Monday, January 2, 2012

The NBA and Ethnicity: the Race of Each Team

See the updated stats for the 2011-12 season here.

Disclaimer:

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.

Background

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.

As for the specifics behind racial classification, Hispanic is a catch-all for Spain and Portugal’s influence over the western hemisphere, where otherwise it would be very difficult finding the right numbers for, say, the amount of white and black ethnic roots for Al Horford. This means that Spanish players were not Caucasian but Hispanic in this study. The Caribbean islands were a difficult bunch of countries to set a “race,” so I used the historical background of each one – Hispanic like Puerto Rico or West African like Jamaica. Caucasian included middle-eastern and Semitic groups like Israeli Omri Casspi. I understand that Native Americans have genetic similarities to East Asians, but culturally there’s a clear divide and when the average person thinks about race today that person doesn’t group them with Asians. Indigenous Australian seems like a group that’s too specific, but anthropology differentiates them from East Asians or Africans. (They’re actually the Australoid group, but I thought that term sounded so wrong, just like Mongoloid and Negroid.) There are also issues where most African-Americans have some Caucasian blood, and many Americans have some Native American. However, I do not have a DNA test for each NBA player; I worked with what I could find.

This is the first article I’ve published about race, and I hope to do one about this current season or seasons past. Consequently, I may have errors in the database, and any help is appreciated. Some players had difficult backgrounds to discern, and I imagine like some people, especially in the US, a few NBA players don’t know their ethnic makeup. The data will be improved with time, but this version is thorough enough to publish my findings.

Results

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.


