May 2, 2007

I guess the NYT doesn't have the Duke Lacrosse team and Don Imus to kick around anymore:

From the New York Times:

Study of N.B.A. Sees Racial Bias in Calling Fouls

An academic study of the National Basketball Association, whose playoffs continue tonight, suggests that a racial bias found in other parts of American society has existed on the basketball court as well. A coming paper by a University of Pennsylvania professor and a Cornell University graduate student says that, during the 13 seasons from 1991 through 2004, white referees called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white players.

These scholars should get the Nobel Prize for their discovery that there are still white players in the NBA!

The economists write:

The data in Figure 2 show that 21 out of 29 black referees [74%] have a below-average bias in foul-calling against black players, while 34 of 55 white referees [62%] have an above average bias in foul-calling against black players.

That would seem to raise the obvious question: who is right and who is wrong? Perhaps the black refs on average are wrongly discriminating against the white players more than the white refs are wrongly discriminating against the black players? I realize it's completely despicable to even entertain that possibility, but it is a conceptual possibility. ... Okay, forget I ever said that. Everybody knows that in all facets of human behavior, blacks are more accurate and honest decision makers than whites, so white racism must be the only possible explanation.

The economists admit, unsurprisingly:

"Unfortunately our framework is not well-suited to sorting out whether these results are driven by the actions of black or white referees."

They go on to take some SWAGs at why it's really the white refs' fault, but they admit that is much weaker than the rest of their analysis. But that doesn't stop the NYT from playing this study up as proof of the White Man Keeping the Black Man Down in the NBA.

Interesting findings from this huge study in the pdf that the NYT doesn't play up:

- Blacks get 83% of the playing time in the NBA.

- Blacks get substantially fewer fouls called on them per 48 minutes of playing time, but they are more likely to be starters, who get fewer fouls, and not play center, a position that fouls a lot. Possibly, referee bias in favor of blacks contributes to blacks getting to be starters more, but nobody is interested in investigating that.

- NBA teams would win slightly more games if they played whites more. The economists write: "In our sample, the team with a greater share of playing time accounted for by black players won 48.6% of games ..." That this figure doesn't diverge far from 50% show that NBA teams are pretty good about about putting the best team on the court irrespective of color, but you know that if the study showed the opposite -- that teams that played more whites won only 48.6% of the time -- the NYT would be howling about anti-black prejudice.

If you are interested in a blatant example of old guard stupidity in sports having a disparate impact by ethnicity that the media relentlessly ignored for decades because it was benefiting a minority group, here's my 2003 article "Baseball's Hidden Ethnic Bias."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

After reading strong water like this Vdare column on immigrant familicide murders that gets ignored by the media, that NYT study of goddamned fouls seems even more childish and ridiculous.

We need a new newspaper of record staffed by real serious adults. I'd LOVE to take an outstanding newspaper, but end up reading blogs instead because thats where the tough questions gets asked and researched.

Anonymous said...

Oops, there is Brenda Walker's latest Vdare colum. Sorry about that for anyone interested in reading it. Its illuminating. We are not the only people on earth with dysfuntional families.

Anonymous said...

This was a comment from another commenter on a different blog: "Note that their difference-in-difference estimators (table 3) show that the effect is driven by different behavior of black and white referees with respect to white players. That is, black and white referees call fouls on black players at roughly equal rates."

So then the important unanswered question is whether black refs call too many fouls on white players, or whether white refs call too few fouls on white players. Either one seems possible to me.

Anonymous said...

I once talked up play of Vladimir Radmonovic to a Seattle scout (who liked two of his--was it Serb or Croat--teammates) while we watched his youth international team at an obscure tournament and then was shocked to flip on the tv 6 months later and see the Sonics selecting Radmonovic with the 11th pick. So I'll claim some authority. Three points: (1) fouls (both committed and suffered) are a great (though not perfect) indicator of player athleticism in both basketball and soccer. It's the easiest way to get a handle on which are the impact athletes, scanning the box score or team stats. (2) fouls are the tool used by the league to extend series and maximize tv revenue and fan interest. a student of the game can easily pick out the inconsistencies, but the officials can also be subtle; sneaking in late 2nd quarter fouls used to be the preferred approach to giving one team an extra 4 or 5 pts and tipping the odds in their favor. (3) the Mavericks are a 2 pt. favorite at Golden State. Ridiculous. union refs with "earn your way in" values know the Warriors must win game 6 to win the series, love the old soldier Don Nelson, and hate petulant prima donna billionare Marc Cuban, often a loud critic of officiating at games. GS is not free money, but a good bet.

