In the first round of the NBA draft
last week, we saw the same pattern as we`ve seen over the last decade in the NBA: a large majority of the top white guys grew up in foreign countries. Six of the seven white guys who went in the first round were from foreign countries. Jimmer Fredette of BYU, the collegiate scoring champ and player of the year, went 10th, winding up in Sacramento, while three overseas whites went ahead of him in the top 10.
Similarly, of the nine active white players who are in the NBA top 50 in career win shares, eight grew up abroad.
On the other hand, in the second (and last) round, four American whites (Kyle Singler, John Leuer, Josh Harrellson, and John Diebler) were picked versus three foreign whites. So, overall, out of the 14 whites drafted, nine were foreign and five were American.
This is a pattern that needs some explanation.
One short term reason for the 2011 draft is the Nowitzki Effect.
A foreign white was the Finals MVP, so a couple of weeks later, lots of teams are looking for foreign whites.
But, long term, I can see two plausible explanations for this pattern: the first would be that star basketball players are merely genetic freaks with culture having no effect So, because there are more whites outside the U.S., there are more white genetic freaks from outside the U.S.
The second is that we are witnessing a classic example of disparate impact discrimination against whites within U.S. basketball.
It`s a nature-nurture question. How important is it for NBA stardom that there are more white guys outside the U.S. versus how important is that U.S. culture is more basketball-centric?
One way to think about this is to look at the substantial success in the NBA of people from the two most basketball-centric cultures in Europe: ex-Yugoslavia. For example, out of the nine foreign whites drafted in 2011, four were from the ex-Yugoslavian republics, two from Lithuania, one from next-door Latvia, one from Turkey, and one from the Czech republic.
Ex-Yugoslavia and Lithuania have been outstanding at basketball as far back as I can recall. They have been highly over-represented, which suggests that nurture plays a role (although, those two places are pretty tall on average, which might be why they took to basketball so avidly).
In contrast, much of the Europe isn`t well represented in the NBA: the British Isles (the only NBA player I can think of was John Amaechi
, but he was awful, although that was because he was gay and hated sports), France (Tony Parker being the exception that validate the tendency — his father was a black American playing ball professionally in Europe), the Low Countries (7`4" Rik Smits being the best illustration of sheer height triumphing over a culture`s lack of basketball orientation), Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Scandinavia, etc.
In contrast, the Mediterranean countries have been crazy about basketball for a generation or two, although they weren`t well represented in the NBA because they weren`t that tall until the last couple of decades and because their leagues could pay decent money, especially Italy`s league, to keep talent close to home. Ex-Yugoslavia and Lithuania were tall, crazy for basketball, and poor, so they;ve been disproportionately represented in the NBA.
Taking all that into account, my expectation would be that there would be about as many top white Americans as top white foreigners. There used to be, but there haven`t been for a decade or more. This suggests that tall white guys in America (e.g., 6-9" John Isner, now playing at Wimbledon) have been turning against basketball.