Race and ethnicity in the NBA

The composition of race and ethnicity in the National Basketball Association (NBA) has changed throughout the league's history. The first non-white player to enter the league was Wataru Misaka in 1947.[1] According to racial equality activist Richard Lapchick, the NBA in 2015 was composed of 74.4 percent black players, 23.3 percent white players, 1.8 percent Latino players of any race, and 0.2 percent Asian players.[2] The league has the highest percentage of black players of any major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada.[3] Viewership also appears to be predominantly black, with 47 percent of viewers being black, with whites coming in at a distant second with 34 percent, with Hispanic (of any race) and Asian viewership standing at 11 and eight percent, respectively, making the NBA the only North American major sport without a majority or plurality white audience.



Earl Lloyd (right) was the first African American to play in the NBA

The NBA was founded in June 1946, with its first season played in 1946–47. Wataru Misaka debuted in 1947–48 as the first non-white player and the first player of Asian descent to play in the league.[1]

African Americans first appeared in the NBA in 1950. Chuck Cooper was the first black player drafted in the NBA.[4] On April 26, 1950, Harold Hunter signed with the Washington Capitols, becoming the first African American to sign a contract with any NBA team in history.[5][6] However, Hunter was cut from the team during training camp and did not play professionally.[5][6][7] On May 24, Nathaniel "Sweetwater" Clifton was the second African-American player to sign an NBA contract.[8][9][a] Earl Lloyd was the first to play in the NBA.[4] Hank DeZonie also played that year.[11] In 1953, Don Barksdale became the first African American to play in an NBA All-Star Game.[12]

With the emergence of African-American players by the 1960s, the NBA game was stylistically being played faster and above the rim. Many of the league's great players were black. At that time, African Americans believed they were limited by an unofficial league quota of four black players per team.[13]

Puerto Rican Butch Lee in 1978 was the first Latino in the league.[14] Wang Zhizhi became the first Chinese player in 2001.[15]

In 2011, Richard Lapchick with The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) of the University of Central Florida reported in their annual Racial and Gender Report Card that 17 percent of the league's players were white, the lowest since the report began in 1990.[b][16][18][19] Hall of Fame player and Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird, who is white, stated in 2004 that the league needed more white players since the league's fans are mostly white. "And if you just had a couple of white guys in there, you might get them [the fans, not the guys] a little excited. But it is a black man's game, and it will be forever. I mean, the greatest athletes in the world are African-American," said Bird.[20][21]

More recently, a number of commentators have remarked on the league's dwindling number of white American players. While a TIDES study found that the NBA was 18.3% white in the 2015–16 season, this number also included non-Americans, most notably Europeans. During the entire 1996–97 season, only three NBA teams did not field an American-born white; on the opening day of the 2016–17 season, eight teams did not have a white American on their roster, and an additional 10 teams had only one. At the latter point in time, fewer than 10% of NBA players were American-born whites (43 out of a possible 450).[22]

NBA player composition by year[2]
  •   White
  •   Black
  •   Latino
  •   Asian
  •   Other


Bill Russell in 1966 became the first non-white and African-American head coach in the NBA.[23][24] In the late 1980s, teams began hiring black coaches in large numbers.[23] At the start of the 2015–16 season, there were seven black head coaches in the league, down 50 percent from three years earlier, and the fewest in 16 years.[25] At the conclusion of the 2016-17 season there were eight African American head coaches.[26]


Robert Johnson of the Charlotte Bobcats (now known as the Charlotte Hornets) was the first black majority team owner in the NBA in 2004–05.[27] He was succeeded as Bobcats owner in 2010–11 by another African American, Michael Jordan.[18] In 2013–14, Jordan and Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, who is Indian, marked the first time in the history of major pro sports leagues in the U.S. that there were two non-white majority owners in a league.[2] The number of NBA teams with non-white majority owners increased to three in September 2019 with the league approval of Taiwanese–Canadian entrepreneur Joseph Tsai's purchase of Russian Mikhail Prokhorov's 51% share in the Brooklyn Nets. Tsai had previously held a 49% interest in the team, having acquired that stake from Prokhorov in 2018, and exercised an option to purchase the remaining interest before its 2021 expiration date.[28][29]

Viewership demographicsEdit

Among NBA fans during the 2013–14 season, African Americans (844 minutes) and Asian Americans (719) spent the most time watching the league, followed by Hispanics (of any race, 390) and whites (290).[30] Furthermore, according to a Nielsen's survey, the NBA has the highest share of black viewers, with 45 percent of its viewers being black and 40 percent of viewers being white, making it the only top North American sport that did not have a white majority audience.[31]

During the 2016–17 season, 66 percent of the league's viewers were racial and ethnic minorities. Its audience was 47 percent blacks, 34 percent whites, 11 percent Hispanics (of any race), and 8 percent Asians.[32]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Some sources conflict and list Clifton as the first African-American to sign in the NBA.[4][10]
  2. ^ Lapchick began the reports, known previously as the Racial Report Card, while with the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University.[16][17]


