Maps on Maps on Maps: A Geographic Survey of the NBA | Hometown Heroes

Share |

We all watched Hoosiers and Space Jam more than a few times when we were kids. Some of us watched Above the Rim and He Got Game when we were in college. A shocking amount of adults have seen Juwanna Man. The one thing those movies -- along with Larry Bird, Carlos Boozer and Metta World Peace -- have taught us, is that very good basketball players can come from, literally, anywhere (including Moron Mountain, in Metta’s case).

For the sake of convenience, we’ll stay out of outer space and look only at the hometowns and home states of the 396 current NBA players that were born in the U.S. Of course, the most straightforward way to look at where NBA players come from is to look at where they were born, so that’s where we’ll start.

Well, actually, we’ll start where I grew up, in the northwest corner of Illinois. Like most kids my age, looking to find something they could be passable at, basketball was the sport of least resistance. I played in my driveway, in the park, and at the YMCA. I studied the sport, watching hundreds of basketball games each year.

However, by the time I was 15 or so, I had (thankfully) developed enough self-awareness to realize that I totally sucked at basketball, and that for the rest of my life, I’d have to accept my place on the couch, with a pizza, as a basketball fan. Not only did I suck, so did everyone else. Sure, some of my childhood friends played on the high school team. Most of us played some intramurals in college. By and large, though, everyone I know from my hometown, myself included, would probably suffer a severe, unspeakable injury by taking on a pro player in the post, or anywhere on the court for that matter. Needless to say, none of the NBA’s current players were born in the northwest corner of Illinois. Plenty of them, though, were born nearby, in and around Chicago.

Chicago, like you might expect, was among the largest producers of elite basketball talent. The Windy City finished third behind New York and Los Angeles. In fact, big cities -- not surprising -- have produced a lot of the talent currently playing in the NBA (see table). More NBA players were born in New York (23 players) than in any other city in the U.S. However, the nation’s capital -- the 25th largest city in the country -- has produced a remarkable 10 players, good enough for fourth. Seattle (8 players), and Baton Rouge (6 players) are also surprising given their populations -- and not for the obvious reasons, but we’ll get to that later.

The state-level numbers also show the same population correlation with California at the top of the list (60 players) followed by New York and Illinois. The top 15 player-producing states aren’t particularly surprising. Only two states are not among the 15 most populous states in the country-- Louisiana (4th in terms of player production and 25th in terms of population) and Maryland (tied for 13th in terms of player productionand 19th in terms of population).

Numbers on their own, though, tell only part of the story. The heat map below shows where the NBA’s breeding grounds are concentrated. Again, not too surprising. The three hottest areas are in southern California, near Los Angeles, in and around Chicago, and along I-95 between Washington, DC and New York. Despite having several large cities (e.g., Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas), most of the area between the Mississippi River and California is dark, producing relatively few players.

Where the numbers really start to get interesting is when you take a look at them relative to the general population. That is, to consider each state’s per capita production rate for NBA talent. For example, since there are 396 players born in the U.S., and since the nation’s population is about 311 million, the U.S., as a whole, has produced about 1.3 active NBA players per million people. This same method can be applied at the state level to see which states are producing more than their fair share of professional basketball players.

Not surprisingly, mid-sized states like Iowa  -- which is home to 3 NBA players (Harrison Barnes, Kirk Hinrich, and Nick Collison) -- find themselves at or below the national average, with about 1 active NBA player per million Iowans (with its population of 3.06 million).

However, some larger states  -- like Florida and Ohio -- find themselves below the national average for players per capita, an especially surprising turn of events given Florida’s position in the top ten of total players produced. The reasons behind this are difficult to explain#  because even the most logical line of thought -- that both states produce remarkable amounts of football talent that could explain the relative paucity of basketball players because of opportunities costs -- is challenged by the fact that Louisiana, the smallest state in the top 15 NBA player producing states, also consistently ranks among the highest, per capita, NFL player producing states.  

So, what is it? Does Louisiana have some sort of secret formula they add to school lunches to produce spectacular athletes at such an unlikely rate? Or is this a function of demographics and opportunities?

Even loopier than Louisiana’s overachieving, though, is Washington DC. The District’s player production -- 16.2 active NBA players per million residents -- blows the rest of the country out of the water. The next closest state is Louisiana at 3.7 players per million (see table and map, below), followed distantly by Maryland with 2.06 players/million.

