JOURNAL OF SPORTS ECONOMICS / May 2005
TEAM RACIAL COMPOSITION AND PLAYER PERFORMANCE
Annual data from the 1990-1999 period bring out the sharp decline in total White representation in the NBA, falling from just more than 25% in the 1990-1991 season to 20% in the 1998-1999 season (see Figure 1). This result corresponds with declining White representation on the bench, which fell from 30% to 23%. There has been little change in the percentage of starters who are White, however, which remained below 15% across most of the sample period.
As Table 1 shows, White players and Black players remain unevenly distributed among NBA teams. Although, on average, the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz teams were just over 33% White during the 1990s, at the other extreme, the New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors were under 10% White. Available data on total min- utes played during the 1996-1997 through 1998-1999 seasons suggest an even greater disparity (see column B of Table 1). The percentage of total minutes accounted for by White players ranges from a high of 44.7% for the Utah Jazz to 4% for the Toronto Raptors. Admittedly, many factors besides customer preferences could lie behind the varying racial compositions of NBA teams—including the race of available draft picks, existing contractual obligations, the availability of free agents, and increased player demand arising from two expansion teams (Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies).
There is no evidence, however, at least in recent years, that fan preferences for watching players of their own race have led to inferior White players entering the NBA in place of more skilled Black counterparts. Not only has the overall represen- tation of White players in the NBA declined in recent years, but also the perfor- mance levels of White players and Black players appear similar. In Table 2, we use annual player statistics for 1996-1997 through 1998-1999 to compare the average performance of Whites and Blacks. We examine starters and bench players sepa- rately throughout a range of measures—points scored, assists, total rebounds, blocks, and field-goal percentage—that have consistently been found to impact sal- ary (see Berri, 2003).3 Starters are the top five players on each team in terms of min- utes played per game, whereas bench players constitute the remainder. Significant differences between average Black player and average White player performance emerge in only 3 cases out of 10, and there seems to be no systematic tendency for players of one race to outperform those of the other. Indeed, White starters outper- form Black starters in field-goal percentage but are statistically tied in all other cate- gories. Black bench players outperform their White counterparts in assists and total points per game but are statistically equal in the other three categories.
We base our White and Black performance-level findings on player data from the last three seasons of the 1990s, a period during which there is little evidence of overall salary discrimination against Blacks in the NBA. Indeed, the NBA appears to have changed markedly in this regard since the 1980s, when a number of studies