Race and ethnicity in the NBA

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The composition of race and ethnicity in the National Basketball Association (NBA) has changed throughout the league's history. The first non-white player entered the league in 1947.[1] According to racial equality activist Richard Lapchick, the NBA in 2011 was composed of 78 percent black players, 17 percent white players, four percent Latinos (of any race), and one percent Asian.[2] The league has the highest percentage of African American players of any major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada.[3]



Earl Lloyd (right) was the first African American to play in the NBA

Wataru Misaka debuted in 1947 as the first non-white and Asian-American player in the league.[1] Blacks 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] 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.[12]

Puerto Rican Butch Lee in 1978 was the first Latino in the league.[13] Wang Zhizhi became the first Chinese player in 2001.[14]

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.[15][16]

NBA player composition by year[17]
  •   White
  •   African American
  •   Latino (of any race)
  •   Asian
  •   Other


Bill Russell in 1966 became the first non-white and African-American head coach in the NBA.[18][17] In the late 1980s, teams began hiring black coaches in large numbers.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Some sources conflict and list Clifton as the first African-American to sign in the NBA.[4][10]


  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. ^ "Study: 2011 NBA Racial and Gender Report Card". SlamOnline.com (Source Interlink Magazines). June 16, 2011. Archived from the original on February 22, 2012. 
  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. ^ Pomerantz 2005, pp.53, 123
  13. ^ Motenko, Joshua (July 11, 2006). "The Globalization of Basketball: Latin America (Part 1)". NBADraft.net. Archived from the original on February 22, 2012. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Celzic, Mike. "Race has nothing to do with NBA's success". NBCSports.com. Archived from the original on February 22, 2012. 
  16. ^ Kuhn, David Paul (2007). The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma. Macmillan. p. 205. ISBN 9781403982742. Retrieved February 16, 2014. 
  17. ^ a b 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. 
  18. ^ 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. 

Further reading[edit]

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