Cities and Achievement in the NBA

Is the NBA a legitimate route out of poverty for players? Here, we examine the notion that young men might use their NBA ambitions to escape the communities where they grew up.



Even for the most skilled athletes, “making it” in the NBA is difficult. Only 3.4% of high school players are recruited by the NCAA, while only 1.2% of NCAA players are drafted by the NBA.


We examined the terrain of present NBA rosters to determine the origins of the players. How many players hail from cities with median earnings above the national average? Also, how many NBA players today avoided poverty, or do affluent children have a higher chance of becoming pros? We examined American NBA players born between 1977 and 1999 to determine the wealth level of their hometowns in an effort to identify a pattern.


Players and Their Birthplaces

First, we examined the median household earnings in the hometowns of NBA players. Sixty-four percent of NBA players, or over two-thirds of the league’s players, were from cities with median household incomes above the national average in 2000.



However, the proportion of NBA players born in cities with a median family income below the national average has declined over time. Those born between 1977 and 1988 in these towns with below-average incomes comprised eight percentage points more of the NBA than those born between 1989 and 1999.


Then, we determined which cities generated the most NBA players and if their median family income exceeded the national average. The leading cities with below-average earnings were Philadelphia, with 19 players, Baltimore, with 14, Detroit, with 13, and Memphis, with 11 players. In contrast, towns with above-average incomes, like as Los Angeles and Chicago, generated a greater number of NBA players (36 and 34 respectively). Other major above-average income contributors were Houston (20), Atlanta (14), Brooklyn (14), and Queens (14). (14).


Compiling These Wages

Then, we analyzed the average career wages of NBA players based on their place of origin. At a glance, the figures indicate that players born in places with household incomes below the national average likely to earn less as professional sportsmen than those born in locations with household incomes above the national average.



Take New York City as an example of a city with an above-average ranking. New York-born athletes earned an average of $42.3 million per year. This is many million dollars higher than the average household income in Philadelphia, the city with the lowest average household income.


In fact, the majority of average incomes on the above-average side were greater than those on the below-average side, with players from Detroit earning the lowest average wage of $4.6 million. There were no average wages in the single digits among players from the top 10 cities with above-average household incomes.


The Awards Divide

Finally, we examined if there was a disparity in NBA awards between players born in cities with median family incomes above or below the national average (which include All-Star appearances, rebound champions, Sixth Man of the Year, and more).



Those from cities with below-average household incomes received somewhat more rewards than those from places with above-average household incomes. As with the preceding section, there was a greater disparity when participants were split by their year of birth.


Players born between 1977 and 1988 who were from locations with below-average earnings were 5% more likely to receive honors. However, this narrative has reversed in recent years. Born between 1989 and 1999, NBA players from these below-average regions got 40% fewer honors than other players.


Wrapping Up

While these findings do not take into account the different parts of town these players were born in (and we are aware that there are pockets of varying average incomes within each city), we did find a trend regarding how players from different income levels may reach the NBA and what their success levels may be once they get there. Most intriguing was the difference between athletes born between 1977 and 1988 and those born after them.



To assess the economic background of each NBA player, we gathered data from the U.S. census of 2000, especially the median average household income of each city in the United States and Puerto Rico. If a city’s median household income went below the national median household income, it was deemed “below average.”


The birthplaces of NBA players are derived from the Kaggle and NBA player data sets. Only current NBA players were employed, beginning with Vince Carter, the oldest active NBA player as of today. The period spans 1977 to 1988 and 1989 to 1999 were established by attempting to have equal amounts of time on both ends. 872 players were evaluated in total. All current NBA foreign players, such as Dirk Nowitzki and Giannis Antetokounmpo, were omitted from the research.


The wages and honors of NBA players are obtained from Awards include Sixth Man of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and more.



Cities are large in size. Because of this, there will be areas of wealth and poverty inside any city. The exact birthplaces of NBA players were unavailable, therefore results may vary.


Because it was the first census to use the American Community Survey, the median household income was derived using the 2000 U.S. census. We were unable to obtain a clearer picture of the economic situation in these places throughout the 1980s and early 1990s due to a lack of previous data. A person born in Brooklyn, New York, in the late 1970s may have had a different experience than a person born in the early 1990s.


Fair Use Statement

Whether you’re from Compton, California, like DeMar DeRozan, or Palo Alto, California, like Jeremy Lin, your origin may impact your NBA career. If you wish to share this with your network of followers for noncommercial purposes, please feel free to do so. Thus, your readers may fully comprehend the scope of our research.

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