USA NBA fact of the day

Overall, I estimate that the average white player in the N.B.A. has a fan base that is 56.7 percent white and 22.7 percent black. The average black player has a fan base that is 46.7 percent white and 32 percent black, a significant difference…

If a white and a black player are similar on paper, it is the black player who will have more fans.

Among black Americans, black players are roughly twice as popular as comparable white players. But black players get a slight boost from fans of every racial group. Compared with white players who are similar to them in all ways I could think to measure, black players have more fans among white Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian-Americans.

Honestly, I was blown away by the overall size of this advantage. Roughly speaking, I estimate that a white player would have to score 10 more points per game to have as big a fan base on Facebook as he would have if he were black.

That is from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz at the NYT, there is much more discussion at the link, though no mention of The Incandescent Rex.  In other words, if the styles of the black players are in some way more dynamic and thus more popular (Rex being an exception, Pete Maravich another), and if we could adjust for that variable, how much of the race effect would go away?


Is Seth Curry white or black?

Reminds me of an old "In Living Color" sketch on Michael Jackson's "Black or White"...

MJ: Officer, can you tell me if I'm black or white?
Cop: You're under arrest.
MJ: I guess I'm black.

He's mixed.

Both of his parents identify as black, but he obviously has significant (likely overwhelming) European ancestry.

Mixed people seem to look more white than black, so I suppose that he it more black than white.

To your point, many good players these days are half white and half black, and visibly so. It's not really accurate to call Curry or Blake Griffin or Klay Thompson "black" . For example, I believe it was Kevin Durant who said he thought Steph Curry was white the first time they met.

]: "fan base that is 56.7 percent white and 22.7 percent black."

so, same problem measuring the Blackness/Whiteness/Mixedness of the "fan base".

and just how did 'Seth Stephens-Davidowitz' achieve a tenth-of-percent accuracy in measuring the white/black ratio in fan bases ?

is there such a thing as fake sports news ?

Honestly, I was blown away by the overall size of this advantage. Roughly speaking, I estimate that a white player would have to score 10 more points per game to have as big a fan base on Facebook as he would have if he were black.

It is probably better to focus on the style of play. Because a naive reading of this would be that Black fans are racist and White fans are not.

While leaning towards the second argument, personally, I would not discount the first.

Let's be honest...[John Stockton]'s wonderful bounce passes aren't the spectacle that [Jordan]'s dunks are.

I'm sort of embarrassed that I can't fill the brackets with a more contemporary pair, but I suspect if you watch the All-Star Game this weekend, you'll see a slam-dunk contest featuring not very many white guys.

Oh hey look...

Also re: "racist"... let's not adopt the vapid standards of the left here. If Facebook isn't racist for lacking black coders, basketball certainly isn't racist for lacking white dunkers.

There is, I should note, a difference between the two...namely that if you and I wrote a script for Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes called "Black Men Can't Code," we would be irretrievably racist and nobody would employ or talk to us again.

Basketball doesn't lack White players. That is not the problem. The problem is simple - Black fans do not like White players. White (and other) fans like Black players more than they like White players, by a little. But Black fans really don't like White players:

Among black Americans, black players are roughly twice as popular as comparable white players. But black players get a slight boost from fans of every racial group.

That is a gross difference. Now if the roles were reversed - if White fans really liked White players but not Black players - the NBA would be doing everything it could to shame and insult its fans.

Now I will agree that Black players probably benefit from the same dubious (and dare I say racist?) beliefs that Black rappers do. White suburban teens clearly enjoy what they think is the ghetto life vicariously though songs like Big Pimpin'. No doubt they also like the attitude of Black NBA players. Which is probably also why there are so few Black coders - no street cred in that. However it is normally assumed that different outcomes means racism.

Imagine a black dude rolling around town in a Kevin Love jersey. There must be massive social pressure against that kind of thing (yo Uncle Tom), while nobody thinks twice about a white guy in a LeBron jersey. I can't say I fault individual black fans for not defying this; I'm not sure I would.

