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Success and Hometowns within the NBA

A common question regarding the NBA is whether it’s a viable option to flee poverty. In this segment, we’ll be taking a closer look at the narrative that young men can hold onto and pursue their dreams of playing in the NBA as a way to escape the neighborhoods that they were raised in.

Establishing yourself in the NBA is extremely difficult, regardless of how talented you are. According to various stats, only 3.4% of high school basketball players make it to the NCAA, and of those players, only 1.2% of them make it to the NBA.

We’ve taken the liberty to look at the landscape of where players in the NBA come from. We’ve also looked at how many players come from cities that have incomes that are higher than the average. How many of the current NBA roster has escaped from poverty or are children that won’t get the opportunity to get a legitimate chance of becoming a professional NBA player? We’ve taken a closer look at players in the US that were born between 1977 and 1999 to get an indication of their level of income within their hometowns and to see if any trends can be spotted.

Hometowns and the Players that Come from Them


Initially, we took a look at the average household incomes of the hometowns of NBA players. Overall, it’s clear that the majority of players had come from cities that placed above the median household average income in the year 2000. According to statistics, 64% of them had come from these areas, which is almost two-thirds of all players.

The rate of NBA players that were born in regions that are below the average income per household has gradually decreased. Players that were born between 1977 and 1988 from these specific towns have closed the gap with 8 percentage points higher within the NBA than that of their peers that were born between the years 1989 and 1999.

Furthermore, we took a closer look at the cities that produced the most NBA players and if they were above the average household income in the country. Cities that had household incomes that were below the national average included those such as Memphis with 11 players, Detroit with 13, Baltimore with 14, and Philadelphia with 19 players. However, on the other side of the coin, cities that had household incomes that were above the national income produced more players, these included cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, which produced 34 and 36 players respectively. Other cities that were above the national average income that was known for producing more players include Queens with 14, Brooklyn with 14, Atlanta with 14, and Houston with 20.

Summing Up the Salaries


We then looked at the median career earnings for NBA players based on their hometowns. On the surface, the figures indicated that those that were born in regions that were below the average household income earned less than players that came from areas that had a household income that is above average.

For example, New York City is the top city that has an above-average household income, and players that came from that region earned an average of $42.3 million throughout their careers. That is a few million higher than Philadelphia, which is the top city when it comes to the list of the below-average household incomes.

The majority of the median salaries that were on the above-average side were higher than the salaries that were on the below-average end of the spectrum, with the lowest average salaries coming from NBA players that hailed from Detroit. However, there weren’t any earnings of NBA players that dipped into single-digits from regions that were on the above-average list.

The Gap of Awards


Lastly, we took a look to identify whether there was a gap between players that were raised in regions that were either below or above the average household income when it comes to NBA awards, this includes rebound champions, All-Star appearances, Sixth Man of the Year, and so on.

It turns out that those from regions that fell below the average household income had slightly more awards than those from above-average household incomes. But this isn’t set in stone as there was a significant divide when it came to players and the years that they were born.

Those that were born between 1977 and 1988 were 5% more likely to win awards if they were from a region that fell below the average household income. However, this changed over the last few years as players that were from the below-average regions born between 1989 and 1999 had earned 40% fewer rewards than their counterparts.

Closing Statement

There are plenty of open spaces in the research that’s been conducted in this piece as it doesn’t look into the different parts of each city that the players are from and this could miss out on parts of cities that have higher or lower average households’ incomes. However, there was a trend on how players from various income levels will reach the NBA along with their level of success once they reach the apex of competition. The most intriguing factor was the change between players born between 1977 and 1988 to those that came afterward.

How We Did It

To find out more about the economic background of each player in the NBA, we took data from the U.S census of 2000, specifically the average household income of each city located in the U.S and Puerto Rico. If the average household income dipped below the national average household income, it was listed as below-average.

The regions that NBA players came from were found in data that was collected from Kaggle along with another source known as basketball-reference.com. We chose to only use current players, starting with the oldest player currently active in the league, Vince Carter, who was in the 1977 to 1988 period. The 1989 to 1999 period was determined by attempting to get the exact amount of time on either side of the data. A total of 872 players were studied; however, international players were excluded from the list.

Basketball-refernce.com was used to source the salaries of NBA players along with awards. As previously mentioned, these awards include the MVP, Sixth Man of the Year, scoring champions, and many more.

The Limitations of the Study

Unfortunately, the results of each study will vary, simply due to the size of each city and how much they differ when it comes to overall wealth.

The average household income was determined by using the U.S census of 2000 due to it being the first that included the American Community Survey. However, due to the unavailability of data for the 80s and 90s, there’s no way to get an accurate picture of what the economic conditions of the past were truly like. For example, someone born in Los Angeles in the 70s might have had a completely different experience to someone that has grown up there in the 90s.


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