The reasons behind this difference between Louisiana and DC on one side, and everybody else are myriad, an academic way of saying “difficult to parse and even more difficult to make sense of”, despite the mountain of data in front of us.

What does make sense when looking at the data is Maryland’s place in third. This is likely a function of the intense basketball producing hotbed that has created the Washington DC juggernaut. Kids born in Maryland proably end up playing against high level competition from neighboring DC, which may in turn help to propel those players -- who would likely also benefit from the increased attention placed on the area by college scouts -- get opportunities they would not get if they lived in Arizona or Colorado.

The struggle to find meaning in the numbers, beyond an Aristotilian confluence of events, is made even more surprising and challenging -- though I suppose that depends on who you talk to -- by the fact that there is a less-than-sturdy connection between (1) racial demographics within each state and (2) whether or not each state will produce professional basketball players.

That’s because, while the “genetic predisposition” argument for African-American participation in basketball is tomfoolery, the popularity of basketball within the African-American community is hard to deny. Furthermore, ignoring the fact that 79% of the NBA’s player are African-American is naive at best and disingenuous at worst.

So, given the fact that 4 out of every 5 NBA players are African-American, you would assume that the cities and states with the largest per capita African-American populations would produce the most NBA players. This is true for Washington DC (50% of DC’s population is African-American and it produces the most NBA players per capita). It’s also true for Louisiana, which has the third highest per capita African American population in the country. It is not, however, true for some other states with high per capita player production. Wyoming ranked 7th in terms of per capital player production, but ranks 42nd in terms of its African-American population. Similarily, while Washington ranks 6th in per capita player production, it ranks 36th in terms of its African-American population.

Now, we can explain away the Wyoming juxtaposition by mentioning the fact that even one player (in this case, James Johnson) would put it in the top ten considering how comically sparse Wyoming is (50th in population with 568,158); but Washington -- 13th in population with 6.83 million people --  throws a monkey wrench in the demographics argument.

There seems to be something more nuanced going on. The number of NBA players a city or state produces probably isn’t a function of demographics alone. Unexpected returns from “unlikely” places are probably a function of a series of thresholds; something like cluster-based economic development.

Some of the world’s biggest tech companies all seem to come out of Silicon Valley. ADIDAS opened up an office in Portland, OR to mooch off the talent that Nike had already attracted to the area. Some places just begin to develop -- unintentionally in most cases -- certain structural elements that allow them to produce far beyond their perceived/expected capabilities.

Something similar seems to be happening in Louisiana (specifically in and around Baton Rouge and New Orleans). Sure, some of the players out of southern Louisiana may be naturally talented. Some may have wound up in the NBA even if they were born in Maine. But, the fact that they had each other to play against and to learn from, and the infrastructure of coaches and supportive schools and communities, also likely played an enormous role in their success.

Share |

Comments

I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work... cheap courier

Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with extra information? It is extremely helpful for me. website design Singapore

This has quite an interesting effect when combined to the previous methods, since deep linked games open the index page of all the games without the external site. The deep linked game, used to lure people into external site opens the source site and the external site becomes the one providing visitors. social network

Rückenschmerzen unterer rücken Der Grund, weshalb herkömmliche Therapien das Ischiassyndrom meist nicht heilen und die Schmerzen oft sogar verschlimmern Rückenschmerzen unterer rücken

New players at Fanduel get 5 free entries in paid games. No promo code needed - just sign up, deposit and play. The free promo entries are for 50/50 games Fanduel promo

Revenge Spell Voodoo High Priest George Claud has performed thousands of voodoo spells for revenge. If you are looking to get even against someone who has done voodoo revenge spells

Today's choice of transportation provided by airport limousine taxi systems of Burlington Ontario. To be on top of satisfaction, call and hire a limousine car service by us budget graphic card

This is truly a decent and enlightening, containing all data furthermore greatly affects the new innovation. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing it Modifier 24

It was a brilliant opportunity to visit this sort of site and I am cheerful to know. much thanks to you such a great amount for allowing us to have this open door loft conversions london

Thank you for such a well written article. It’s full of insightful information and entertaining descriptions. Your point of view is the best among many. סיינטולוגיה

I found this is an informative and interesting post so i think so it is very useful and knowledgeable. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. selling homes

I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.
great post to read

This is truly a decent and instructive, containing all data furthermore greatly affects the new innovation. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing it, limo rental london