Really awful thread here.

Okay Brian, what's your particular gripe? From your downvote here and your upvote below, it appears you subscribe to the notion that black racism is more okay than white racism. Perhaps you can elaborate.

Just commenting on Brian's apparent squeamishness on race: remember when the Patriots winning the Superbowl was racist?

I don't think it's racist to identify more with people your own race. I think it's human. I also don't think it's unexpected that that identification is stronger in minorities.

category error

Maybe it is racist, but not evil. The broken assumption here is that "racist" is a subset of "evil".

I'm pretty sure all the 'race realists' here would agree with this statement. The left would disagree, in that whites identifying with whites is racist but blacks identifying with blacks is not racist.

NBA players don't manage their Facebook accounts. That job is delegated to a PR agency. Surprisingly, the amount of daily FB posts was not considered. A popular guy is "posts" several times a day, perhaps posting at rates incompatible with being a pro NBA player. Fans want hourly updates, why follow someone that makes updates once a month? In Twitter, PR people have found optimal hours to make a tweet. Why think this is about race and not cold dead marketing, PR and numbers?

Because many of us like to pretend to believe in a world where 'cold dead marketing, PR and numbers' is not involved. Even though it is now easier than ever to discover someone's job title - for example the Mercatus Center employs a 'General Manager and Chief of Product for Marginal Revolution University.'

You've just shifted the question to why black players hire skilled PR agencies and white players don't... which doesn't seem like a fruitful area to question.

Or one could wonder, who made more money off of PR, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird?

One could further wonder, after Michael Jordan's amazingly successful branding exercise, whether the field has grown so crowded that a player like Dirk Nowitzki is simply crowded out, regardless of PR efforts.

Which might then return to Prof. Cowen's point about playing style being more important, thus negating the whole obsession with race to begin with.

"how much of the race effect would go away?" In the USA, The Race Effect is never going away, You can import as many yellow, brown or off-white immigrants as you like, you are stuck with The Race Effect.

Pretty much, particularly in the strange way that Americans look at it. Though I can no longer find the link, a few years ago, a British actress (I seem to recall this occurred at an airport) was asked about how she felt being an 'African American' actress in a major Hollywood production. She insisted she was not African American, but the American reporters continued to insist she was - based on her skin color, of course.

Maybe we can now look at how this works for non-Americans compared to Americans, based on the Spurs - 'But mostly he watched Popovich, who in his 21st season is the longest-tenured head coach in U.S. professional sports, identify with players and coaches who transcend cultures, nations and backgrounds: Tony Parker, a point guard from France; Manu Ginobili, a shooting guard from Argentina; Kawhi Leonard, a small forward from Los Angeles. Four years ago, 10 of San Antonio’s players were born outside the United States, the most international roster in NBA history. Popovich’s assistant coaches include Becky Hammon, the first woman to be hired full-time as an NBA assistant, and Ettore Messina, a famed EuroLeague coach.'

The relevance of this is what?

A championship winning team composed of many non-Americans. How do such players stack up in this sort of rating? And do you control for nationality? To use the Nowitzki example, though he is a quite well known NBA player in Germany, is unlikely to have a 'fanbase' in Germany that would easily break down into American concepts of race. To put it differently, in Germany, you can more easily rank NBA players by popularity without needing to create a racial component.

Whether Germans are scintillated by playing style is another question, of course.

Lets classify the Nowitzki clan. Shall we? Dirk and his family are a good example of the silliness of racial classification.

Thats right; Dirk's wife (Jessica Olsson) is Swedish.

No point, just making conversation.

If he ran as a moderate Republican, I wonder if Popovich could win a senate seat in Texas. Getting into the House seems almost a given, if he were so motivated.

Doubtful on the senate seat. Furthermore Poppovich is a pretty obnoxious leftist so I'm not sure he could pull of the moderate republican act for an entire election.

