1819: Sweet 16

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Sweet 16
Every year I make out my bracket at the season, and every year it's busted before the first game when I find out which teams are playing.
Title text: Every year I make out my bracket at the season, and every year it's busted before the first game when I find out which teams are playing.


March Madness, with its championship played on the day this comic was published, is a colloquial name for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament, which features 68 American college basketball teams in an elimination bracket. Due to the setup, the 16 teams that make it to the third round of the tournament (or fourth if counting the "First Four") are sometimes called the "Sweet 16", hence the title. Winning a third round game means that a team is part of the "Elite Eight," who can win to move on to the "Final Four," and then to the championship game, where a winner is crowned.

This is the second time Randall has made a bracket with strange opponents meeting each other in a bracket; the first was 1529: Bracket and brackets were mentioned a second time in 2131: Emojidome. References to basketball is a recurring subject on xkcd, as is Randall's lack of interest for sport in general.

In this comic, the bracket, see details below, of the final 16 is not filled in with actual college team names, but descriptions of the odd circumstances of each team. For example, the first team is "a school with a dog on their team", a reference to Air Bud. The team descriptions become increasingly bizarre, comprising varied sports and pop culture references and often building on and playing off of previous team descriptions.

The first four teams on the left are composed partially or completely of animals, which are most likely pets, but could be animals for assisting disabled persons, emotional support animals, police dogs, feral cats, etc. The next two teams consist of some form of baseball-basketball crossover. The bottom two teams on the left feature developers and players of NBA 2K17, a basketball video game by 2K Games.

The first team on the right, the 1988 Los Angeles Lakers is an actual historical NBA team; though the particular team from 1988 would not exist today, it could be a team of the same players, who would now be in their mid-50s or 60s. They are paired against a team of four kindergartners and current Cleveland player Lebron James (born 1984), who was also a kindergartner in 1988. James was considered the best active NBA player as of 2017. Ironically, LeBron James has since become a Laker, as of the 2019-20 NBA season; he has become the first NBA player to win a championship in 3 different teams (having previously won titles with the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers).

The next two teams feature basketball-boxing crossovers. The bracket after that features teams on unconventional mobility aids, Segways and stilts.

The final two teams are Cinderella teams. A Cinderella story is when a weak team works hard to achieve success. The final team consists of players wearing glass slippers, often a part of the Cinderella fairy tale.

The title text explains what Randall was supposedly doing to make this comic: Randall is incredibly out of touch with sports, or at least their traditions (see 1480: Super Bowl). During March Madness, a popular pastime is to take a look at the starting bracket of all 68 teams and speculate who will win each round. This is sometimes associated with gambling, where the person with the closest-to-correct bracket could potentially win money. Randall, when handed a blank bracket, instead fills it with teams he wants to see play rather than who is actually in the tournament. A bracket is considered "busted" when a number of predicted teams lose earlier than expected. In this case, since Randall's Sweet 16 does not include any of the real teams participating in the tournament, his bracket is busted from the beginning.

As neither this comic from April 3rd or the previous comic, 1818: Rayleigh Scattering from March 31st was one of Randall's April fools' comics, this was the first year since 2010 with no April Fools' Day comic. See more on this in the Trivia section for the previous comic.

Two years later in 2019 the April Fools' comic 2131: Emojidome, was using such a bracket as above to match 512 emojis to find the best emoji. Same time of year, so probably again a reference to March Madness.

Table of the bracket[edit]

Grouping Team Explanation
School dog teams A school with a dog on their team Possibly a reference to Air Bud. Given Buddy's abilities, this would be an interesting experiment to see if a team of dogs can outcompete humans.
A school whose team is entirely dogs
Dog teams A dog team with one human This might be the continuation of the experiment. The cat might serve as a control.
A dog team with one cat
Baseball/basketball mashup A baseball team playing basketball Possibly inspired by Michael Jordan's baseball career, this is to see if a baseball team can play basketball as well as a basketball team if they were handicapped with baseball gear. While basketball doesn't require any gear and favours outfits that permit free movement, baseball has helmets, bats and thick gloves, possibly giving the baseball team a chance. On the other hand, if the basketball team is permitted to use the baseball bats on the opposing team, they may have a distinct advantage[citation needed].
A basketball team with baseball gear
NBA 2K17 (video game) NBA 2K17 top players There's a bit of ambiguity as to what "players" means: the professional basketball players whose likenesses are in the video game, or video game players? Given that the video game includes not only the current NBA players, but also some of the most successful teams in history, it's hard to see how the game developers can stand a chance if the former. If the latter, it is maybe more evenly matched.
NBA 2K17 top developers
1988 players The 1988 Los Angeles Lakers The Los Angeles Lakers were, at their height, winning a rare repeat victory. LeBron James is one of the most well-known basketball players. At the time of the 1988 finals, he was 4 years old, so even with his later talent and with the support of 4 kindergartners, it would be tough for him to win the game. However, he might have a better chance if he played in the present, with the 1988 Lakers team members being well over 50.
Four kindergartners and Lebron James
Boxer/basketball mashup Boxers playing basketball Possibly inspired by Vonda Ward, this is to see if boxers can play basketball as well as a basketball team if the basketball team were handicapped by having to wear boxing gloves.
Basketball players in boxing gloves
Elevated players A team playing on stilts Stilts has been referenced several times in xkcd for instance at the bottom of 482: Height, here in 1608: Hoverboard and here in 1663: Garden.

