Ballz n the Hood: What Are Your Odds of Playing in the NBA?

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With the NBA playoffs on the horizon, can you blame people for having basketball on the brain?

Indeed, it is fair to say that for many young basketball players out there, watching these games is not only a fun pass time, but it also fuels their desire to one day play in the NBA, an attainment that for some of those players who are lower class could serve as a means of escaping poverty. But, is a position in the NBA something that is equally attainable by all individuals, or does one’s social background really influence the odds of somebody playing in the NBA?

Such a question was addressed in a 2010 study by Dubrow and Adams who aimed to investigate “how the intersection of race, social class, and family structure background influences entry into the NBA.” Interestingly, the study found that African American players who have “disadvantaged social origins” have lower odds of playing in the NBA than African American and white players from well off backgrounds.

In particular, the researchers estimated that among African American children, those who are raised in a lower-class family have a 37% decreased likelihood of playing in the NBA compared to those raised in middle and upper class families. Further, among African American children, those who are raised in non-two parent families have an 18% lower chance of becoming a professional player compared to those raised in two parent families.

Now, some might say “this can’t be true, isn’t the NBA full of players who rose up from hardship and made it big?”

Well, in the same 2010 study, by conducting a newspaper analysis of pieces published between 1994-2004, (that addressed the social origins of a sample of NBA players), they found that the majority came from fairly well-off backgrounds. For example, the majority of players in the sample were found to have come from the middle and upper class. It would appear that the NBA is dominated by children of privilege, not disadvantage as it is popularly perceived. Many troubling questions spring to mind after reading this study, one of which is heavily troubling.

The important question that comes to mind after reading this study is: “what, given these odds, do we tell those disadvantaged kids who want to play in the NBA one day?” Do we tell them to give up entirely because it’s probably not going to happen or do we encourage them to pursue the object of their dreams, given that there have been players who have come from disadvantage and made it?

Such a dilemma forces us to put discouraging odds against the motivating, if not cliché, belief that you really do miss every shot you don’t take. Or, perhaps it’s best to simply say that, much like you should not put all your eggs in one basket, young players should not put all their basketballs in one hoop.


Dubrow, Joshua K. and Jimi Adams. 2010. “Hoop inequalities: Race, class and family structure background and the odds of playing in the National Basketball Association.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 47(1):43–59.