Tuesday, December 7th, 2010 at 9:00 am  |  51 responses

Study: NBA Refs Influenced By Race?

by Marcel Mutoni / @marcel_mutoni

For whatever reason, every few years, someone deems it necessary to study race dynamics within the NBA, and they somehow manage to secure funding for it. It’s an interesting hustle.

The latest findings — that NBA refs are likely to call less fouls on players of similar race, and vice versa — come by way of a couple of professors who analyzed data from thousands of NBA games.

The researchers say that their numbers suggest that the racial bias isn’t intentional, however.

From the Deseret News:

It’s unintentional, but NBA referees call fewer fouls on players of their own race, according to a recently published paper co-authored by a BYU professor. Yet the study, which came out last week in Quarterly Journal of Economics, has ramifications beyond the basketball court, says Joe Price, a BYU economics professor who co-authored the study as a Ph.D. student at Cornell along with assistant professor Justin Wolfers at the University of Pennsylvania.

After accounting for things like position, all-star status, points, blocks, steals, minutes played, etc., Price and Wolfers looked at fouls per player compared to the racial makeup of the referees. If the three-member referee crew was mostly white, white players received 4 percent fewer fouls than did black players. And if the referees were mostly black, black players received 4 percent fewer fouls. Even stronger bias occurred when the referees were all one race, Price said. Results were striking enough that for a player experiencing a positive bias, their points would increase by 2.5 percent, and if someone had bet on a team that was more racially similar to the referees, it would have been a “very profitable betting strategy,” Price said.

Yet, this bias is not so obvious that players, coaches or referees notice it, Price said. It only appears when studying thousands of calls, leading the scholars to believe it’s unintentional.

For what it’s worth, the NBA, and the players and coaches interviewed on the matter all seem to think this is nonsense.

The League published its own independent study in 2007 in an attempt to debunk these findings.

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  • RobbieJay

    did lebron also participate in the study.?

  • truth

    Lol, like the league would come out and say “Yeah we agree with the study”.

    I believe the study but that would be bad for business and the NBA likes to tout itself as the most racially progressive leagae in sports so…its up to everybody 2 decide what they think.

    I will keep a watch on this when i watch games now, just to give it a second thought.

  • vtrobot

    zzzzzzzzzzz. they gotta be much more influenced by the money they have on games.

  • http://djflkf.com Jukai

    Uh, duh, who cares?

  • spit hot fiyah

    race had something to with this for sure

  • Somedude

    Notice how it’s economists and not statisticians making this claim. There’s no way the fouls per game per player per race would be outside the standard deviation. 4% seems pretty neglibible.

  • slamfan4life

    everyones black………….stop tweakin yall

  • WhiteTrashBallin

    Waste of time and money

  • http://www.nba.com Gman

    lol whatta stupid stat

  • http://www.diimemag.com Royal

    I think so, at times. It’s always, you know, a race factor

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ niQ

    I KNEW IT! j/k =P

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/blogs/farmer-jones/ Ryan Jones

    At least this explains Kevin Love.

  • Robb

    those stat guys really have nothing better to do.

  • benno

    What a rubbish blog!!!

  • http://jayemmbee23.tumblr.com Clutch Performer

    even if it was a factor its never noticable consider like 90% of the League is black, its not like baseball or soccer where that could make a difference

  • Shem

    So this is why the Raps are bad

  • http://slamonline.com Bryan Crawford

    White Men Can’t… play defense?

  • Jagster

    The dumbest article or study I’ve heard of in a while. That 2.5% number is probably noise, study data or the +/- effect (.i.e. negligible).

    You wanna see the tangible reasons how and why? If a player averages 30 pts a game (which very few do), 2.5% comes out to less than 1 point a game (try -1).

    And that goes for every other statistic when you apply 2.5%; it means nothing!

    So WTF are we even talking about this?

    This is all to do about nothing Slam.


  • Jagster

    What this study does do (if it does anything) is reinforce the notion that top players get the breaks (barely). Why?

    If I score 2000 points a year. I get an extra 50 points a year (mind you over 82 games that’s less than a point a game and falls into the standard deviation +/- factor). But maybe one of those extra free throws wins me a game or a scoring title by one point? Probably not; but maybe?

    Now let’s say if a guy who gets 200 steals a yr, gets an extra 5 in that year. Maybe that will win him a extra game? Who knows?

    But both instances are still negligible on overall stats and practically every other player, cause 95% of the leagues players wouldn’t average enough points, steals,rebounds etc. to even negligibly affect the overall numbers like my examples scantly do. Ok. Too much time spent on this already.

    I’m done! Like I said, next!!

  • http://djflkf.com Jukai

    Whoa, a Ryan Jones sighting?!?!

  • Jagster

    @Clutch Performer

    I agree with you in spirit and overall, you’re probably right.

    But keep in mind (if you didn’t know) most of the top ball players in MLB are black, their just not all from America anymore.

    Just like how most of the top white players in the NBA, are not from America; they’re from every where else. Same thing!