On point, white refs may be harder on black nba rookies than black refs are on white rookies (who may be more respectful of the "earn your way in" values of the league) and on attitude cases like Rasheed Wallace and Corey Magette, who get rough and unfair treatment, especially in the playoffs (but may invite the harder white treatment by being less respectful of white officials).

Anonymous said...

Related issue: Kobe Bryant has been linked to 4 flagrant fouls this year that I've seen nationally reported. Kyle Korver (76ers), Mike Miller (Memphis), Marko Jaric (Timberwolves), and Mano Ginobili (Spurs) were the offended parties. Though Korver and Ginobili have waved the fouls off as part of the game. All four are white.

Ron Guhname said...

I saw this article this morning, and my first thought was, "Steve's gonna bite into this like a steak."

I noticed that they made sure to include a sample of--get this--600,000 cases so as to make sure that they would get statistically significant results even if the effect were infinitesimally small. And it ain't much. An effect that small could possibly be created by playing with the model.

I might be tempted to fish for the right findings after so much work (again, 600,000 cases) so as to get PC results.

And this is typical for social science results: the academics magically get liberal results and the corporation magically gets conservative results. With something so extremely subtle, you can find what yoou're looking for.

Lysander Spooner said...

My god, this isn't even the half of it.

Were you aware that almost 100% of calls in the WNBA are made against women?

It's misogyny, I say!

Luckily, so as to allay suspicion, WNBA refs can still throw a few foul calls toward Margo Dydek, whose gender (to say nothing of her species) has yet to be determined.

Margo freakin Dydek

Yes, ladies and gentleman, that is a 7'2 WNBA player. The other player in the photo, the lovely Becky Hammon, is 5'6.

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is why white males who have watched the NBA are more likely to commit suicide than black males who have watched the NBA. Is there some bias in that?

Anonymous said...


At least for 2006, your article on ethnic bias in baseball is wrong. Your "freeswinging latins" have higher battering averages, higher base averages, and higher OPS than other players. They also have fewer strikeouts, more RBIs, and play more games. The only statistic that they trail their peers in is stolen base percentage, but they steal one more net base than their non-latino counterparts.

(This is based on 2006 players who qualified for the MLB batting title.)

I don't hear the liberal outcry that you predicted!

Anonymous said...

Steve, I don't know if you caught it, but ESPN's "Outside The Lines" did a piece on this very subject. They interviewed NBA Analyst Steven Smith plus another guy (sorry, can't remember his name) and neither thought that this report had any validity. They attempted to find some players who agreed with the report and implied that they couldn't find any.

I thought that was interesting. Basically, everyone i the know thinks that it is total hog-wash.

Anonymous said...

i don't think i want to get into this. i guess i'll take a different angle.

"These scholars should get the Nobel Prize for their discovery that there are still white players in the NBA!"

when the NBA MVP is white, and the US can't win the FIBA championship, but people still go immediately into the "white guys can't play basketball" jokes, i think sports in america are pretty much ruined.

Lysander Spooner said...

"when the NBA MVP is white, and the US can't win the FIBA championship"

FIBA might be a bit pedantic with their regulations--a trapezoid key, anyone?--but not letting a South-African/Canadian (Nash) suit up for America in the world championships is probably a fair rule.

Anonymous said...

Its obvious that the black referees are less competent than the white ones,for several raesons. A) "Divershitty":no doubt there is a strong push for black refs,the specter of little chubby white men yelling at our magnificent Mandinka warriors has gotta be a little unsettling to Rabbi Stein. So the standards for a black are lower. :) B)With the divershitty,the blacks tend to be younger and less experienced on average cuz theyre newly hired at greater rates(Im guesing) :0 C)The blacks are,well,BLACK! Of course they are going to be tough on the white man--they dont want some white dude playing ball;look how blacks hate Larry Bird. Look at how blacks bad mouth Brian Urlacher(football,but same thing!) Blacks are racist--wow what a shocker. :( D) Blacks are less intelligent. They dont understand the rules as well as the whites. For years in Chicago,John Paxson was a coat holder to Michael Jordan,as players. Now Pax as GM is having success;Michael has been a dismal flop in the front office--even tho MJ is the greatest palyer ever. And some blacks(and PC whites)scoffed when B J Armstrong was not given the job of replacing the despised Jerry Krause.