irrelevant. Now, I do not doubt that somewhere in the wizarding world there is a Gregg Popovich-esque coach who is capable of putting together such a unit, but I don’t think it happens that often. Personally, I would try to find a set of siblings, ideally triplets, to serve as my Chasers. I always loved the “twin brothers on the same side of the offensive line” trope in movies that romanticize high school football, so I’m going to try and bring it to Quidditch.
My strategy would be simple: Seeker catch the Snitch, Beaters do everything in your power to injure the opponents Seeker. Chasers (playing a tiki-taka style of play focusing on quick-passes and Quaffle control) entertain the stupid crowds that don’t understand how ridiculous this sport is. And Keeper just do your thing.
What about you Brian? If you are constructing your very own Quidditch team, what are your top priorities? What is your strategy while preparing for the 2018 Quidditch World Cup? Do you see any glaring flaws in my team? And if you had to hypothetically give contracts to let’s say 12 guys, with a salary cap of (let me just pick a random number here) $63 million, and max offers to individual players limited to, oh I don’t know, we’ll call it $20.7 million, how would you spend your money?
BK: I’m willing to cut Rowling some slack with the rules of Quidditch, since there are obviously oversights in major sports. The targeting rule in college football was a disaster and people still get penalized in hockey for flipping the puck over the glass. These are still minor in the grand scheme of the game, but shy of Rowling hiring a legion of wizarding wannabees to test-drive her creation, I’ll permit a flaw or two in the system.
Also, when it comes the Weasley brother’s bet, sure it was ridiculous, and should never have been made. But, there’s always “that guy.” That’s how bookies make their money, on “that guy.” But every once in a while, that bet pays off. See, this guy who bet on Germany defeating Brazil 7-1:
Ok sure, it turned out it’s a fake, but still. I wonder what the odds were around the Great Hall that of Harry’s name would come out of the Goblet of Fire. You could have made a killing betting on that.
Now, when it comes to constructing my Quidditch team, I’m taking the Moneyball approach. Maybe it’s just my habit of imagining myself looking like Brad Pitt as I waste away hours on Fangraphs.com, but I think there is an effective way to maximize your chances of winning.
First, I’m not spending a lot on Beaters. I think Beaters are the running backs of the modern NFL. Sure, they’re important, but putting yourself in the line of fire of Bludgers every game has to take a toll on your body. I can’t image a Beater starting more than 3/4 of a season on a regular basis. Why throw away too much of your cap space on them? Instead, I’d invest in four decent Beaters and plan to rotate them, depending on injuries.
When it comes to Seekers, I view them much like the NBA. There are definitely a few game changing stars, the Victor Krums and Harry Potters of the world. But beyond them, how many truly great Seekers can there be? As you pointed out, Krum is expected to be one of the best and he still caught the Snitch with his team down by more than 150. Maybe Hogwarts should spend less time teaching Herbology and more time on basic arithmetic. Either way, unless I’m getting a top 5 guy, which I’m assuming I won’t, I’m not giving a max salary to my Seeker.
My plan is this: Invest heavily in a great group of Chasers and plan to build large enough leads that it negates the benefits of having a great Seeker. The Golden Snitch is unpredictable and so are Bludgers, so I’m going game plan around the ball I know I can control, the Quaffle. I’m going to recreate a Steve Nash / Phoenix Suns era offense, only with brooms. I want to outscore my opponents by more than 150 every game, thereby relegating even the strongest Seeker to a spectator.
Also, important question, do purchasing brooms count against the salary cap? Because if they don’t, I’m spending so much money on brooms. If there’s one flaw in Quidditch, it’s that the dude with the best broom has a major advantage. Remember when Malfoy buys his way onto the Slytherin team by giving everyone Nimbus 2001s? Sure, it’s a dick move, but it made the whole team better right? It’s just like NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson might be the best driver, but he also drives for the most valuable team in the sport.
TL: Interesting take on strategy – You aim to be the Seven Seconds or Less team of the Quidditch World. I like it! Last night, through a dive down an online Quidditch rabbit hole that I would rather not get into in detail, I learned that Quidditch standings are based not on wins and losses, but rather total points acquired. This makes your strategy even more solid. If you were able to construct a squad that consistently built big leads through Quaffle movement, you would always be putting up points, regardless of Snitch capture. If you could score 200 points before the other team captures the Snitch, you are still probably the second highest scoring house at Hogwarts that week. As long as Ravenclaw doesn’t go three for three on Snitches, you’re probably set to win the House Cup.
Now, addressing the brooms. Yes, Lucius Malfoy buying Nimbus 2001s for the whole Slytherin squad was a total dick move, but I could argue that it hurt the team to an extent, as part of the deal was that Draco became Seeker. I don’t know what Draco’s WAR or PER was that season off the top of my head, but I have to imagine that there was one contender in House Slytherin that could have put up better numbers, even if he was flying a Comet 180 instead of a fancy new Nimbus. If it was up to me, I would take Malfoy onto the team as a Chaser to get the squad some fresh new brooms, and then shift Adrian Pucey from Chaser to Seeker.