  • http://www.slamonline.com NickthaQuick

    In other news, Sasha Vujacic and Dikembe Mutombo have never committed a foul. Ever. F the refs bias.


    Yeahh Refs Influenced by race… NOT
    how can they be when 90 percent of the league is black… cmon son

  • 80

    Lies, damn lies and statistics- Mark Twain

  • unrel

    since there are only black and white refs.. the asians and latin players will never EVER foul out..

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    The only solution to this is to replace every ref with people of an ethnicity not represnted by any NBA players…

  • http://www.twitter.com/TheDiesel Anton

    From now on when Blake Griffin draws a foul it’ll be 4 free throws.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Ryan Jones, coming out of hiding to express some more of that (Kevin) Love.. It’s quite contagious.

  • http://www.google.com/news BETCATS

    Im just gonna say: there are more white refs and more black players in rotations. These numbers are skewed.

  • Jagster


    Latino is not a race bro.

    They can be black, white or native American. If you include the Philippines, Ecuador and Peru, they can be Asian to.

  • TheNightWatch*8*

    More drama in the NBA.

  • jr724

    Really? Was anyone expecting the percentage of foul calls for each race to be EXACTLY the same? It’s called standard error. This same study was done a few years ago, sounds like the stats guys are getting bored.

  • O

    As a proud Latino who grew up in Bushwick, Brooklyn NY and whose friends were all Latino and Black, If I were a NBA ref, i’d make sure Carlos Arroyo and LeBron James would foul out by the end of the first half. Heat Haterz stand up! NY Knicks for Liiife!!!

  • http://www.oprah.com Doyouwantmore

    Black refs don’t care about black people!

  • http://www.need4sheed.com Tarzan Cooper

    How does this affect violet palmer? Btw, her name sounds so wrong, like a cheap stripper at a dirty club. It also sounds like a handjob.

  • Towelie


  • http://slamonline.com Ugh

    A 6.5% difference against an all-black line-up by all-white referees equates to three fouls in a fifty call game. That’s 4 points, on average. That’s how much the Lakers won by in game 7 last year.
    That’s why a 4-6.5% change matters. You’ll also note, those who don’t understand why this study was done, that the economics professor running the study mentioned betting.
    Can you people not read?

  • DarK_Kai

    Jagster – black and white are not races either. They are skin colours. Latin people generally speak Spanish whereas Whites all over the world speak different languages, so your point is retarded.

    When people state race here, they mean both skin colour and ethnic background.

    As for the stats, yes there maybe be not much accounting for standard deviation, but it still probably rings true. Still that % is small. Not really worried. I would say Stern is more racially bias then the refs are.

  • MikeC.

    @Tarzan – Violet will only call fouls on handsome white men because she is, in fact, a very ugly black man.

  • http://www.need4sheed.com Tarzan Cooper

    Yes, I agree mike. This explains why isiah fired gorilla-face, she must have been the worst jello wrestling ref ever.

  • Trout

    95.6% of me can’t believe I actually read this blog 1% of my brain instantly leapt to some dangerous conclusions and what was left could give a flying crap.

  • Jagster

    @Dark Kai

    Latino is not a race or skin color; so I’m not sure how I’m wrong or retarded. I was being factually correct and not making assumptions such as yourself (and you admitted).

    The last that I knew, black and white were classified as races (note key work classified). “Latino” or “Hispanic” is not and never has been classified as a race. Ever!

    Secondly, “Latino”, “Latin” and “Spanish speaking” aren’t all necessarily the same thing. But that’s another story.

    Just cause you put a black person in a Spanish speaking country, it doesn’t change their race or origin. The US just keeps us ignorant to that so we can forget slavery and unity, etc.

    Many famous black American’s came from Spanish speaking countries.

    Lastly a Racist person or NBA referee doesn’t care what language you speak; when they see a black person visually (they’ve already made up their mind).

    I think your the one with the retarded view point, knowledge and sense of history and geography bro!

  • 4thqtrhero

    Quick somebody find out what race the refs in the ’06 finals were because Wade got a crap load of calls in those games.

  • Tony

    Pretty clever, you can’t help human nature.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/officerbarbrady what

    David Stern fined the author of the study $100,000 for criticizing the refs.

  • hambone

    if this were true Indiana would be going for a 3 peat

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/32JSE Yesse

    Lol. Were Kobe, LeBron and Durant in this study as well?

  • Scottie Pimpin

    now that was a wast of everyones time and money. jeezus.

  • Bobby

    All these comments about the standard error/standard deviation making these stats incorrect needs to read the actual journal article. Assuming they ran some kind of real statistical tests (ie ANOVA) then these factors would be accounted for. What you need to know is the statistical power of the tests that were run (i.e. how likely it is that we see a difference by chance). I’d imagine a study of this scope would be very powerful, as they have a shedload of data behind it.

  • Anon e Mouse

    If the Players don’t care, neither do I.

  • T-Money

    correlation does not mean causation. just saying.