Update: You can view the full article in the link below. I moved my blog so Swiss hitman would be further off the trail. You can find more content including graphs in the link.
I’m starting a weekly article on my site published on Sunday. I’m a little late with this one, but it involved a lot of data. I’ll still do posts on other days of the week, but there will always be one article on Sunday during the season.
Yes, I know that talking about race is stupid. There is only one race: the human race. Skin color has nothing to do with a person. Racial groups were created years ago in a different world and today they’re hardly used. Etc. However, the discussion of race in the NBA lives on, and I thought it’d be interesting to put some numbers behind things. It might be best, also, to think of this as an analysis of the background of NBA players, not race.
The basis of this study is to find average ethnicity numbers weighted by minutes played, meaning on the bench types have less of an influence on the statistics. For example, if there is one Asian player on a team and he plays 10% of the total team minutes, then the team is 10% Asian. If a player had parents of different ethnicities, I allocated the weight accordingly. I separated the ethnic groups into African, Caucasian, Hispanic, East Asian, Native American, and Indigenous Australian. There are numerous issues that arise when dividing people into these groups, but this was the best I could do to make sense of it all.
The NBA for the 2010-2011 season was on averaged weighted by minutes played 75.5% African, 17.7% Caucasian, 6.4% Hispanic, 0.3% East Asian, 0.02% Native American, and 0.1% Indigenous Australian. The team with the highest percentage of international player-minutes was San Antonio with 39.7% where the league average was 18.7% (Duncan was listed as international for having been born in the US Virgin Islands, and yes, I know that sounds weird.) The team with the highest percentage for Euro-born players was Toronto, not surprisingly, with 29.3% while the average was 10.5%.
The only three East Asian players last year to receive time were Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian, and Jeremy Lin; all had little playing time, but Yao obviously had more in the past. The only Native American player was Delonte West, who said in an interview that his father was part Piscataway Indian. However, I couldn’t find exactly how much his Native American lineage was, so I estimated West’s as 25%. Previous Native American NBA players include Cherokee Parks and Bison Dele, who was murdered at sea by his brother. The only Indigenous Australian in the game is Patrick Mills, a lightning fast point guard now playing in China. Nathan Jawai is another Indigenous Australian who has played in 2008-9 and 2009-10, but he did not have any minutes in this season.
The whitest team in the league was Minnesota because of starters Kevin Love, Darko Milicic, and Luke Ridnour, while the blackest was Detroit who actually didn’t have any white players last season (Swede Jonas Jerebko was injured for the entire year and he’s back with the team now.) The most Hispanic was Denver. The results are found below in the following tables.
The league is, of course, largely black, but not every team is dominated by one ethnicity. Players of non-African ethnicities are not just relegated to bench duty; some are the foundation of teams. A third ethnic group along with African and Caucasian, the Hispanic influence on the game is growing. Countries like Spain, Brazil and Argentina produce some of the NBA’s best players and consequently they form a significant percentage of some NBA teams.
France contributed the most NBA players (excluding the US) but most of their players are African descendants and some were born in France’s overseas department entities like Guadelope. Despite the prevalent international influence on the game, two teams got zero minutes from players born in different countries: the Pacers and Clippers.
There are a few surprises in the data. Minnesota, not Utah or Indiana, was the whitest team. Toronto was not the most international team as they were fourth behind Sacramento and Milwaukee, which were definitely unexpected. No team, however, was more than 50% Caucasian, Hispanic, or International.
As for how ethnicity or background determined a team’s success, the charts at the end of the post show that there is no correlation whatsoever with ethnicity or percentage of internationally born players. Teams with more white players did not have a lower winning percentage overall, and vice versa. If you squint hard enough, you can sort of see a correlation in the international data, but a regression found that there was no significant prediction of wins from international player-minutes percentage. No correlation of wins with the international players is somewhat surprising because one could argue successful teams know how to find harder to locate players in Europe or other places, but recent champions like the 2006 Heat, the 2008 Celtics, and the 2004 Pistons gave few minutes to international players. Cellar-dwellers from last year include the Raptors and Kings, and both of those rosters could fill out a decent UN meeting.
I’ve attached a pie chart for every team showing the ethnic backgrounds. Again I’d like to reiterate that classifying by race is largely outdated, but it’s something we still talk about, especially in the NBA. The mainstream media ignore race when discussing the league, but fans do not. There are a number of prejudices associated with basketball, and these will not be solved by ignoring that Serge Ibaka and Steve Nash look dissimilar (it’s more than the hair.) We have an exciting league with players with very different backgrounds. There are players from Slovenia, Venezuela, Israel, Iran, and Switzerland. In 2010-11, the rookie of the year was half white and half black; an African-American won the MVP; the most improved player and leading rebounder was a white American; a Chinese all-star center retired; the leading shot-blocker was an Australian; and the best player on the championship team was German. Let’s celebrate that diversity, not hide it.