Probably true. As a moderate Republican, though, he'd pull in a ton of Hispanic and black votes that don't normally go to the Republican. Texas has open primaries, so all those folks could cross the aisle vote for him in the GOP primary. If he won the primary it'd be a given he'd win the general.

A disproportionate number of white players, especially stars, were born abroad. Is that one of the controlled-for variables? If not, a partial explanation might be that people have a preference for players from the United States.

That's not true anymore.

I said to stop impersonate me or I will take action against you and you will end up as dead as Paraguay did (turant Solano Lopez last words were, "I die with my country").

I've been following pro basketball since its pre-NBA days. Did you know there used to be a franchise in Sheboygan, Wis? How about the Providence Steamrollers? Or St. Louis Bombers?

The ONLY white player I ever heard blacks have any enthusiasm for was Pete Maravich.

Steve Nash. He's even mentioned in rap songs.

You forgot the Tri-Cities Blackhawks and the Rochester Royals.

Syracuse Nationals. Who can forget the great Dolph Schayes?

Dave Cowens did not play like a lumbering white guy.

They don't call Jason Williams white chocolate cause he isn't popular with black players, along with a dozen others. Lots of white players end up type case and boring as lumbering centers or spot up 3 point shooters. The game is changing an phasing the former out anyway, so hopefully people change with it. If all the white players quit and go play baseball though all bets off.

Position is an excellent point. Think of the NFL. The only positions where whites are well-represented are QB, C and K. Nobody's going to get excited about a Center or Kicker. In the NBA, if whites are disproportionately likely to play "boring" positions, then that could explain some of the difference.

The real conundrum in sports is why the best black high school basketball players choose Duke and the best black high school football players choose Alabama. The former school is where wealthy white boys go to learn racial resentment and the latter school is where middlebrow white boys go to have it reinforced. I exaggerate, but not much. Of course, everybody besides Duke fans hates Mike Krzyzewski, the white basketball coach at Duke. And everybody besides Alabama fans hates Nick Saban, the white football coach at Alabama. Go figure.

I assume because they want to win championships. And because both schools have a highly motivated fan base that reveres the respective sport at each school.

Actually, Duke always has a disproportionate amount of white dudes on its basketball team. And the blacks they do get tend to be either mixed or suburban or from military families. Duke does not recruit/get many ghetto blacks.

Given how much he wins, it is actually remarkable how little true hate there is for Saban.

The best black players choose Kentucky. Coach K looks for "character" which is a code word for enculturated with white middle class values, regardless of your skin color.

"In other words, if the styles of the black players are in some way more dynamic and thus more popular (Rex being an exception, Pete Maravich another), and if we could adjust for that variable, how much of the race effect would go away?"

In other words, if you squint really hard, we can find a way to explain this that does not conclude that blacks are racist.

The NBA is an interesting example of how modern liberalism is a suicide cult. The NBA has a dwindling purchase on the mind of the modern sports fans. It is a sport for black people now. Yet, the far left sports network, ESPN, is showering the league with cash and promoting it nonstop, vainly hoping the skies part and they are all drawn into the Kingdom of Heaven. It's entirely possible that their deal with the NBA bankrupts the network, but it does not matter. What matters is they are good whites, celebrating the blackety-black.

Also they make money off it. I'm thinking that's the motivation.

Except that's no longer so clear. Clearly ESPN considers themselves to be in the advocacy business as well as the sports business. It isn't clear that Disney of all people is going to let that continue to be the case.

I could ultimately be proven wrong, but I continue to believe that ultimately money is the main motivation for what they do. Part of the money-making strategy may be to cultivate a certain image w.r.t. social issues like race. At some point, though, if the NBA becomes too big of a money loser, there may be less expensive ways to cultivate that image.

