Born in the USA: National Origin Effects on Time Allocation in US and Spanish Professional Basketball

By Berri, David J.; Deutscher, Christian et al. | National Institute Economic Review, May 2015 | Go to article overview

Born in the USA: National Origin Effects on Time Allocation in US and Spanish Professional Basketball


Berri, David J., Deutscher, Christian, Galletti, Arturo, National Institute Economic Review


This paper examines national origin bias in professional basketball in both the North American National Basketball Association (NBA) and Spanish professional league (Liga ACB). Past studies into racial bias find mixed results. In contrast, our study provides consistent evidence that players born in the USA receive preferential treatment in both the USA and Spain in terms of receiving additional time on the court.

Keywords: national origin discrimination; professional basketball

JEL Classifications: Z2; Z22; J7

1. Introduction

Basketball, like American football, is strongly identified with the United States, partly because of US dominance in recent international competitions. (1) But unlike American football, basketball is truly a global game. For example, the New York Times reported in 2012 that about 300 million people play basketball in China. (2) That same year, Forbes.com reported that fans from 215 different countries were expected to watch the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals and the games were broadcast in 47 languages. Forbes.com noted that the NBA expected 278 million fans to follow the Finals via social media networks. (3) Henry Abbott of ESPN, com reported in 2010 that surveys show that basketball is now the most popular sport among young people around the world. (4)

The identification of basketball with the United States, though, might lead to a bias in the evaluation of talent in the sport. It is possible that people might conclude that players from the United States are simply better at the game invented in their country. (5) In other words, although the game is played worldwide, basketball might suffer from what is called 'national origin discrimination'. (6)

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (USEEOC) (7) defines 'national origin discrimination' as treating employees "unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not)." In addition, the USEEOC notes that US law "forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment."

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

This paper estimates national origin discrimination in two of the most prominent international basketball leagues: the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Spanish Liga ACB. The majority of players in the NBA are from the United States. The number of players born outside the United States, though, has increased from about 1 per cent in the early 1980s to nearly 20 per cent today and, as figure 1 illustrates, playing time by players not born in the USA increased from around 10 per cent to more than 20 per cent in the 21st century. (8)

The Spanish Liga ACB is among the most prominent professional leagues in the world. Spain won the silver medal in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. And the ACB is often ranked as one of the top basketball leagues in Europe. Like the NBA, the ACB also employs players from around the world. As table 1 notes, only about one-third of minutes in the ACB go to players born in Spain. Meanwhile, about 25 per cent of minutes go to players born in the USA and about 40 per cent go to players born in places other than Spain or the USA. As the ACB is one of the most lucrative European leagues, many American players choose to play in Spain, something that is likely to happen if they have not been drafted or signed to a guaranteed contract by a team in the NBA.

So in both the NBA and the Spanish ACB we see that workers are drawn from places around the world. Do differences in national origin impact player evaluation?

Studies into discrimination frequently examine wages or hiring. Because we do not have salary data from the ACB and only three years of performance data, (9) we will focus our attention on 'job assignments'. …

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