According to a new study, NBA players are more likely to come from two-parent, wealthier family homes than that old notion of trying to escape from poverty.
This new bombshell goes totally against the previous presumptive narrative that most elite black athletes overcome poverty on their way to the top.
It seems LeBron James, who was born to a 16-year-old mother who raised him on her own – at least for awhile – was the exception, not the rule. At least two other examples, Michael Jordan and Chris Paul, both exceptional players, come from two-parent, middle class homes.
Based on “news stories, social networks and public records”, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a Harvard-educated economist who is a quantitative analyst at Google, constructs an argument that should change the way we imagine how professional athletes break through.
“Growing up in a wealthier neighborhood is a major, positive predictor of reaching the NBA for both black and white men. Is this driven by sons of NBA players like the Warriors’ brilliant Stephen Curry? Nope. Take them out and the result is similar.”
“These results push back against the stereotype of a basketball player driven by an intense desire to escape poverty,” he says.
Stephens-Davidowitz says this makes the unlikely story of LeBron James as much of a social phenomenon as it is an athletic one.
In fact, Stephens-Davidowitz argues that poverty is an inhibitor to success, athletic and otherwise.
“Poor children in contemporary America,” he writes, still have substandard nutrition, holding back their development. “They have higher infant mortality rates and lower average birth weights, and recent research has found that poverty in modern America inhibits height. In basketball, the importance of every inch is enormous. I estimate that each additional inch almost doubles your chances of making the N.B.A.”