At this point the returns on the NBA coverage deal probally don't even cover the cost of capital/ opportunity costs for ESPN though they are still bottom-line profitable. ESPN also has pretty low opportunity costs because there just isn't that much live sports action around. If subscriber defection continues at its current rate ESPN won't be able to afford the NBA contract in three years because like Some Guy said ESPN's business model rests on subscriber fees not advertising.

"It isn’t clear that Disney of all people is going to let that continue to be the case." Are you sure it is not clear? Many far-right Brazilian Evangelicals want to convice me Disney is a gay-ruled company. So they have all reasons to be in the advocacy business because gays and Blacks, Darwin, Mickey Mouse and something...

No, they make money from mandatory cable fees. Their ad dollars are about 15% of gross revenue.

You should probably learn something about the topic before commenting.

So you contention is that if ESPN jettisoned the NBA and replaced that programming with (whatever) that their bottom line would improve?

Absolutely- the question is how would that effect the subscription trends long term.

That's plainly obvious. In an age where their gross revenue from cable subscription is falling, they have dedicated close to 10% of gross revenue to the NBA. It was a dumb idea when they did it and it now causing a panic within their parent company.

Sounds like they could negotiate down the cost of the rights to air NBA games, no? If it's a money loser, how is the league commanding such a price?

"The far-left sports network..." Oh, God... More important is fighting the extremist Raspberry ice cream flavor.

My vague impression is that the NBA is doing fine. The quality of play is high, strategies have been changing in novel directions, the league has lots of stars, the storylines are interesting (overdog LeBron returns to Cleveland and unexpectedly brings the city a title as the underdog to the cutting edge Warriors), and there are lots of rich guys who will pay up to two billion to own a franchise.

You could argue that the NBA doesn't _deserve_ to be doing fine, but it is.

Similar in many respects to American tackle football, basketball is a product of the Northeastern Puritan world-view, particularly in it's obsession with the time continuum. A limited number of seconds are allowed for virtually every process. The officials are continually marking time. In fact, the introduction of the shot clock, an effort to force the players to compete, was one of the most significant innovations in the game.

A further Puritan aspect is the domineering presence of the Cromwellian coach, stalking the sidelines in an executive capacity that mimics the powerful chief executive while his underling tools pretend to follow his orders. The focus is not on the somewhat interchangeable players as much as it is on the great engineer/general that directs them. Like other enterprises, the success or failure of the team is draped on the shoulders of the coach since it's impractical to fire the entire team for finishing out of the second season playoffs.

>The focus is not on the somewhat interchangeable players as much as it is on
>the great engineer/general that directs them.

To some extent, that's a function of the salary cap; coaches are the only remaining place were owners can [attempt to] buy victories.

And it's even worse in the college ranks.

is this really that surprising? Like Chris Rock said, and I am paraphrasing ... NBA is a black industry, just as Hollywood is a white industry.

How does that relate at all to the subject of the post?

My point was that there is inherent bias in all industries. In the nba it is positive to blacks. The interesting question is why is this so and why does it vary across industries, e.g. Positive for whites in Hollywood

Which is why #allstargamesoblack is trending on twitter. Surely the point is that whites take efforts to minimize exclusion in their industries and blacks should be held to the same standard.

... so?

So...This post is evidence of the GREAT STAGNATION going on this blog.

How do native American players rate with white fans and black fans? Are black players more popular with native Americans than white players? Why are there so few black sumo wrestlers? Should the NYT be used to potty train black puppies or white kittens?

There are none. Probably. No black people in Japan. Both.

There are certainly black expats in Japan. I believe Eastern Europeans have done very well in sumo wrestling there. I don't know about blacks in the sport, though.

>>There are certainly black expats in Japan.<<

Yes, they fill a golf foursome every Friday.

It doesn't explain anything, Mongolians are great Sumo wrestlers too.

'No black people in Japan.'

I wonder how many MLB players currently playing in Japan would agree with this.