Not unlike segway polo, segway basketball would have the benefit of reducing physical exertion. Stilts, on the other hand, could help reach the hoops.
A team playing on segways
Cinderella teams A bad team that would make a good Cinderella story In a regular match, a good team could easily win against a bad team, but with glass slippers only for the good team, the bad team's chances increase drastically. That the team would make a good Cinderella story implies that the team will win against all expectations.

Note: Regular glass would break when moving around too much, safety glass or similarly resilient material is recommended.
A good team playing in glass slippers


[The comic shows a direct elimination bracket (a single-elimination tournament): there is a single match played by every pair of teams, and the winners of those matches are paired up for the next round of matches, this continues until there are no more matches to be played. There are sixteen teams described here (hence the number in the title), eight on each side of the empty rectangle in the middle. Every two teams are connected, these connectors are then also connected, these connectors are yet again connected, and a final pair of connectors, after making one counter-clockwise right angle turn, end up in the top and bottom edges of the central rectangle. The bracket is empty, no results of any of the matches are indicated.]

[These are paired.]
A school with a dog on their team
A school whose team is entirely dogs

[These are paired.]
A dog team with one human
A dog team with one cat

[These are paired.]
A baseball team playing basketball
A basketball team with baseball gear

[These are paired.]
NBA2K17 top players
NBA2K17 top developers

[These are paired.]
The 1988 Los Angeles lakers
Four kindergarteners and Lebron James

[These are paired.]
Boxers playing basketball
Basketball players in boxing gloves

[These are paired.]
A team playing on stilts
A team playing on Segways

[These are paired.]
A bad team that would make a good Cinderella story
A good team playing in glass slippers

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Would the players in segways need to dribble? They aren't technically taking steps, so would it count as traveling?DrPumpkinz (talk) 08:26, 17 February 2020 (UTC)

I checked it out, if this truly is a basketball comp, then the 1988 Los Angeles Lakers win hands-down. Themanhimself11 (talk) 10:25, 3 April 2017 (UTC)

The youngest members of the '88 Lakers are now in their 50s, which would be a significant handicap. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is 69! The team with the best chance here is probably the regular basketball team wearing baseball equipment; with the exception of catcher's gear, it's the least restrictive of all the options. 18:44, 3 April 2017 (UTC)
Not if the baseball equipment includes cleats. 01:10, 4 April 2017 (UTC)
This being Randall, they'll probably be playing basketball by Marquess of Queensberry rules. Nialpxe (talk) 11:22, 3 April 2017 (UTC)
Looking at this comic as a whole, I feel I can guarantee that he meant the 1988 Lakers today. Skilled then, but 30 years older and slower. As for the baseball team / gear matchup, this begs the question if they can use the equipment... A guy swinging a baseball bat would make an effective blocker and make a significant difference, no matter how unskilled they are AT basketball. :) - NiceGuy1 04:28, 7 April 2017 (UTC) I finally signed up! This comment is mine. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:57, 13 June 2017 (UTC)
A lot of people who play NBA 2K17 are actually good in real life, so they should have a pretty good chance.


Minor detail - NBA 2K17 is made by 2K Games, rather than EA. 12:43, 3 April 2017 (UTC)

My bad. Must've confused it with the NBA Live series by EA. Nialpxe (talk) 14:31, 3 April 2017 (UTC)

The additional text says, "Every year I make my bracket at the season ...." Should that say "at the end of the season"? -- 13:20, 3 April 2017 (UTC)

I was thinking it should say "at the beginning of the season," thus explaining why his bracket is busted before the postseason begins. Clearly something is missing! Miamiclay (talk) 15:52, 3 April 2017 (UTC)
I know almost nothing about most sports, and less about basketball (at least the sports fan end of it), and with this explanation I feel certain it's "beginning". Somewhat pointless at the end, when all is over and settled. They would make such brackets to either predict how the Sweet 16 will fill out, or to record how it DID fill out. With the mouse-over contribution, these are clearly predictions. I wonder if Randall hedged between saying "at the beginning of the season" and "early in the season", since the Sweet 16 seems to come about once the season is well underway, so then "early" would be more accurate, then he forgot to pick one... - NiceGuy1 04:28, 7 April 2017 (UTC) I finally signed up! This comment is mine. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:57, 13 June 2017 (UTC)

What we should explain for non-USA people to understand this comic is that it is an annual tradition to predict the full bracket of games and compare the predictions with friends and workmates. It's not just "a competition bracket": it's the annual "I'm trying to picture what would these opponents do". 14:45, 3 April 2017 (UTC)