When it comes to professional Quidditch, I’m guessing that teams or players are sponsored by broom companies. If Firebolt is the Nike of broomsticks, I can only imagine that they are paying the likes of Viktor Krum top dollar to credit his high speed maneuverability to his broom on national television. Speaking of Krum, my Quidditch deep dive last night also revealed a list of Quidditch Tactics, one of which needs to be addressed. There is a move called the Plumpton Pass in which a Seeker hides the Snitch up his sleeve in order to confuse the opposing Seeker. Wouldn’t this have been the perfect move for Krum to pull in the World Cup Final? Sure, its legality has been debated and Krum seems like a standup, raises-his-hand-when-he-commits-a-foul type of player, but it’s the WORLD CUP FINAL homie. More googling on that subject revealed that Harry believed Krum caught the snitch because he wanted to “end the game on his own terms” which, yeah, I guess it’s still pretty dope to catch the final Snitch. But come on man. Think about your teammates.
Another item of note I learned while mining the Internet for all the Quidditch knowledge it could possibly contain: there are tons of professional club Quidditch teams, many with hilarious names and known for their specific peculiarities. A few of my favorites:
– The Quiberon Quafflepunchers – known for their “shocking” hot pink robes and “flamboyant” playing style. They are a perennial contender for the French League Cup.
– The Sweetwater All-Stars – one of only two listed American club teams. They once defeated the Quafflepunchers in a match that lasted five days. How dope is it that America only has two club teams and we named one of them the “All-Stars”? Classic us.
– The Montrose Magpies – essentially the Manchester United of Quidditch. They have won the British and Irish League Title 32 times, and the European Title twice. One of their Seekers, Eunice Murray, once petitioned the International Quidditch powers to make the Snitch faster because “this is just too easy.” She died in 1942, but will forever be remembered as a baller.
– The Patonga Proudsticks – a team from Uganda who one year made up six of the seven starters of the Ugandan World Cup team, the most any club team has ever contributed to one country. In 1986 they shocked the wizarding world by playing Montrose Magpies to a draw. This was the equivalent of “USA WINS 1-1” at the time.
– The Chudley Cannons – once a powerhouse, the Cannons won 27 titles in their glory days. But now they suck. In 1972 they officially changed their team motto from “We shall conquer” to “Let’s all just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best”. Talk about a monumental shift in team culture.
And the best team, by far…
– The Holyhead Harpies – founded in 1203 they are the second oldest team in the British and Irish Quidditch League. Also, they only hire women to play for them, and in their +800 year history, all of those women had a first or a last name that began with the letter “G”. They made one exception to this rule for Chaser Valmai Morgan, sister of team captain Gwendolyn. In 1953 they defeated the Heidelberg Harriers in a seven day match, after which Harriers captain Rudolf Brand got down on one knee and proposed to Harpies captain Gwendolyn Morgan. Morgan responded by knocking him unconscious with her broomstick.
Can you imagine putting together a group of investors to start a Quidditch team and then putting such absurd restrictions on the players you select? This would be like if the Celtics only hired players who were Virgos and left-handed.
Also, one more crazy thing I learned: Before the introduction of the golden snitch, they used a small, fat, but super fast bird called a snidget.
Quidditch got so popular that snidgets became an endangered species, and now have charities dedicated to the restoration of their population.
Sorry for the tangent. Did you learn anything about Quidditch while scouring the Internet for the purposes of looking smarter (err, more well-informed?) during this conversation? Also, if you are an up and coming Quidditch player, what is most important to you when looking for a club with whom to begin your professional career?
BK: These restrictions on players are definitely absurd, but not too unlike real basketball. Remember the Bad Boys in Detroit, or the international coalition playing down in San Antonio? Real teams obviously don’t take it too the extremes that Quidditch teams do, but it’s not unheard of for professional teams to acquire players with similar attributes.
So, this exercise has mostly been focused on offseason issues: salary cap, team building, roster construction. But, we’ve left out the biggest spectacle of them all, the draft! I started doing some research into The Boy Who Lived, and discovered the Harry Potter might have been the greatest draft prospect of his generation.
I back tracked through Potter’s playing career at Hogwarts and here are his final results.
Year 1: Doesn’t win Quidditch Cup (2-1 record)
Year 2: Giant, killer Basilisk ruins season (1-0 record)
Year 3: Gryffindor wins Quidditch Cup (2-1 record)
Year 4: Triwizard Tournament (Harry defeats dragon on a broom)
Year 5: Gryffindor wins Quidditch Cup (2-1 record)
Year 6: Gryffindor wins Quidditch Cup (2-1 record)
Year 7: Harry’s too busy defeating the Dark Lord for Quidditch
Harry finishes his amateur playing career with 3 Quidditch Cups and 9-4 record. That’s pretty impressive. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Because Harry Potter was a notorious trouble maker, he was constantly receiving detentions and missed several of these games. Some might refer to this as a “red flag,” I call it spunk.
