Race and the NBA: 4 Takeaways from Nate Silver’s Study

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Nate Silver, face and founder of FiveThirtyEight, a data journalism site now under the auspices of ESPN, touches on sports fairly often in his writing. Certainly more so than the politics that brought him to the forefront of the public consciousness when he correctly predicted a large majority of the 2008 presidential election — but it must be said that he was writing about sports before he was writing about politics.

At any rate, Silver recently took to the site in the wake of the Donald Sterling controversy and decided to apply some numbers to what he found. As his disclaimer so eloquently states at the end of the piece: “This estimate is crude. It’s based on the overall racial composition of NBA fans and the overall racial composition of various media markets. It won’t account for the historical relationship that each NBA franchise has with its fanbase, or the different demographic groups that comprise that fanbase.”

There are still many fun things to be pulled from Silver’s study, and it’s a fairly interesting read, especially in the light of the Clippers debacle. The entire piece is worth perusing (you can read it here), but here are four things that leapt out at first blush.

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1.  The Orlando Magic have the most “average” NBA fans

According to Silver’s findings, the average NBA fanbase for the average team breaks down like so: 45.7 percent of the fans are white, 31.4 percent are black, 16.1 percent are Hispanic, and 6.8 percent are Asian. From all the available data, the Orlando Magic come closest to that ideal, with 4.6 percent of their fans identifying as Asian, 15.5 percent as Hispanic, 34.4 percent as black, and 45.6 percent as white. In second place? The Toronto Raptors, who have a fanbase that breaks down into 43.8 percent white, 32.4 percent black, 15.5 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent Asian. Clearly, the answer is that Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady brought their universal appeal with them to Toronto and the Magic. (Or maybe not.)

2. The Timberwolves have the most monotone fanbase in the NBA



It’s true. The team, which has faced criticism over its lack of black players and front office personnel in the recent past, leads the league not only in white players on the team but white fans, as well. With 64.6 percent of their fans identifying as white, the Wolves top the Jazz by 2 percent, the Trail Blazers by 3.6 percent, and the Rockets — the team with the fewest white fans, according to Silver’s findings – by more than 25 percent of their total fanbase makeup. But what does that really mean?

Maybe not a whole lot. Per Silver, the Twin Cities media market is 85 percent white –  non-Hispanic white, for clarity — and the Timberwolves’ general awfulness doesn’t elicit the same kind of front-running that you find among fans of the larger-market teams. There aren’t many 5-year-olds in Baltimore clamoring for Kevin Love jerseys, so most of the team’s support is going to be local, and more of the locals in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area are white.

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3. The Sacramento Kings have the most even racial distribution throughout their fanbase

The Sacramento Kings, who almost became the Seattle Supersonics last year, have the most balanced fans in the NBA when it comes to skin color. Clocking in at 45.5 percent white, 22.9 percent black, 19.6 percent Hispanic, and 12 percent Asian, the cowbell-wielding Sac Town loyals represent the most ethnically balanced fans in the NBA. Coming in at close seconds are the Houston Rockets (who break down to 39.2 percent white, 33.5 percent black, 20.8 percent Hispanic, and 6.5 percent Asian) and the San Antonio Spurs (39.9 percent white, 27.7 percent black, 27.6 percent Hispanic, and 4.8 percent Asian).

4. There are only three NBA teams that don’t have a white majority in their fanbase

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seandavis/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seandavis/

According to the numbers, which are only as accurate as the available data allow, those teams are the Memphis Grizzlies (the majority of their fans – 48.7 percent – identify as black), the Washington Wizards (44 percent black), and the Atlanta Hawks (47.8 percent black). There are no teams that have an Asian or Hispanic fan majority, though the Spurs have the largest percentage of Hispanic fans, at 27.7 percent, while the Golden State Warriors boast the largest Asian makeup of a fanbase, with 14.5 percent.