NBA’s Global Reach


Let me be blunt – morning commutes aren’t fun.  I often find my commute is riddled with over-aggressive and/or multi-tasking drivers that cause unnecessary situations and close calls on the way in.  To make this daily voyage more enjoyable, I regularly tune in to Mike and Mike on ESPN radio to get caught up on my sporting news.  These hosts have been around a long time and their show has a recipe I love – trending stories, great guests, and lots of banter!

A couple weeks ago when the NBA season tipped off, the guys were discussing a new player on the New York Knicks – Kristaps Porzingis.  Kristaps was selected fourth overall in the 2015 NBA draft and was considered a questionable pick by some (most?).  He is a tall player with solid skills, tremendous potential, and is Latvian.  As Mike and Mike discussed the enormous pressure that comes with playing in the Big Apple, I began to wonder – how many international players are in the NBA?  Which teams have the most?  Which US city produces the most NBA players?


Finding answers to my questions this time around was not going to prove very difficult.  All I needed to gather was a list of NBA players, their respective teams, and their birth city.

ESPN is the source I turned to when assembling the list of players.  Navigating to the NBA page, I entered the name of each player into a spreadsheet, moving through the list of players team by team.  Once all of the current players were identified, I then turned to Google to determine each player’s birth city, which was also added to the spreadsheet.  Finally, the conference (East or West) was added next to each team name in the spreadsheet.  At this point, I had all of the information I needed (pretty simple!).

Next I moved on to organizing and visualizing my data.  The first thing I did was produce a world map showing the birth locations of all players (see below).


Then, to offer some more insights into this map, I organized the data into an alphabetical list of countries, the number of players from each country, and the percentage share of total players.  This table is shown below:


Next I moved on to looking at the data by team.  The table below shows the breakdown of teams, their team makeup (number of US vs International players), and the percentage of each.  Teams that are red represent those with the highest percentage of US-born players, and the team in blue has the highest percentage of International-born players.


This information was then grouped by conference as well (see below).


Finally, since US-born players make up the vast majority of the league, I wanted to take a closer look at where these players are coming from.  The map below shows the birth cities of all US-born players.  The heights of the bars represent the number of players.


To add context to this map, I generated the table below that shows all US cities that can claim five or more players as their own.




As I expected, the vast majority of players in the NBA are still coming from the United States (77.6%).  However, I am amazed at how far-reaching the talent pool has grown for the league.  When looking at all players, the NBA touches six continents and 39 countries!  Most of the international-born players are from Europe, but there is a growing number from South America (Brazil mainly) and Australia.  Canada is even contributing a double-digit number of players today (11).

Looking at NBA teams, the median number of international-born players on each team is three.  Leading the way in international players with seven is the only international team, the Toronto Raptors (coincidence?).  Four teams have only one international player (Pacers, Hornets, Lakers, Trailblazers), but all teams have at least one international player, which I think is great for growing the game.

When looking just at players born in the United States, most are coming from east of the Mississippi.  However, California (53) and Texas (25) are producing the most players by state.  In total, 42 of the 50 states are represented in the league (that’s great!).  Major cities are still leading the way in player representation, with LA (18) and NYC (15) leading the way.  I was really surprised that Baton Rouge currently has six players in the league – I never thought of Louisiana as a basketball state (it contributes 15 players!).

Overall, it appears the NBA is healthy in regards to global reach.  Asia appears to be the least tapped continent of the six contributing players, and with such a large population, I will be interested to see how that changes over the next decade.  It’s just nice to see such a great game reaching all corners of the globe.

– SD



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