Mongolians have pretty much taken over Sumo.

Tyler is very good at his job.

Rex Chapman???? Good highschool and college player but just an average pro. If you are looking at incandescent, look not farther than Larry Bird who could pass and shoot with the best of them.

Yes but he is detested by black people so it would have completely undermined Cowen's interpretation.

If you grind that ax any more, it will wear down to a hatchet. Perhaps it's time to find a tree.

I'm the guy who really hates bigotry. Which guy are you?

Chapman was explosively athletic player when he first entered college, but injured his back late in his sophomore season at Kentucky, and he was never the same player as before. So, no he really isn't a good comparison once in the NBA, though he did have a decent career overall, just not what was expected after his first season at Kentucky.

My impression from watching a lot of basketball from, say, 1970-2000 was that on average white players did more unexpected stuff, while blacks tended to be more efficient.

In particular, European players tried all sorts of bizarre shots and passes. I first noticed this with BYU's amazing center Kresmir Cosic around 1971.

Bill Walton, for example, was more fun to watch than was Kareem. Larry Bird, for example, was more creative than Michael Jordan, who was grimly effective. Heck, Jeff Hornacek was a lot more creative than Michael Jordan. But Michael Jordan was better than Jeff Hornacek and he was better than Larry Bird.

The black player with a unique, artistic style was Earl Monroe. But Earl the Pearl was, for all his talent, not all that effective. He wasted a lot of effort spinning horizontally, which looks nice but doesn't get you much closer to the basket. In his early prime, Jordan, in contrast, simply went up and at the rim. It was repetitious, but it worked.

In general, top white players have gotten where they are by superior eye-hand coordination while top black players have gotten where they are by superior jumping ability. Which one is more entertaining is a matter of opinion, but it seemed pretty obvious that the black advantage was more effective at winning basketball games.

I don't pretend to know much about 21st Century basketball, so maybe these patterns have changed.

What percentage of white NBA players are foreign? That could have some effect on why white players are less successful.

Correction: not less successful, but less popular.

Three white players were in the top fouty in the fan voting two were foreign.

If the best white players in terms of quality of play are foreign then that stat may not mean much. For instance, with the same level of play, those players might have been more popular if they weren't foreign. Not saying that's the case, but it could be.

It's almost impossible to determine this because there aren't any foreign players that are in the Top 15 best players right now. A black Greek player was the highest European vote getter pretty much in line with comparable players in the frontcourt. There is also the market size factor at work here. But then again that's the thing with disparate impact analysis the burden of proof should be on the NBA just like it was on any fire department etc. that caught the attention of the Obama DOJ.

There's no mention of social media frequency. Perhaps popular black players are more active on social media, hence the wider following?

IANAE, but it seems that frequency would be a pretty important variable.

As we learned from disparate impact law suits you don't get to play this cofounding variables in the struggle for equality.

Ockham's Razor is prejudice- those are the rules the Obama DOJ promulagated.

I'd really like to see the analysis. This seems like a really messy data set that makes comparisons across things like race very difficult. For one thing, the best players are almost all black. Take this year's all-star rosters. There are exactly two white guys, and they're arguably the two worst players on the teams.

If "likes" for NBA player facebook pages work like other types of social media attention, they have a power law distribution. So we have literally no information about anything but black players at the top end of that distribution, and yet we're going to use them to make inference? I imagine if you did try to run a regression with uses data and race as a key factor, you'd see those massive stars as outliers, having more fans that would otherwise be predicted by a mean regression. This would manifest in the results Stephenson-Davidowtz reports.

You could try some sort of matched design wherein you try to find the most similar players of different race (hopefully using a large range of statistics including time in league, college affiliation, etc.) and then compare their fan pages, but I think you'd struggle to do an apples-to-apples comparison that made intuitive sense to observers.

