SUPPOSE an N.B.A. player is looking to construct a large following. Is it a benefit to be a certain racial or ethnic background? Are players judged exclusively by their achievements along with the logos on his or her uniforms? Or does along with of their skin come up as well?
This is really a long-debated question. For years, owners were accused of padding their benches with white players to boost a team’s group of followers. The implicit assumption: If you are white, you should have more fans.
It continues to be difficult, otherwise impossible, to evaluate the role race plays in fandom because we now have had limited data how popular different players are. But we have now probably the best data set ever accumulated for the fandom of N.B.A. players: Facebook likes.
I downloaded information about the likes of 215 N.B.A. players who’ve fan pages on Facebook.
Before we compare whether individual black or white players acquire more fans, you can compare whether black or white players normally tend for being cheered on more by those who share their skin tone. Do white players have whiter fan bases and black players blacker fan bases?
Indeed, they actually do.
While Facebook isn’t going to ask users to denote their race, it relies on a variety of information to name someone’s ethnic affinity, which is often useful for targeting ads. My research suggests this ethnic affinity measure correlates strongly with race.
Overall, I estimate the average white player from the N.B.A. has a group of fans that is 56.7 percent white and 22.7 percent black. The average black player has a following that is 46.7 percent white and 32 percent black, a large difference.
Rooting for Identity
The N.B.A. players who most disproportionately attract their own race or ethnic group.
Photo credits, from left: Pedro Pardo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images; Hannah Foslien/Getty Images; David Zalubowski/Associated Press; Al Bello/Getty Images
Source: analysis of Facebook data by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
By Bill Marsh/The New York Times
Is there another reason behind this which includes nothing to do with complexion?
Perhaps white and black Americans, normally, root a variety of teams, as well as the teams they root for happen to have an overabundance of players that share their complexion.
Nope. The differences are identical if we limit the analysis to players within the same team.
Perhaps white and black Americans show different preferences for foreign players, who’re twice as likely as American-born players to get white.
Nope. The differences are similar if we just limit the analysis to American-born players.
Perhaps grayscale Americans, for reasons unknown, like several types of players. Black Americans may like point guards who dish out a lot of assists. Such players are more likely to get black. White Americans may like centers who collect plenty of rebounds. Such players are more likely being white.
Nope. Adding these factors doesn’t change the fact how the race of an player influences the racial breakdown of his fans.
Perhaps less surprisingly, Asian-Americans constitute a much larger portion of the group of followers of Asian players than non-Asian players. This is driven almost entirely through the advent of Jeremy Lin, the Harvard-educated point guard born to Taiwanese immigrants that has proved the hero for Asian-Americans.
The interest in Mr. Lin among Asian-Americans is very great that a great many of Mr. Lin’s largest fan bases will be in cities by which he has not played, but which may have large Asian populations, like Honolulu.
Clearly, a player’s epidermis affects the demographic breakdown of his following. But how should it affect the height and width of his following? Do white fans give a benefit to white players or black fans give a good edge to black players?
To test this, we are able to utilize a social science tool called multi-variable regression, that permits us to model the factors that modify the size of your player’s group of fans — his statistics, what team he plays for, his age, the number of All-Star games he’s got participated in, the job he plays, whether he was given birth to in America and, yes, his race.
When we all do this, we look for that there is often a clear edge to being of your certain race. But it is the opposite of what many white owners and journalists have long thought.
If a white and also a black player resemble on paper, it does not take black player who will have an overabundance fans.
Among black Americans, black players are roughly two times as popular as comparable white players. But black players receive a slight boost from fans of each and every racial group. Compared with white players who’re similar to them to all ways I could think to measure, black players acquire more fans among white Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian-Americans.
Honestly, I was blown away with the overall size this advantage. Roughly speaking, I estimate that your white player will have to score 10 more points per game to own as big a following on Facebook because he would have if he were black.
Asian-Americans in addition have a huge advantage in building a group of followers, even though this is driven almost entirely by Mr. Lin, that is the 27th most in-demand player despite being the 80th most prolific scorer. Of the 30 most widely used players, he or she is one of only two men who’s never played in an N.B.A. All-Star game. The other is Tristan Thompson on the Cleveland Cavaliers. This initially made no sense in my experience: Mr. Thompson averages under 10 points per game. But then a buddy explained the likely reason in my opinion: Mr. Thompson is dating Khloé Kardashian.
What should we make with the edge in support that black players get? It is needless to say possible that someone will discover an alternative reason behind this correlation, but let’s think that my analysis in the data strengthens and that being black is a big advantage today for N.B.A. players trying to construct a group of fans. How should we interpret these results? Is it a bad thing or possibly a good thing reely?
If the effects were reversed — if white players got a huge edge in support — this may clearly be not so great news. There is strong evidence that black Americans are discriminated against in several crucial regions of life — jury decisions, police stops, job interviews, internet dating sites, presidential elections. If African-Americans were discriminated against in constructing a basketball group of followers as well, it will show that white privilege may also show itself in one among the arenas in American life during which blacks have gotten tremendous success.
But African-Americans acquiring a boost in support? What should we model of that? I view this phenomenon pretty much as good news in at the very least two ways. I think it’s great that people minority groups who face discrimination in numerous aspects of the lives show strong support for other members from the group. And it is also encouraging that numerous white fans gives some extra support to your country’s most successful minority athletes.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz can be an economist, the author from the forthcoming “Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are” and also a contributing opinion writer.