Are genetics becoming more important for NBA success?

by on February 16, 2014 at 1:25 pm in Sports, Uncategorized | Permalink

That’s hard to say, but a number of different models would predict that effect over time, as opportunities spread to a greater number of potential players.  Here is a good article from Scott Cacciola:

For a growing number of fathers and sons, the N.B.A. is a family business. This season, 19 second-generation players have appeared in games — a total that represents 4.2 percent of the league, and is nearly twice as many players as a decade ago.

Consider that three second-generation players were selected to participate in Sunday night’s All-Star Game here: Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. (Bryant, voted in by the fans, will not play because of a knee injury.)

Even more progeny are on the way. Two of this country’s top college players — Andrew Wiggins, a freshman at Kansas, and Jabari Parker, a freshman at Duke — are sons of former N.B.A. players. Both are expected to be lottery picks whenever they decide to make themselves eligible for the draft.

Players and coaches cite several factors in the rise of second-generation players, who tend to benefit from genetics (it helps to be tall) and from early access to top-notch instruction. Steve Kerr, a former guard and front-office executive, likened the setting to being immersed in a “basketball think tank” from childhood.

1 Bryce February 16, 2014 at 1:31 pm

It seems like there are both nature and nurture advantages for second-generation players. Is there any way to disentangle them?

2 Alexei Sadeski February 16, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Adopt some NBA progeny and see if they’re any good at basketball when they grow up.

I’m guessing the answer will be yes.

3 ummm February 16, 2014 at 2:39 pm

generally, tall parents produce tall kids, so one could surmise genes play a major role.

4 Steve Sailer February 16, 2014 at 3:24 pm

“Is there any way to disentangle them?”

One way is to compare legitimate to illegitimate children. Jets cornerback Warren Cromartie has 12 children by eight women, for instance, most of the recent ones by his wife.

This article features two teenage prospects, the sons of Mychal Thompson and Michael Cage. Judging from the pictures of fathers and sons, both must have white or very fair skinned mothers.

Generally speaking, white women who have children with successful black men seem to be better than black women at keeping them around the home. So, comparing the athletic success of half-white sons of NBA stars to that of the black sons of NBA stars might give you a good start at disentangling nature and nurture, since the former are likely to have better nurture and the latter better nature.

5 Steve Sailer February 16, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Correction: Antonio Cromartie is the cornerback who had to get a $500,000 advance on his salary from the Jets to pay off his child support debts.

Warren Cromartie was an MLB baseball player who had some success in Japan several decades ago.

I don’t know if those two are related, but Antonio has three, perhaps four cousins currently in the NFL.

6 Donald Pretari February 16, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Generally speaking, white women who have children with successful black men seem to be better than black women at keeping them around the home. – See more at:

I think you need to back this up with something other than “Generally Speaking.”

So, comparing the athletic success of half-white sons of NBA stars to that of the black sons of NBA stars might give you a good start at disentangling nature and nurture, since the former are likely to have better nurture and the latter better nature. – See more at:

Wouldn’t the Specific Characteristics of the Mother, e.g., Her Height, be more important than her Race ( and you mean by this, what? )assuming one even knows the particular “racial” history of the Mother, as opposed to her
appearance, I guess?

7 ummm February 16, 2014 at 4:48 pm

This is the blogosphere. ‘Generally speaking’ is as close to authoritative as you’re gonna get.

8 Z February 16, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Given the illegitimacy rate amongst blacks, the threshold is very low. On the other hand, research suggests divorce rates amongst interracial couples is far higher than amongst same race couples.

But, Steve may have had something else in mind so divorce rates may not be of much use.

9 Steve Sailer February 16, 2014 at 5:34 pm

“Wouldn’t the Specific Characteristics of the Mother, e.g., Her Height, be more important than her Race”

Regression toward the mean plays a big role in basketball talent and blacks and whites regress toward different means when it comes to basketball relevant metrics such as how high they can get their hands off the ground:

You aren’t just descended from your parents but also from their parents and their parents’ parents’ and so forth.

10 Donald Pretarid February 17, 2014 at 12:28 am

That’s Right. So, you’ve done DNA Histories for all these people studied?

11 Steve Sailer February 17, 2014 at 5:30 am

No, but I did the leading study of athletic performance by race and sex of the 1990s:

12 Ed February 16, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Yeah i read somewhere that Black male/White female marriages are actually the least successful. Not sure if that changes as you move up the income/class scales

13 Donald Pretari February 17, 2014 at 12:32 am

That’s Right. So, you’ve done DNA Histories for all these people studied?

