Nylon Calculus: The history of NBA birthplaces

In basketball, talent can come from anywhere. But does it? Here at Nylon Calculus, we examine where NBA players are born and how the landscape of NBA origins has changed over time.

In 2014, LeBron James let the world know. “I’m coming home,” he told the world in his Sports Illustrated article with Lee Jenkins. Home, of course, was Ohio, where he had been born, where he was raised and where he had spent the first phase of his career before heading to South Beach in the summer of 2010.

In the summer of 2016, Kevin Durant explained, very clearly, that he would never come home. For Durant, home meant Washington, D.C. The district, while small, has sent 73 players to the NBA and continues to be one of the main sources of young basketball talent alongside New York City.

Let’s look at the birthplaces of NBA players and the trends in these birthplaces over time.

Percent of U.S.-born NBA players from each state, 1947-2019

In 2009, Vermont became the last remaining state to never produce an NBA player after Mario Chalmers (born in Anchorage, AK) joined the Miami Heat.

The league saw the birthplace of talent shift from New York to California over time, though both states have remained powerhouses at generating NBA players since the league began in 1946.

Here’s another way of looking at the data (this graph, unlike the one above, includes D.C.).

These numbers are largely affected by the populations of individual states (states with larger populations generally birth more players). We can instead look at the number of players from each state per million people to see which areas disproportionately produce NBA talent.

Number of NBA players per million people from each state, 1947-2019

The effects of total population are muted here. New York and California remain much closer toward the middle of the pack. In the years following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the NBA began to see many more players coming from the Deep South.

This Nylon Calculus map, like the original, excludes Washington, D.C. As it turns out, D.C. happens to be the most impressive (should-be) state in the U.S. at sending athletes to the NBA.

For the full list of players from each state, Basketball-Reference has you covered.

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