I'm not trying to argue that people perceive basketball players differently based on race (it's absurd how rarely you'll see commentators give trans-racial comparisons, not only in basketball but in sports like baseball as well), but I without seeing the actual analysis done (not described in the article) I have a hard time believing it actually shows anything real.

Addendum: I missed Marc Gasol. But he's an interesting duck, since he's a Euro player who speaks a different language. I don't even know how you'd do a similar comparison with those folks. You've got a max of 450 NBA players rostered at any given point. Most tend to be towards the young end of the distribution, hence less experience and fewer fans. You have all sorts of differentials based on nationality, but not very many players from each country. You can use nation of origin population as a control, but that ignores nation-specific effects such as how popular basketball is in a given country. What about countries that have only one really good NBA player? Does being the best player from your country matter in some way? Is Kristaps Porzingas getting a all the the Latvian love that Davis Bertans is missing?

It just seems like a really, really complicated model, and I'm inferring that it wasn't worth building that model to support a 500 word NYT blurb.

I agree it's high time we completely dismantle the edifice of disparate impact. Things are too complicated to gauge this way- if no blacks pass the firemans exam give them the name of a good test prep place. If no whites make the all star game tell them to dunk more.

Not sure what "significant difference" means here. Confidence interval, n = ?

Moi, as Miss Piggy prompts me to say, the population and the sample love basketball, a game that Americans started and African-Americans revolutionized.

Americans and others who dearly love the game might just be choosing their favorites from among a seriously excellent group of players. Where black excellence is obvious, white privilege or quotas are minimal. The biggest statistical issue is the relative scarcity of excellent white players, a decades old trope at least since the "White Shadow" TV show.

Successful white players in recent decades have tended to come from parts of the country or the world where there are few blacks:

John Stockton from Spokane
Steve Nash from Vancouver Island
Kevin Love from Portland
Dirk Nowitzki from Germany
The Gasol Bros. from Spain, etc.

Jason Williams was a rare white player to enjoy some success in the NBA growing up around blacks -- or at least one black, his childhood friend Randy Moss, the future NFL superstar:

In general, whites seem to do best in basketball if they have a safe space away from too much black competition before they mature.

Jason Williams is another flashy white player to remember.

This year's all star team has two white players, neither one American.

It's also pretty obvious that most "Black" NBA players, like other Black Americans, are of mixed racial ancestry.

This is laughably false. Three white people made the all star team. Two of which are American. It's not even like Kevin Love or Gordon Haywood have foreign sounding names.

Right - I was looking at wrong year. Hayward and Love are American, and white, despite the picture of a black guy in the story I read about Hayward.

In that case i apologize for being that critical. I genuinely thought you were trying to be duplicitous.

Of course they're foreign sounding names, Gordon is as Scottish as it gets.

Kevin Love's Uncle Mike was the Beach Boy who wrote the lyrics to "Good Vibrations."

You can't get much more white American than that without being Brian Wilson.

Two white Americans on the NBA All-Star teams are a lot. There were numerous years in this century without any.

Actually, the best USA NBA fact of the day is that the NBA All-Star weekend is the most spectacular gathering of the most beautiful prostitutes in the world. The US Open golf tournament is number two.

White players are mostly boring overrated and not great on defense. The Europeans are mostly real awful on defence.

Took my kids to see the Harlem Globe Trotters last night. They no longer play the Washington Generals a white team . They play the World All Stars an all black team. There was not a single white person in sight that worked for the Globe Trotters. The pre game entertainers were black, the coaches were black the referees were black and DJ's were black. The audience was 98% white however.

The 56% and 22% numbers obscure the fact that blacks are much more likely to be basketball fans. There's also a big difference in intensity, which probably also explains why whites are underrepresented as players -- for the same reason all the nonblacks are, they're just not that into basketball. Whites are more likely to play hockey, and of course everyone loves football because football is awesome, the great gridiron melting pot. Indians are apparently too enlightened for sports and Chinese too inscrutable, excepting the occasional Yao Ming.

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