14 Donald Pretari February 17, 2014 at 10:02 am

I didn’t see anything about Genetics. I saw a lot about Nationality. They’re not the same thing.

15 GucciMane February 17, 2014 at 11:33 am

Donald, the two things you mention, while they are not synonymous, do overlap significantly enough to be useful for demographic study. Denying the prevalence of this overlap is perhaps a function of living deep inside a coastal american bubble that’s diversity is nearly unprecedented in world history, and the exception (rather than the rule) even now.

16 Bill Harshaw February 16, 2014 at 1:40 pm

When I saw the article, I wondered about another entertainment field: acting. Seems as if there are more and more children of actors becoming actors. Is there a genetic component to that profession?

17 dearieme February 16, 2014 at 1:53 pm

I suppose that the casting couch is, in a broad sense, genetic.

18 Steve Sailer February 16, 2014 at 3:30 pm

The casting couch is probably less of a problem for well-connected young people entering acting. Even the sleaziest producer or agent might have thought twice about offering a business proposition to the young Gwyneth Paltrow knowing that her godfather was Spielberg.

19 byomtov February 16, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Whether there is much of a genetic component or not, there is a very strong nepotistic component.

The competition for acting (and other performance) jobs is fierce, especially at the lower rungs of the profession. Having the director be a friend of your parents is a big help. So is being rich, which the children of successful actors generally are, since it’s not a particularly lucrative profession unless you are quite successful, and many drop out due to financial pressures.

20 Dan Weber February 16, 2014 at 5:12 pm

I wonder how much that financial pressure applies to basketball stars. The sons of NBA stars can afford to take the long-shot on an NBA career.

On the other hand, how many NBA players declare bankruptcy within 5 years of retiring?

On the other other hand, lots of NBA stars come from backgrounds where they didn’t have a lot of other opportunities available. Or maybe I’m full of crap. I’m sure someone has done the legwork of digging up the statistics on this.

21 byomtov February 16, 2014 at 5:46 pm

I don’t think it’s the same. The talented young basketball player doesn’t go out and play for free or pennies hoping someone will notice him. He gets a basketball scholarship, plays for a good-to-excellent college team, and gets to demonstrate his ability directly and in quantifiable ways. If he’s good enough he goes to the NBA and if not then he usually tries something else, or possibly plays in Europe.

22 Steve Sailer February 17, 2014 at 5:35 am

“The sons of NBA stars can afford to take the long-shot on an NBA career.”

It’s not much of a risk. For example, my cousin went to college on a baseball scholarship, then spent a few years in the minor leagues, topping out at Double A, then got an MBA and is today pretty much where he would have been if he’d never played baseball. A high school friend who also blew out his arm in Double A is now a doctor.

23 Jason W. February 17, 2014 at 11:12 am

That’s right, it’s not much of a risk at all. On the contrary, pursuing an NBA career is a sound move for many kids with such dreams, as it will generally lead them first to college, where they will find out if they are going on to the NBA or not. If they do go on, great, dream achieved; if not, they can stay in college if they choose and pursue a different path. Even if they drop out of college once their NBA dream has been dashed, they will have gained at least some connections and at least some education, which puts them in a better spot than if they had not gone to college at all.

24 Finch February 17, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Is two years of college followed by dropping out really better than entering a trade straightaway? Particularly if you weren’t really concentrating on the learning part of college while you were there?

It seems like pushing people into college who really shouldn’t be there is hurting them, not helping them.

25 alex February 16, 2014 at 1:47 pm

With the rise of women’s sports in recent decades I wonder if you we’re also more likely to see mating between high-level male athletes and high-level female athletes. Kevin Durant married a WNBA player. College coaches should be offering Candace Parker and Shelden Williams’s four year-old daughter a scholarship now.

26 Ted Craig February 16, 2014 at 1:53 pm

The NBA wasn’t a really viable enterprise until the early ’80s, so fewer kids might have followed their fathers into the sport. I wonder how this compares to MLB? Or the NFL, where in the past three Super Bowls you’ve had one set of brothers playing QB and another as head coach. Of course, the nurture aspect comes into play. Why would the children of millionaires spend thousands of hours toiling away at a sport? Notice that none of the fathers were Hall of Famers. Here’s the Wikipedia entry from Jeffrey Michael Jordan: “On June 24, 2009 Jordan announced he was leaving the University of Illinois’ basketball team to focus on school and his ‘life after basketball.'”

27 Cyrus February 16, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Moreso than other children of millionaires, the children of professional athletes should not assume their future inheritance. (Prodigal spending anecdotes aside, professional athletes’ high earning years are mostly over by the time their children are old enough to think about such things.)