  1. ^ a b Vecsey, George (February 15, 2012). "The Old Guard Welcomes the New Guard". The New York Times. p. B10. Archived from the original on February 22, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Lapchick, Richard; Guiao, Angelica (July 1, 2015). "The 2015 Racial and Gender Report Card: National Basketball Association". tidesport.org. Archived from the original on November 11, 2015.
  3. ^ Landrum Jr., Jonathan (February 11, 2012). "First Black NBA Player Gets Honor at Hawks Game". Archived from the original on February 22, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c "NBA's Color Line Is Broken". NBA.com. Archived from the original on February 22, 2012.
  5. ^ a b McDowell, Sam (2013-03-09). "Sumner grad Harold Hunter, first African-American to sign with NBA team, dies at 86". Kansas City Star. Retrieved 2013-03-30.
  6. ^ a b "NBA pioneer Harold Hunter, an ex-Xavier coach, died Thursday". Times-Picayune. 2013-03-07. Retrieved 2013-03-30.
  7. ^ "Former Tennessee State basketball coach Harold Hunter dies". The City Paper. 2013-03-07. Archived from the original on 2013-11-02. Retrieved 2013-03-30.
  8. ^ Howell, Dave. "Six Who Paved the Way". NBA.com. Archived from the original on April 24, 2013.
  9. ^ Wagner, Jeremy. "9.Firsts For African-Americans". ESPN.com. Archived from the original on April 24, 2013.
  10. ^ Spears, Marc J. (April 23, 2009). "Chicago has long history of courtship". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on April 24, 2013.
  11. ^ Pomerantz, Gary M. (2005). Wilt, 1962: The Night of 100 Points and the Dawn of a New Era. New York: Crown. p. 54. ISBN 1-4000-5160-6.
  12. ^ "Five Direct-Elects for the Class of 2012 Announced By the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame" (Press release). Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. February 24, 2012. Archived from the original on March 14, 2012. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  13. ^ Pomerantz 2005, pp.53, 123
  14. ^ Motenko, Joshua (July 11, 2006). "The Globalization of Basketball: Latin America (Part 1)". NBADraft.net. Archived from the original on February 22, 2012.
  15. ^ Chang, Anita (November 26, 2012). "China beats South Korea 77-71 in Asian Games final". USA Today. Associated Press. Archived from the original on February 23, 2012.
  16. ^ a b Lapchick, Richard; Aristeguieta, Francisco; Clark, Wayne; Cloud, Christina; Florzak, Anna; Frazier, Demetrius; Kuhn, Michael; Record, Tavia; Vinson, Matthew (June 16, 2011). "The 2011 Racial and Gender Report Card: National Basketball Association". The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. Archived from the original on December 7, 2015.
  17. ^ "Richard Lapchick, Director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program". University of Central Florida. Archived from the original on December 7, 2015. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
  18. ^ a b "Study: 2011 NBA Racial and Gender Report Card". SlamOnline.com. Source Interlink Magazines. June 16, 2011. Archived from the original on February 22, 2012.
  19. ^ "Pro sports get 'racial report card'". The Item. The Associated Press. July 23, 1991. p. 2B. Retrieved December 7, 2015. This is the second year the center issued its 'Racial Report Card.'
  20. ^ Celzic, Mike. "Race has nothing to do with NBA's success". NBCSports.com. Archived from the original on February 22, 2012.
  21. ^ Kuhn, David Paul (2007). The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma. Macmillan. p. 205. ISBN 9781403982742. Retrieved February 16, 2014.
  22. ^ Spears, Marc J. (October 25, 2016). "Where Are All the White American NBA Players?". The Undefeated. Retrieved March 20, 2017.
  23. ^ a b Leonhardt, David; Fessenden, Ford (March 22, 2005). "Black Coaches in N.B.A. Have Shorter Tenures". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 13, 2014.
  24. ^ Lapchick, Richard; Hippert, Andrew; Rivera, Stephanie; Robinson, Jason (June 25, 2013). "The 2013 Racial and Gender Report Card: National Basketball Association" (PDF). tidesport.org. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 13, 2014.
  25. ^ Beck, Howard (November 6, 2015). "Where Are All the Black NBA Coaches? Examining a Sudden, Silent Disappearance". Bleacher Report. Archived from the original on November 11, 2015.
  26. ^ "NBA Coaches - National Basketball Association - ESPN". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2017-04-14.
  27. ^ Lapchick, Richard (May 4, 2005). "The 2004 Racial and Gender Report Card: National Basketball Association". The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. Archived from the original on December 7, 2015.
  28. ^ Ozanian, Mike. "Alibaba's Joseph Tsai Reportedly Closes Deal For 49% Of Brooklyn Nets". Forbes. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  29. ^ "NBA Board of Governors approves sale of Nets to Joe Tsai" (Press release). National Basketball Association. September 18, 2019. Retrieved September 28, 2019.
  30. ^ "Hoop Dreams: Multicultural Diversity in NBA Viewership". www.nielsen.com.
  31. ^ Thompson, Derek. "Which Sports Have the Whitest/Richest/Oldest Fans?". Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  32. ^ "The NFL Isn't the Only Divisive Sport in America". 25 January 2018.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit