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 - CIAA HOF Brunch - 1-3-06
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]


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]

Viewership demographics

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).[28] 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.[29]

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.[30]

See also


  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. Retrieved 2013-03-30.
  8. ^ Howell, Dave. "Six Who Paved the Way". NBA.com. Archived from the original on April 23, 2013.
  9. ^ Wagner, Jeremy. "9.Firsts For African-Americans". ESPN.com. Archived from the original on April 23, 2013.
  10. ^ Spears, Marc J. (April 23, 2009). "Chicago has long history of courtship". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on April 23, 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. 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.
  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 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. ^ "Hoop Dreams: Multicultural Diversity in NBA Viewership". www.nielsen.com.
  29. ^ Thompson, Derek. "Which Sports Have the Whitest/Richest/Oldest Fans?". Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  30. ^ "The NFL Isn't the Only Divisive Sport in America". 25 January 2018.

Further reading

External links

Baseball color line

The color line, also known as the color barrier, in American baseball excluded players of black African descent from Major League Baseball and its affiliated Minor Leagues until 1947 (with a few notable exceptions in the 19th century before the line was firmly established). Racial segregation in professional baseball was sometimes called a gentlemen's agreement, meaning a tacit understanding, as there was no written policy at the highest level of organized baseball, the major leagues. But a high minor league's vote in 1887 against allowing new contracts with black players within its league sent a powerful signal that eventually led to the disappearance of blacks from the sport's other minor leagues later that century, including the low minors.

After the line was in virtually full effect in the early 20th century, many black baseball clubs were established, especially during the 1920s to 1940s when there were several Negro Leagues. During this period some light-skinned Hispanic players (e.g. Lefty Gomez), Native Americans, and native Hawaiians (e.g. Prince Oana) were able to play in the Major Leagues.The color line was broken for good when Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization for the 1946 season. In 1947, both Robinson in the National League and Larry Doby with the American League's Cleveland Indians appeared in games for their teams. By the late 1950s, the percentage of black players on Major League teams matched or exceeded that of the general population.

Black participation in college basketball

Blacks have been participating in American college basketball for over a century.

Black players in ice hockey

The history of black players in North American ice hockey has roots dating back to the late 19th century. The first black ice hockey star was Herb Carnegie during the Great Depression. Willie O'Ree broke the NHL's black color barrier with the Boston Bruins.

Butch Lee

Alfred "Butch" Lee, Jr. (born December 5, 1956) is a Puerto Rican retired professional basketball player. He began his career in the NCAA, where he gathered several "Player of the Year" recognitions and earned All-American honors as both a junior and senior while at Marquette University. Lee was selected as the Most Outstanding Player at the 1977 Final Four where he led the Warriors to the school's first national championship. The university recognized this by retiring his jersey. Lee was the first Puerto Rican and Latin American-born athlete to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA), accomplishing this after being selected in the first round of the 1978 NBA draft. There he played for the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers. Lee concluded his career in the Baloncesto Superior Nacional (BSN). He is known to be the only Puerto Rican professional basketball player to win championships in the NCAA, NBA, and BSN. Lee was a member of the Puerto Rican national team.

Chuck Cooper (basketball)

Charles Henry Cooper (September 29, 1926 – February 5, 1984) was an American professional basketball player. He and two others, Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton and Earl Lloyd, became the first African-American players in the NBA in 1950. Cooper was also the first African American to be drafted by a National Basketball Association (NBA) team, as the first pick of the second round by the Boston Celtics.

Earl Lloyd

Earl Francis Lloyd (April 3, 1928 – February 26, 2015) was an American professional basketball player and coach. He was the first black player to have played a game in the National Basketball Association. An All-American player at West Virginia State University, Lloyd helped lead the Syracuse Nationals to the NBA Championship in 1955. Lloyd was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.

Hank DeZonie

Henry Lincoln DeZonie (February 12, 1922 – January 2, 2009) was an American professional basketball player. He was the fourth African American player in the National Basketball Association (NBA), following Earl Lloyd, Nathaniel Clifton, and Chuck Cooper.

A 6'6" forward/center, DeZonie attended Clark Atlanta University in the 1940s and then joined the Rens, an all-black travelling basketball team named after the Harlem Renaissance. The Rens joined the integrated National Basketball League in 1948, and during the 1948–49 NBL season, DeZonie averaged 12.4 points per game in 18 games.By August 1949, most of the teams in the NBL had been absorbed by the fledgling NBA. The Rens, however, were left out of the merger, and they were forced to disband as the NBA began its 1949–50 season as an all-white league. Black players did not enter the league until the start of the 1950–51 NBA season, when Lloyd, Clifton, and Cooper earned roster spots on the Rochester Royals, New York Knicks, and Boston Celtics, respectively. On December 3, 1950, DeZonie signed a contract with the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, becoming the fourth black player in the NBA.DeZonie had the shortest career among the NBA's black pioneers, due mainly to racial discrimination and disagreements with his coach. After appearing in just five games for the Blackhawks, during which he averaged 3.4 points, DeZonie quit in frustration. "The coach didn't know basketball, and I couldn't bother with segregation. They put me up with an old woman who chewed tobacco and the snow was up to the ceiling. I was past that", he said. DeZonie's fellow black players experienced frustrations, as well, but each of them remained in the league for at least six seasons.

Because of his relatively short career, DeZonie's contributions were long forgotten by many basketball fans; recently, however, DeZonie has received more recognition. In 2000, for example, the NBA honored DeZonie as one of its black pioneers at a pregame ceremony at Madison Square Garden. Basketball historian Ron Thomas also highlighted DeZonie's accomplishments in his 2004 book They Cleared the Lane (ISBN 0-8032-9454-9). DeZonie died on January 2, 2009 at the age of 86. In the later years of his life, he experienced emphysema and asthma.

Harold Hunter (basketball)

Harold Hunter (April 30, 1926 – March 7, 2013) was an American basketball coach and player. On April 26, 1950, Hunter became the first African American to sign a professional contract with any National Basketball Association (NBA) team when he joined the Washington Capitols. He was cut from the team during training camp and never played for an NBA team. He later coached basketball for the United States men's national basketball team, Tennessee State University, and the U.S. Olympic basketball team.

List of black NFL quarterbacks

This list of black NFL quarterbacks includes black and African-American gridiron football players who have played the quarterback position in a regular-season or post-season game in the National Football League (NFL). The quarterback is the leader of a team's offense, directing other players on the field. Historically, black players have been excluded from playing quarterback in the NFL because of the belief that white players would not follow their leadership, or the perception that black quarterbacks lack intelligence, dependability, composure, character, or charisma. Promising black quarterbacks at the high school and college levels were often transitioned at the professional level to other positions, such as running back or wide receiver. Although a ban on black players in the NFL ended in 1946, the quarterback position was among the last to be de facto desegregated.Although black quarterbacks and other quarterbacks of color vary in physical size and playing style, racial stereotyping persists. A 2015 study found that even when controlling for various factors, black quarterbacks are twice as likely to be "benched", or removed from play, than white quarterbacks. Other studies have found that sports broadcasters are more likely to attribute a black quarterback's success to superior athletic skill and a white quarterback's success to superior intellect.It was not until 2017 that all 32 Super Bowl-era NFL teams had started at least one black quarterback. That year, nearly 70% of NFL players, but only 25% of starting quarterbacks, were black. In 2018, a school superintendent in Texas received national attention when, following a loss by a team led by a black quarterback, he publicly wrote, "When you need precision decision making you can’t count on a black quarterback." The following year, a physically smaller-than-average black quarterback became the highest-paid player in the NFL.

List of foreign NBA coaches

In the National Basketball Association (NBA), foreign coaches—also known as international coaches—are those who were born outside the United States.

This list includes all international coaches who have been assistant and/or head coach in the NBA and also includes all coaches who were born in the United States but have represented other countries in international basketball competition.

In 2000, Igor Kokoškov from Serbia became the first non-American to hold a full-time assistant coach position in the NBA. In 2004, he became the first non-American assistant coach to win an NBA championship, and the first to serve on an NBA All-Star Game coaching staff. In 2018, he became the first fully European head coach in the NBA.

List of foreign NBA players

In the National Basketball Association, players born outside of the United States are often known as international players. Players who were born in U.S. overseas territories, such as Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, are considered international players even if they are U.S. citizens. In some borderline cases, the NBA takes into consideration whether a player desires to be identified as international.Hank Biasatti, who was born in Italy and raised in Canada, was the first international player in the league in 1946. The number of international players in the league rose after the formation of the Dream Team when NBA players were allowed into Olympic play starting in 1992. Global interest in basketball subsequently soared. On opening day of the 1991–92 season, NBA rosters included 23 international players from 18 countries. At the start of the 2016–17 season, there was a record-high 113 international players from 41 countries and territories. In the start of the 2017–18 season, there were 108 international players from a record-high 42 countries and territories, including five players signed up through the newly implemented two-way contract.The number of players on opening-night rosters broke an all-time league record first set in 2010–11 and tied in 2012–13, and the number of countries represented surpassed the record set in 2010–11. In addition, the San Antonio Spurs set an all-time record for international players on an opening-night squad, with 10 during the 2013-14 season.This list includes all international players who have played in the NBA and also includes all players who were born in the United States but have represented other countries in international basketball competition. Players listed under the United States were born outside of the country but have represented them in international basketball tournament. Players who were born outside the United States to U.S. parents and players who became naturalized U.S. citizens are also included in that section.