28 Ted Craig February 16, 2014 at 7:49 pm

That’s true for the average player, not superstars.

29 Jason W. February 17, 2014 at 11:25 am

I do think it’s interesting that the sons who play in the NBA are almost always better than the fathers. Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Love — all are far and away better than their dads, which perhaps shows what their dads could have been had they been raised by NBA dads themselves, and then further exposed to contemporary knowledge and training, which by all accounts is more effective than ever. This isn’t universally true, however… Bill Walton and Rick Barry, to name two, were better than any of their kids ever were. Although given that Walton and Barry were both white with white wives, this might be an example of Sailer’s regression to the mean.

On the flip side, as you bring up, it’s also interesting that the very best players don’t seem to produce NBA offspring. For Steph Curry to pursue basketball is one thing; his dad was a good player, but not widely known outside of NBA fans, and I’m sure Steph didn’t worry much about living in his father’s shadow. For Michael Jordan’s kids… what a nightmare their basketball lives must have been.

30 FXKLM February 16, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Are you saying that, when the NBA casts a broad net looking for players, the competition to be drafted is a pure meritocracy and the most genetically gifted players are more likely to win? That explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense when we’re talking about children of former NBA players. Opportunities may be spreading to a greater number of potential players, but the new recruits benefiting from that expansion are not the children of former players. They would never have been excluded.

31 Steve Sailer February 16, 2014 at 2:56 pm

There was a big increase in second or third generation major league baseball players about a generation ago: Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. being the most famous.

Some of the increase in dynasticism has to do with sports becoming increasingly technical and thus requiring intense tutoring, which can be supplied by dad for free or by him paying for expensive tutoring, or if he was a wealthy star athlete, both.

Another factor is that ethnicities are specializing in different sports. African-Americans, for example, aren’t very interested in baseball anymore, unless dad was a ballplayer. Similarly, white Americans are losing interest in playing big time basketball, unless dad was a pro, such as Kevin Love.

32 Steve Sailer February 16, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Of course, with the rise in salaries a generation ago, NBA and NFL players can pay child support for a lot of children. Thus, the Cromartie Index:

33 Alexei Sadeski February 16, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Steve, it’s not child support. It’s “child support”.

Without “child support”, you might see more high IQ men fathering more children.

34 Slugger February 16, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Rick Barry agrees with this premise. Calvin Hill and Yannick Noah think that general athletic ability might be applicable in a variety of arenas. Steffi Graf and Andre Agazzi are taking a wait and see approach.

35 Hadur February 16, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Wow, 4.2%! Not too big of a deal IMO. Most NBA players will have kids who regress to the mean and do not make the NBA. Even Michael Jordan’s children weren’t able to play much past high school.

Of course, a big part of the story is that NBA players generally do not mate with star female athletes. Their mates are chosen for other characteristics. I wonder by how much that 4.2% would increase if NBA players began mating with elite female athletes for the purpose of producing a second generation of athletes.

36 Steve Sailer February 17, 2014 at 5:37 am

Yao Ming is the product of the Chinese basketball coaches prodding the center on the men’s national team to ask out the center on the women’s national team.

37 andrew' February 16, 2014 at 4:55 pm

It helps to be tall. A bit of an understatement. When I played at my very low level I could tell instantly whether I would play well or be completely outclassed if the defender was my playing style and my body type but one or two inches taller. Coaching might help by helping kids know what they are.

38 Jason W. February 17, 2014 at 11:37 am

It helps to be tall, sure, but if you could “tell instantly” that your opponent would outclass you simply because they were one or two inches taller, then you had shortcomings aside from your height. All other things equal, being tall is an advantage; but all other things are rarely equal in basketball. Speed and smarts, among other non-height-related attributes, go a long way in the sport, and there is a long history of successful shorties in the NBA, including short white men who can’t jump!

39 TomHynes February 16, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Isn’t Kevin Love’s family business music?
His uncle is a Beach Boy

40 Steve Sailer February 16, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Yes, but his father played four seasons in the NBA.

41 Ed February 16, 2014 at 6:37 pm

It’ll be interesting to see what Brynn Cameron’s children do when they grow up. One one with football player Matt Lienhart and another with NBA All-Star Blake Griffith. She played basketball for USC and her brother played football for USC.

42 DK February 16, 2014 at 7:00 pm

What’s with all these Sailer-bait posts of late?

43 Steve Sailer February 17, 2014 at 5:38 am
44 Finch February 17, 2014 at 11:05 am

Isn’t it obvious? Tyler is a Sailer fan and can’t publicly say so without harming things he cares about.

He’s obviously not a raving lunatic, as are some Sailer satellites, but he’s not Bryan Caplan either.

45 David S. February 16, 2014 at 7:14 pm

It takes a special sort of ideological blindness to summon up genetics as a “cause” when the pattern of sons following their fathers’ occupation is the common practice of humanity since the beginning of our species. The hunter’s sons became hunters, the farmer’s sons became farmers, the potter’s sons became potters and the scribe’s sons became scribes, because we are a highly imitative species starting at a very young age and that is our natural pattern of learning. No “genetic” ability in hunting, farming, pottery or writing is demonstrated by this natural and normal human experience.

46 Anon. February 16, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Anyone can be a hunter. The NBA is very much meritocratic.

47 Marian Kechlibar February 17, 2014 at 8:58 am

I would say that in the first world, as of 2014, heritability of jobs from father to son is at its historical low. If the pro players buck the trend, it requires explanation.

48 Chip February 16, 2014 at 8:00 pm

I’m surprised Alex hasn’t weighed in yet with the moral argument for short people in basketball.

Why should an accident of genetics determine who you play for?

49 Brian February 17, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Poor attempt at snark. There are no laws restricting basketball teams from hiring short players if they wish to do so.

50 Bill February 16, 2014 at 9:55 pm

To make the argument stick, you need to establish a base rate of children following in parents footsteps in order to measure the deviation.

How many economists spring from the loins of other economists?

51 Cliff February 16, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Anyone can be an economist. Not anyone can play in the NBA

52 mavery February 18, 2014 at 12:58 pm

“Anyone can play basketball. Not anyone can be a PhD Economist.”

53 A Definite Beta Guy February 16, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Andrew Wiggins, a freshman at Kansas

Someone give this man a Dragon Army (and I hope to god someone gets that reference)

54 EnerGeoPolitics February 16, 2014 at 10:16 pm

Don’t forget Jerami and Jerian Grant, sons of Harvey and nephews of Horace. Jerian was the leading scorer at Notre Dame until he was dismissed due to academics earlier this season, but he has an NBA profile. Jerami is an ultra-athletic forward for the #1 Syracuse Orange who, despite being the usual 4th option on offense, is considered to be a mid-first round pick should the sophomore decide to opt for the draft this year.

55 Steve Sailer February 17, 2014 at 5:49 am

There seem to be a higher percentage of identical twins in the NBA — Grants, Van Arsdales, Collins, Lopezes — than in other sports, probably because the highly heritable trait of height is so important in basketball.

It would be interesting to know how many stars in other sports have identical twins who aren’t stars. The only example I know of is in golf: two-time US Open winner Curtis Strange has an identical twin who is excellent at client golf, but went into business instead of competing with his brother at golf. But it’s hard to find lists of dogs who don’t bark, so I don’t know how many more such examples there are.

56 bob February 16, 2014 at 10:16 pm

Klay Thompsen, Dell Curry and Kevin Love are all very good outside shooters. Obviously genetics plays a role because basketball players need to be tall. But shooting is a skill that comes from practice and instruction. The son’s of basketball players quite likely received instruction on shooting and had lots of access to a gym.

57 Steve Sailer February 17, 2014 at 5:59 am

When I was in high school in the 1970s, our archrival high school Crespi always had the California high school state champion in the pole vault: the three Curran Brothers. This was always attributed to their having a pole vault pit in the back yard. I assumed they were rich kids whose dad had built them the only full sized pole vaulting setup in the state.

A few years ago I tracked down a video of a Super 8 movie of an adolescent Anthony Curran pole vaulting in his backyard. It turned out to be a tiny yard with the bar set in the corner, and for a pit they jammed some old couch cushions and discarded mattresses into where the brick walls came together in a corner. The Curran Brothers weren’t richer, they were just crazier than anybody else in California in the 1970s (which is pretty crazy, indeed).

58 John Trevor February 16, 2014 at 10:35 pm


59 Steve Sailer February 17, 2014 at 2:02 am

What percentage of American Olympian skiers come from families where Dad was a skier? Probably just about all.

60 Donald Pretari February 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm

GucciMane: I still haven’t read anything about Genetics. I never even mentioned Demographics. We now have the tools to avoid Assumptions, Generalizations, & Iffy Conclusions. I’ll shut up now. I long ago violated my two comments per post rule.

61 Donald Pretari February 17, 2014 at 1:00 pm

I’m sorry GucciMane. I now have a better understanding of what you were getting at. But My Point still stands.

62 Lopez February 17, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Shooting is heritable skill.

The key with fine motor movement skills like shooting, pitching, hitting a golf club, etc — is the ability to exactly repeat a complex series of muscle movements as much like a machine as possible. The more perfect you can repeat the movements, the more you can make corrections.

