The popular image of the African American National Basketball Association (NBA) player as rising from the ‘ghetto’ to international fame and fortune misleads academics and publics alike. This false image is fueled, in part, by critical shortcomings in empirical research on the relationship between race, sport, and occupational mobility: these studies have not adequately examined differences in social class and family structure backgrounds across, and especially within, racial groups. To address this problem, we empirically investigate how the intersection of race, social class and family structure background influences entry into the NBA. Information on social class and family structure background for a subpopulation of NBA players (N = 155) comes from 245 articles published in local, regional and national newspapers between 1994 and 2004. We find that, after accounting for methodological problems common in newspaper data, most NBA players come from relatively advantaged social origins and African Americans from disadvantaged social origins have lower odds of being in the NBA than African American and white players from relatively advantaged origins.
Also, I suspect that having an outstandingly athletic son can sometimes keep fathers from straying too far, thus keeping the kid at a higher social level because his family is intact.
The small number of top players from Africa are mostly from the top of their societies: Olajuwon's dad was rich, Mutumbo's dad was a high school principal, and Luol Deng's dad was a cabinet minister in the Sudan. The late Manute Bol was a herdsman, however.