Lists of African Americans

This is a list of African Americans, also known as Black Americans or Afro-Americans. African Americans are an Ethnic group and citizens of the United States who have full or partial ancestry of any black racial groups of Africa; Black and African Americans form the third largest racial and ethnic group in the United States behind White Americans and Hispanic and Latino Americans. African Americans are descendants of enslaved black people who are from the United States. To be included in this list, the person must have a Wikipedia article and/or references showing the person is African-American.

Nathaniel Clifton

Nathaniel "Sweetwater" Clifton (born Clifton Nathaniel; October 13, 1922 – August 31, 1990) was an American multi-sport athlete best known as one of the first African Americans to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Race and ethnicity in the NHL

The National Hockey League (NHL) evolved from a mono-ethnic and primarily Canadian professional athletic league to span North America. The distribution of ethnic groups has been gradually changing since the inception of the NHL. The league consists of a variety of players from varying nationalities and diverse backgrounds. Once known as a league riddled with racism and exclusiveness, the NHL has made positive steps toward a more diverse and inclusive institution.According to statistics, gathered by www.quanthockey.com, the NHL began its expansion of player nationalities in the 1970s, where players hailed from the United States, Sweden, and Finland. The share of Canadians in the league dropped to 75% by the 1980s and is now slightly less than 50%. In 2011, the NHL was composed of 93% of players who identified as white, with the remaining 7% identifying as varying ethnicities.

Rui Hachimura

Rui Hachimura (八村 塁, Hachimura Rui, born February 8, 1998) is a Japanese professional basketball player for the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He played college basketball for the Gonzaga Bulldogs and is a member of the Japanese national team. Listed at 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) and 230 lbs (104 kg), he plays both the small forward and power forward positions. He was considered one of the top prospects for the 2019 NBA draft, and he was selected 9th overall in the first round by the Wizards.

Born in Toyama Prefecture, Hachimura achieved success at the youth level in Japan, leading Meisei High School to three straight All-Japan High School Tournament titles and being a top player for the Japanese under-17 and under-19 national teams in FIBA competition. He joined Gonzaga in 2016 as the fifth Japanese-born men's NCAA Division I player and became the first Japanese national in 2017 to play in the NCAA Division I men's tournament. As a sophomore, he earned first-team All-WCC honors. He was named a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year.

Wataru Misaka

Wataru "Wat" Misaka (三阪 亙, Misaka Wataru, born December 21, 1923) is an American retired professional basketball player. A 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) point guard of Japanese descent, he was the first non-white player and the first player of Asian descent to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA), known then as the Basketball Association of America (BAA).Misaka played college basketball for the University of Utah and helped his school win the 1944 NCAA and 1947 NIT championships. He took a two-year hiatus between these titles to serve in the United States Army in the American occupation of Japan. Misaka subsequently played three games for the New York Knicks during the 1947–48 season.

Willie Naulls

William Dean Naulls (October 7, 1934 – November 22, 2018) was an American professional basketball player for 10 years in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He was a four-time NBA All-Star with the New York Knicks and won three NBA championships with the Boston Celtics.

Naulls grew up in California, where he was named the state's Mr. Basketball in high school. He played college basketball with the UCLA Bruins, and earned All-American honors as a senior in 1956. Naulls was selected by the St. Louis Hawks (known now as the Atlanta Hawks) with the ninth overall pick of the 1956 NBA draft. He played briefly with St. Louis before being traded to New York, where he spent most of his career. With the Knicks, he became the first African American to be named a captain of a professional team in a major American sport. After a brief stint with the San Francisco Warriors (now the Golden State Warriors), Naulls finished his career with Boston. In December 1964, he was part of a Celtics unit that became the first all-black starting lineup in NBA history.

Yasutaka Okayama

Yasutaka Okayama (岡山恭崇, Okayama Yasutaka, born November 29, 1954 in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan) is a Japanese basketball player. He was selected by the Golden State Warriors as the 10th pick of the eighth round of the 1981 NBA draft, although he did not sign with them. At 7'8" (234 cm), he is the tallest player ever to be drafted in NBA history. Okayama was the only player from Japan drafted in the NBA until 2019, when Gonzaga University Bulldogs forward Rui Hachimura was chosen by the Washington Wizards in the first round.

Okayama practiced judo at junior high school and high school, and obtained a second degree black belt. He started playing basketball when he was eighteen at Osaka University of Commerce. He attended the University of Portland but never played for their basketball program as he was a project. After graduation, he joined the basketball club of Sumitomo Metal Sparks. He represented Japan between 1979 and 1986 before he retired in 1996. As of 2005, he worked for Sumitomo Metal Industries and was active as a basketball coach.In 1989, he wrote a book for young basketball players.

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