Big men like Shaq cannot shoot free throws due to their lack of fine motor control. No amount of practice can solve that problem. There was just too much random error in Shaq’s movements. All the random error, cause by uncontrolled fine motor movements, made it impossible to accurately diagnose and correct problems.

Ray Allen is one of the great shooters. Also has mild OCD. My guess is there are similar genetics involved. His ability to shoot the exact same way every time is mostly due to his genetics, not practice.

Practice is important. But if you don’t have the genes for good shooting, no amount of practice will turn you into a good shooter. The 10k hr myth is just that, a myth.

63 Steve Sailer February 17, 2014 at 4:48 pm

“Big men like Shaq cannot shoot free throws due to their lack of fine motor control. No amount of practice can solve that problem.”

Maybe, but it didn’t help that when Shaq built a mansion in Los Angeles, the one amenity he didn’t put in was a facility for practicing his free throw shooting.

But, basketball is still a low barrier to entry sport. Golf used to be low barrier entry sport too since poor boys like Gene Sarazen or Lee Trevino could get caddy or groundskeeping jobs and learn the game that way. But now pretty much every top golfer comes from an affluent family that allowed him to play a huge amount of golf as an adolescent.

In a lot of sports, the nurture side has been increasing in importance over the nature side. For example, Pancho Gonzales, who was the top pro tennis player in the world in the late 1950s was an East LA juvenile delinquent who learned the game on public courts. Now, top players mostly went to tennis boarding schools, so there haven’t been any Mexican American stars like Pancho in many decades.

64 Lopez February 17, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Fair points.
I still think the importance of machine-like precision and repitition in fine motor movements is an unrecognized aspect of modern sports, and that it is largely genetic.
I find it interesting that east asians seem to excel at sports that require such fine motor control.

Of course, muscle movement repetition is important for both fine and gross motor control. Look at the success that east asians have had in sports like diving and figure skating. That ability to do the same dive the exact same way every time, and to make the required adjustments when errors are identified. I think that’s an overlooked aspect of many pro sports and pro athletes.

Basketball is much more improvisational — except for free throws and the 3 pt specialists who do the same motion over and over.

65 George February 18, 2014 at 6:34 pm

What is the evidence of your thought that “machine-like precision and repetition in fine motor movements … is largely genetic” ? What is the evidence that practice is not the key? As for practice, I think the mental attitude towards it is important. Most kids want to play competitive games and are unwilling or incapable of enduring the boredom of practice to reach the highest levels. Maybe this ability to endure the boredom of practice is genetic? I don’t know. Genes are not going to enable a right-handed player to take left-handed layups and they won’t learn them by playing games as the initial failure rate will be too high to learn during a game.

I find it bizarre that the title of this entry is “Are genetics becoming more important for NBA success?” while the body contains Steve Kerr’s quote being a second-generation player “likened the setting to being immersed in a ‘basketball think tank’ from childhood.” It is clearly a mix of nature/nurture and I don’t see much here to disentangle the two although it is heartening to see requests for that.

66 triclops41 February 18, 2014 at 1:49 pm

David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwan, Rick Smits, Yao Ming, Pau Gasol, Kareem, and dozens of other NBA big men would beg to differ with your theory that the big ones can’t have fine motor skills.
You could instead argue that the limited pool of massive men with gross motor skills limits the number you will find who also have fine motor skills.

67 Donald Pretari February 17, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Sorry, but Shaq could have been far better at the Free Throw Line. It has a lot to do with something called Physics.

68 Steve Sailer February 18, 2014 at 2:37 am

“Steve Kerr, a former guard and front-office executive, likened the setting to being immersed in a “basketball think tank” from childhood.”

Steve Kerr, oddly enough, grew up in a famous WASP “Arabist” family that had produced many diplomats and educators. His heroic father Malcolm Kerr gave up being a Vice Chancellor at UCLA when I was there in the early 1980s to head the American University of Beirut during the civil war in Lebanon. He was assassinated in 1985.

69 Beliavsky February 18, 2014 at 8:41 am

We accept that the children of basketball professionals are more likely to become basketball professionals because of both nature and nurture. Can society accept that the children of two married white collar professionals are more likely to become white collar professionals because of both nature (IQ) and nurture?

70 triclops41 February 18, 2014 at 2:04 pm

IQ is poorly defined and understood. It is also only a weak predictor of success. I’m sure it has some relevance, but the heritability of other factors matter too.
It is also politically incorrect, but the reasons I don’t like it I mentioned above. If you want to say the heritability of intellectual ability then I would be more agreeable.

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