Team
African %

Team
Caucasian %

Detroit Pistons
91.6

Minnesota Timberwolves
38.8

Boston Celtics
90.1

Phoenix Suns
33.6

LA Clippers
87.9

Golden State Warriors
30.5

Cleveland Cavaliers
87.3

Indiana Pacers
29.1

Philadelphia 76ers
85.8

San Antonio Spurs
28.4

Charlotte Bobcats
85.4

New Jersey Nets
27.8

Washington Wizards
85.1

Orlando Magic
27.3

Miami Heat
83.5

Dallas Mavericks
26.1

Portland Trailblazers
82.6

Milwaukee Bucks
24.8

Memphis Grizzlies
80.4

Utah Jazz
24.4

Chicago Bulls
80.3

Sacramento Kings
22.3

New York Knicks
80.2

Houston Rockets
20.3

Oklahoma City Thunder
79.9

Oklahoma City Thunder
20.1

New Orleans Hornets
73.5

New Orleans Hornets
19.9

Denver Nuggets
73.0

Chicago Bulls
19.7

Atlanta Hawks
72.3

Toronto Raptors
18.0

Utah Jazz
71.7

New York Knicks
17.3

LA Lakers
71.4

LA Lakers
13.3

Indiana Pacers
70.9

Charlotte Bobcats
12.7

Sacramento Kings
70.7

LA Clippers
12.1

Orlando Magic
70.0

Miami Heat
10.0

Golden State Warriors
68.1

Atlanta Hawks
9.8

San Antonio Spurs
67.9

Philadelphia 76ers
9.5

Milwaukee Bucks
67.2

Boston Celtics
8.4

Houston Rockets
67.1

Cleveland Cavaliers
7.6

Dallas Mavericks
65.5

Washington Wizards
7.4

New Jersey Nets
65.0

Denver Nuggets
6.7

Toronto Raptors
64.3

Portland Trailblazers
4.0

Phoenix Suns
63.9

Memphis Grizzlies
2.2

Minnesota Timberwolves
61.2

Detroit Pistons
0.0




Team
Hispanic %

Team
East Asian %

Denver Nuggets
20.3

Washington Wizards
5.6

Atlanta Hawks
17.9

Golden State Warriors
1.4

Toronto Raptors
17.7

Houston Rockets
0.5

Memphis Grizzlies
17.3

LA Lakers
15.3

Houston Rockets
12.1

Team
Native American %

Portland Trailblazers
9.4

Boston Celtics
0.6

Dallas Mavericks
8.5

Detroit Pistons
8.4

Milwaukee Bucks
8.0

Team
Indigenous Australian %

New Jersey Nets
7.2

Portland Trailblazers
4.0

Sacramento Kings
7.0

New Orleans Hornets
6.6

Miami Heat
6.5

Cleveland Cavaliers
5.0

Philadelphia 76ers
4.7

Utah Jazz
3.9

San Antonio Spurs
3.7

Orlando Magic
2.7

New York Knicks
2.5

Phoenix Suns
2.5

Washington Wizards
1.9

Charlotte Bobcats
1.9

Boston Celtics
1.0

Chicago Bulls
0.0

Golden State Warriors
0.0

Indiana Pacers
0.0

LA Clippers
0.0

Minnesota Timberwolves
0.0

Oklahoma City Thunder
0.0





Team
Intnl. %

Team
Intnl. %

San Antonio Spurs
39.7

Toronto Raptors
29.2

Sacramento Kings
39.1

Portland Trailblazers
21.9

Milwaukee Bucks
37.7

Dallas Mavericks
21.5

Toronto Raptors
37.3

Utah Jazz
16.3

Phoenix Suns
31.5

Memphis Grizzlies
15.7

Dallas Mavericks
29.9

LA Lakers
15.6

Portland Trailblazers
27.2

Oklahoma City Thunder
15.3

Utah Jazz
26.8

Phoenix Suns
14.8

Oklahoma City Thunder
26.4

Minnesota Timberwolves
14.7

Memphis Grizzlies
22.7

Golden State Warriors
14.4

Chicago Bulls
21.2

Charlotte Bobcats
14.0

Atlanta Hawks
20.1

Sacramento Kings
13.8

Miami Heat
19.0

Orlando Magic
13.7

Denver Nuggets
18.7

New Jersey Nets
13.3

New York Knicks
16.5

San Antonio Spurs
12.8

Charlotte Bobcats
15.9

New York Knicks
10.8

LA Lakers
15.6

New Orleans Hornets
10.7

Minnesota Timberwolves
14.7

Detroit Pistons
10.7

Golden State Warriors
14.4

Milwaukee Bucks
7.6

Orlando Magic
13.7

Atlanta Hawks
6.4

New Orleans Hornets
13.5

Boston Celtics
6.2

New Jersey Nets
13.3

Miami Heat
5.8

Detroit Pistons
10.7

Chicago Bulls
5.0

Cleveland Cavaliers
10.2

Denver Nuggets
3.0

Washington Wizards
9.2

Philadelphia 76ers
0.4

Boston Celtics
7.2

Cleveland Cavaliers
0.3

Philadelphia 76ers
5.0

Houston Rockets
0.0

Houston Rockets
2.4

Indiana Pacers
0.0

Indiana Pacers
0.0

LA Clippers
0.0

LA Clippers
0.0

Washington Wizards
0.0


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.

Conclusion

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.





















































9 comments:

  1. [...] A Screaming Comes Across The Court 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. [...]

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think it is a mistake, and quite a common one in my opinion, that we consider all Spanish or LatinAmerica-born people to be of Hispanic "race".

    Leaving apart all moral issues we might and should have about the concept of race, perhaps a good first point to make is to clarify what is Hispanic, in order for it to be relevant from a physiologic point of view. I must advance that I think that "Hispanic" is a tag determining origin and not physical characteristics. "Hispanic", from a physiologic point of view, comprises people with Amerindian descent, as well as people from the Mediterranean and a mixture of both these types with Caucasian. Pretty much of a portmanteau, isn't it?

    So, for my point of view, your classification is misleading. Are all Spaniards hispanic? Even, is there any Spaniard in the league who would be considered hispanic before looking their country of origin? If so, shouldn't Italians, as fellow Mediterraneans, be considered Hispanic as well? Are the likes of Ginobili or former Pistons Herrman to be considered Hispanic? Isn't it quite an oversimplification to consider all foreign players from Spain&LatinAmerica Hispanic, while you regard races and mixings of several degrees in US-born athletes? I think it must have taken some time to write such a good article and it's undeserving to overlook these issues...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Talking about race is not stupid, but this discussion of race is stupid. You use race and ethnicity interchangeably? Black Latinos are not of African descent? Delonte West is a quarter NA because he mentioned something about it in an interview once? Pull your head out of your ass.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello --

    I enjoyed the post and I'm pretty sure that's a Pynchon reference in your title, so here's a thank you:

    http://g.alexcarder.com/images/screaming-across-the-courtfinal.png

    The color may be off, now that I'm looking at it, but I figured at the very least a png would help smooth out the court lines.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I agree with most you have to say, but for the purposes of finishing what I had I needed the catch-all Hispanic. Americans are easier in that people of mixed race will probably have discussed it in the media, but in some Hispanic countries like Mexico it's natural to have two different racial backgrounds. I would have liked to separate the Hispanic population better, but it would have been guesswork on a number of guys. I think I should have mentioned that I know Hispanic isn't a race. I just thought of it as, Hey, this guy has parents who come from this part of the world. If I could, I wouldn't need to label Varejao (mostly Portuguese descent?) as a Hispanic and instead Caucasian or whatever his background is. Again, sorry I had to use Hispanic when talking about race, but until I get better information on those guys I had to. Also, I know ethnicity and race are different things -- race is more biological and ethnicity more about the background and culture. But the only color that matters is orange: the basketball. Or possibly green, for the large contracts guys sign to escape crappy teams.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Very interesting. While the best approach may be to simply ignore race out of existence, if we are going to talk about it, cooly and rationally is the way to go.

    The next step: accounting for hybrid vigor. How many athletes in the NBA are really even of a single race, however race is defined? I'd bet very, very few.

    The pleasant outcome of such an analysis: it might very well be the willingness of parents to break racial and ethnic barriers that helps create the finest athletes (and the smartest people, most attractive, and so on).

    ReplyDelete
  7. "Varejao (mostly Portuguese descent?)...Hispanic...Caucasian or whatever his background is." This phrase pretty much demonstrates the accuracy of your original post. You have done no research on the races of your subjects, for a post that is ostensibly drawing conclusions about race.

    ESPN was irresponsible in linking to this post You've completely jumbled the concepts of race, ethnicity, and nationality. And the distinctions matter. Additionally, your arrogance in defending your absurd position demonstrates just how ignorant you truly are. Wake the hell up.

    ReplyDelete
  8. [...] Break down the numbers and the NBA is color blind — ethnicity has no impact on winning. [...]

    ReplyDelete
  9. [...] this team.- Voice on The Floor is back!- Good basketball players come in every shape, size and color.- A few really interesting shot-selection trends have emerged. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook [...]

    ReplyDelete