The real question is, how long will it be before there's an XKCD Bracket II Twitter? 15:27, 3 April 2017 (UTC)

Could "A dog team with one human" be a reference to the Iditarod? 19:36, 3 April 2017 (UTC)

First thing I pictured when I saw that pairing, a dogsled team (then a dogsled team led by a cat). Of course, this was before I realized the basketball theme. :) Not sure if Randall was thinking of a dogsled team playing basketball, or if he just reversed the Air Bud scenario. - NiceGuy1 04:28, 7 April 2017 (UTC) I finally signed up! This comment is mine. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:57, 13 June 2017 (UTC)

Could the basketball/baseball teams be a reference to Michael Jordan (in)famous 1993–1994 period during which he retired from basketball and played baseball instead? -- 09:34, 4 April 2017 (UTC)

I'm surprised no one's made a "swinger for the LA Lakers" joke yet... --JayRulesXKCD what's up? 14:56, 4 April 2017 (UTC)

The NBA 2k17 top developers team might refer to a team made up of NBA 2k17 developers that was created for the game. In some sports video games the developers will create a hidden or bonus team composed of people on the development team, with really good abilities. -- 16:45, 4 April 2017 (UTC)

I interpret that matchup to mean video game players vs video game developers in a real game of basketball. If you ignore realty and pander to the stereotypes then both teams would be pretty unathletic. 18:04, 4 April 2017 (UTC)
Yeah, these are all games to be played in real life, in person. And while there is sure to be many skilled basketball players among all the game players and game developers (a passion for the sport in real life would draw someone to both), who says the skilled real life players will be among the "top" video game players or developers? The only thing that can transfer is strategy. Actual skills in one form won't confer skill in the other. NiceGuy1 04:28, 7 April 2017 (UTC) I finally signed up! This comment is mine. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:57, 13 June 2017 (UTC)

I think Air Bud should become a category due to the number of comics referencing the films. 05:27, 5 April 2017 (UTC)

Side note: Since coming here Tuesday night for this comic, the ExplainXKCD site has seemed rather different, minimalized. Not sure if my iPad 1 is messing up, or if this is some new mobile version of the site, or if the site is messed up. Anybody else seeing this? For example, the entire left pane is missing, including the site's logo. And this text box is only using half the width of the screen. Tonight I went to a comic I last saw normal, as a control test, and it similarly looked minimized. NiceGuy1 04:28, 7 April 2017 (UTC) I finally signed up! This comment is mine. (Side side note, the site has returned to looking fine for a while, maybe since it went down for maintenance?) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:57, 13 June 2017 (UTC)

Considering what Cinderella's glass slippers survived in the story, either they were not real glass or they were magic. Wait ... actually they were pretty obviously both, so ... -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:51, 7 April 2017 (UTC)

In the table it reads "It should be noted that the NBA requires a minimum of 13 team members." However, this comic is clearly related to College-level basketball, specifically NCAA Men's Division I Basketball. The only rules of which governing minimum team size is Rule 3, Section 2, Article 1 which states, "At the start of the game, each team shall consist of five players ...". Article 2 makes it clear a team can continue to play with fewer than five players after starting with five. Therefore, the note should be deleted.

To clarify what I wrote to user "Sweet 16", "its" is not a valid contraction of "it is" in (American) English. It would be "it's". We USAians insert an apostrophe (what English people use for quotations) where the removed letter(s) would otherwise be. Your current phrasing makes perfect sense to me. Nitpicking (talk) 00:59, 15 December 2022 (UTC)

To clarify further, we UKians use an apostrophe exactly the same, for that contraction (and posessives, save for the "big few" with 'irregular possessives' that are "my", "your", "our", "his", "her", "its", "their", etc... and I always felt "ones" (belonging to one(self)) should be included, but it isn't).
What's more, we use ""s for quotes, as often as not, though various printers' style-guides may adopt the singular-quote (primarily, with quoted quotes, etc, toggling inwards from there), in a way that US printhouses also seem to do.
((However, I might use singular ones (see my "'irregular possessives'", above) for a special emphasis. Or else (blame my history in languages like Pascal and character-class quotation?) to quote an individual letter (better to talk of how many 'A's or 'Z's there are in a Scrabble bag than to invoke the abhorent plural-forming apostrophe). This is just a personal style and, though written with a slant to the quote-emphasis, I don't know if it conveys well to others, where I mix double and single quotes to reflect my own internal voice.))
...when I was young, the way I eventually learnt to remember which "its" is more properly "it's", and vice-versa, is that "its"-possessive is one of those irregular (first person, second person, third person, group, etc) possessives that don't really match "rootword-apostrophe-S" (i.e. not "us's", "she's", etc), even though "its" is surprisingly similar to "it"+"'s". Though there are contractive exceptions ("fo'csle" <= "forecastle", and continuing linguistic disagreement of if it's "won't" <= "will not", etc), those are less regular irregularitites, so you can disregard them in this mnemonic! ;) 13:37, 15 December 2022 (UTC)