Merely a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw outstanding style. TLC Landscapes

hi!! Extremely fascinating examination happy that I went over such educational post. Keep doing awesome. Happy to be a piece of your net group. Car service Toronto

This article gives the light in which we can watch the truth. This is exceptionally decent one and gives indepth data. A debt of gratitude is in order for this decent article. Airport car hire st lucia

This one is great. keep doing awesome!.. loft conversions

Your music is astounding. You have some extremely capable specialists. I wish you the best of accomplishment. Same day Computer repairs london

If it's not too much trouble let me know in case you're searching for an article author for your site. You have some truly extraordinary posts and I feel I would be a decent resource. In the event that you ever need to take a percentage of the heap off, I'd completely love to compose some material for your web journal in return for a connection back to mine. If it's not too much trouble send me an email if intrigued. Much thanks to you! loftplan designs

Brilliantly composed article, if just all bloggers offered the same substance as you, the web would be a far superior spot.. loftplan

it was a brilliant opportunity to visit this sort of site and I am cheerful to know. much obliged to you such a great amount for allowing us to have this open door.. loft conversions london

Incredible Article it its truly instructive and inventive update us as often as possible with new upgrades. its was truly important. much obliged. Cheap tyres

If it's not too much trouble share more like that. Bridging loan

I like this post,And I figure that they having a great time to peruse this post,they might take a decent site to make an information,thanks for sharing it to me. girlsdoporn

This online journal is so pleasant to me. I will continue coming here over and over. Visit my connection too.. loft conversion prices london

Fascinating and stunning how your post is! It Is Useful and accommodating for me That I like it all that much, and I am anticipating Hearing from your next.. Loft conversions teddington

This was truly an intriguing point and I kinda concur with what you have specified here! milshake Mixer

A debt of gratitude is in order for this article extremely supportive. much appreciated. plumber bexleyheath

A debt of gratitude is in order for posting this data. I simply need to tell you that I simply look at your site and I discover it exceptionally fascinating and enlightening. I can hardly wait to peruse loads of your posts. voyance magie

he financial markets in a way that is completely... Trust flow page rank

Personal injuries cases usually takes some time now... Quality Backlinks Web

While making music to inspire school spirit... Quality Backlinks Web

This is my first time i visit here. I discovered such a large number of fascinating stuff in your online journal particularly its dialog. From the huge amounts of remarks on your articles, I figure I am by all account not the only one having all the satisfaction here! keep doing awesome loft conversions

I needed to thank you for this incredible read!! I unquestionably adored each and every piece of it. I have you bookmarked your site to look at the new stuff you post. Plumber bexleyheath

A debt of gratitude is in order for setting aside an ideal opportunity to talk about this, I feel emphatically about it and adoration adapting more on this subject. Van hire london

Most likely this is a phenomenal post I got a ton of learning in the wake of perusing good fortunes. Subject of website is magnificent there is very nearly everything to peruse, Brilliant post. Plumbers

Living it up; living placard statesman n more n more. http://www.floridanetworkrealty.com/jacksonville-beach-homes-for-sale.aspx

Hi, I have skimmed the vast majority of your posts. This post is presumably where I got the most helpful data for my examination. A debt of gratitude is in order for posting, perhaps we can see more on this. Are you mindful of whatever other sites on this subject. Plumbers in London

That is truly decent to listen. much obliged to you for the upgrade and good fortunes. Emergency Plumber London

I really thank you for the valuable info on this great subject and look forward to more great posts... 0800 numbers cost sky

You know your activities emerge of the crowd. There is something uncommon about them. It appears to me every one of them are truly splendid!
plumbers

On the show today is Nathan Stooke, CEO of Wisper ISP and board member of WISPA.. cccam server

This is truly a decent and enlightening, containing all data furthermore greatly affects the new innovation. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing it, Loft conversions twickenham

I am all that much satisfied with the substance you have specified. I needed to thank you for this awesome article. loft conversions

Your post is one of the most intresting post I have ever seen... business coach dallas tx

Thanks for sharing such awesome article.... business coach dallas tx

A glance through Orange Page directories during people decades produces dozens of suppliers all marketing uggs.... cheap mobile calls 0800

I may be informed at whatever point another post has been made. view

Decent post. I was checking continually this website and I'm awed! Greatly valuable data exceptionally the last part I nurture such data a considerable measure. I was looking for this sure information for quite a while. Much obliged to you and good fortunes. loftplan

I loved the ending! Good luck in the contest, your story is awesome! Loft plan