Taking out games “The Chosen One” missed, Gryffindor’s record improves to 7-2 in games Harry actually played. But, this gets even crazier. In one loss, Harry missed most of the game after being knocked unconscious by a Bludger (didn’t return to the game, sound concussion protocol). In the other loss, Harry was attacked by Dementors! DEMENTORS! It literally takes an attack by a soul-sucking creature to defeat Harry in Quidditch. Since the Bludger injury is a hazard built into the game, I’d argue that Gryffindor was 7-1 when Harry played under fair conditions.
But let’s dive deeper into the stats, shall we. In those 8 games, played under fair conditions, Potter caught the Snitch 7 out of 8 times, for an 87.5% Snitch Rate (a new stat I just created). But when Potter finishes the game conscious, his Snitch Rate is 100%. Also, it appears Rowling wasn’t big on providing the final score in all games Harry played. I can only find definitive results in 4 of Harry’s games (3 wins and his only loss). The point differential in those 4 games? +220 points. That means when Harry plays, Gryffindor won by an average of 55 points.
Potter was the obvious first pick in his draft class right? Would you consider tanking a season for the chance to draft him? Would you come up with tanking catch-phrases to make the whole tanking processes more palatable?
TL: I’m glad you took proper note of Harry’s Snitch Rate and adjusted for Dementor interference. I doubt there has ever been a better Seeker to come out of Hogwarts, in terms of pure statistics. But the reasons Harry Potter is the the greatest surefire first overall pick in Quidditch history go beyond his on the field contributions. I cannot think of a better clubhouse guy; Harry Potter has been getting underdogs to believe that they could overcome adversity since he started Dumbledore’s Army. Also, can you imagine the marketing opportunities that having “The Chosen One” presents from an in-arena and social media standpoint? If I was an owner, I would be doing everything I could to acquire the rights to his first professional contract, including tanking.
I haven’t come up with anything as fun as “Riggin for Wiggins”, but my team would most definitely get “Scary for Harry” or “Bomb this Run for The Chosen One”, clearing as much cap space as possible for the year he graduated. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would be drafting his rights after his fourth year when he made headlines at the Triwizard Tournament. I would let my team suck for three years if it meant a shot at getting Harry Potter to captain my squad.
But this is all coming from a Sixers fan, who has come to accept sucking for the purposes of future potential that is not guaranteed, so I might be a bit too ready to get worse before I get better.
With that said, if my team is struggling halfway through the season, I might have an intern throw out a #SquatterforPotter on the Magical Interwebs just to gauge what public response would be.
Also, I would have an extremely coordinated and well thought out pitch ready to go when I finally got a sitdown with Potter. Does he want to play with Ron or Ginny? No problem, they both get max deals as well. Does he need to take off a few months for official business with the Ministry of Magic? You got it Potter, we’ll make sure to have a backup Seeker who can fill in just fine. I am ready to do anything and everything necessary to accommodate his needs, as long as it means I can sell his jersey.
Okay, I have now thought more about Quidditch than I ever thought I would have in my life. Or at least as much as since an ex-girlfriend said she might join a muggle team in college and I thought about joining out of spite. Regardless, I spent a collective three hours reading up on the fake history of a fake sport, and though I am exhausted, I feel better for it. But I think I need to call it here, as I can neither confirm nor deny reports that I watched an entire forty minutes of gameplay footage of the 2003 Xbox game “Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup” on YouTube. I may have gone too far.
Any closing thoughts on your end Brian?
BK: I’d agree that I’d go above and beyond to get Harry Potter in my team’s colors. Potter wants an unlimited supply of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans after every game? Done. He wants me to personally taste test each one to ensure he never gets a puke-flavored bean? Done, and done again. After watching how ESPN and the rest of the civilized world handled LeBron’s Decision 2.0, I would love to see how The Daily Prophet would handle Harry Potter on the open market. Personally, I’d prefer The Quibbler for all the best gossip.
The only way I could love this fiction sport more, is if J.K. Rowling included all the madness of real sports that make them too good to believe. I’m proud that we’ve gone down this Quidditch wormhole together. I’ve done most of my research while listening to the complete Harry Potter soundtrack, just to get in the mood.
But for now, I think we should get back to the real world. Have you heard anything about LeBron yet?
But how would Harry match up against his Dad OR Charlie Weasley? I think we’ll need a Time Turner to figure that one out.
rotter for potter.
Chasers. Good chasers win everything (snitch catches are only worth 50 as a game-leverer mechanic).
I was always disappointed Harry didn’t take the professional quidditch route and play for the Chudley Cannons (as his best friends favourite team who never wins any more, he would completely change that)
Great conversation/write-up thing anyway.
Viktor didn’t end the World Cup because his team mates were getting beaten to pulps (though they were). He ended it because his team could never, ever win. Ireland had MANY goals to his teams (I think) one goal. His team would never catch up… he did the best he could with the score by catching the snitch and ending the game.