Hoop Inequalities: Race, Class and Family Structure Background and the Odds of Playing in the National Basketball Association

The popular image of the African American National Basketball Association (NBA) player as rising from the “ghetto” to international fame and fortune misleads academics and publics alike.  This false image is fueled, in part, by critical shortcomings in empirical research on the relationship between race, sport, and occupational mobility: these studies have not adequately examined differences in social class and family structure backgrounds across, and especially within, racial groups. To address this problem, we empirically investigate how the intersection of race, social class and family structure background influences entry into the NBA. Information on social class and family structure background for a subpopulation of NBA players (N = 155) comes from 245 articles published in local, regional and national newspapers between 1994 and 2004. We find that, after accounting for methodological problems common in newspaper data, most NBA players come from relatively advantaged social origins and African Americans from disadvantaged social origins have lower odds of being in the NBA than African American and white players from relatively advantaged origins. A discussion of the implications of these findings for academics and publics concludes the paper.


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