We’ve blogged before about the (relatively small) effect of birth month on athletic excellence. But how does birth location affect a potential athlete? In The New York Times, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz calculated the probability of getting to the N.B.A. by Zip code. He found that players like LeBron James, born to a low-income teenage mom, are the exceptions to the rule:
I recently calculated the probability of reaching the N.B.A., by race, in every county in the United States. I got data on births from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; data on basketball players from basketball-reference.com; and per capita income from the census. The results? Growing up in a wealthier neighborhood is a major, positive predictor of reaching the N.B.A. for both black and white men. Is this driven by sons of N.B.A. players like the Warriors’ brilliant Stephen Curry? Nope. Take them out and the result is similar.
But this tells us only where N.B.A. players began life. Can we learn more about their individual backgrounds? In the 1980s, when the majority of current N.B.A. players were born, about 25 percent of African-Americans were born to mothers under age 20; 60 percent were born to unwed mothers. I did an exhaustive search for information on the parents of the 100 top-scoring black players born in the 1980s, relying on news stories, social networks and public records. Putting all the information together, my best guess is that black N.B.A. players are about 30 percent less likely than the average black male to be born to an unmarried mother and a teenage mother.
Stephens-Davidowitz also notes that, not surprisingly, height matters. He speculates that the N.B.A is becoming more international because foreign countries, particularly those that have increased greatly in wealth and early life conditions, are producing taller men.