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May 25, 2016 • BasketballCoaching

Study: 48.8% of NBA players related to ‘elite athletes’

A new study conducted by the Wall Street Journal suggests the best path to the NBA might be having a professional athlete in the family.

Klay Thompson, son of Mychal Thompson, is among the 48.8% of NBA players related to current or former elite athletes. | Photo: Keith Allison
Klay Thompson, son of Mychal Thompson, is among the 48.8% of NBA players related to current or former elite athletes. | Photo: Keith Allison

According to its research, 48.8% of NBA players are related to current or former elite athletes, defined as “anyone who has played a sport professionally, in the NCAA or at the national-team level.” By comparison, that number is just 17.5% in the NFL and 14.5% in MLB.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The connectedness in the NBA likely comes down to the importance of height in elite basketball. The average NBA player is about 6-feet, 6-inches tall, which is 11 inches taller than the average American male, according to Census data. 

“That’s a pretty reasonable hypothesis that’s why so many basketball players have so many relatives,” said Joel Hirschhorn, a lead genetics researcher at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and a pediatric endocrinologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. “We know that being six-feet, nine-inches tall greatly increases the chance of having another relative that’s close to six-nine.”

Still, it’s unlikely that height is the sole explanation for the network of family connections in the NBA. Hirschhorn also cites the environmental advantages of being raised around the game and other physiological factors including overall athletic skill, jumping ability and body proportion. Long arms and large hands are particularly beneficial.

Height is certainly an asset in a sport like basketball, and players are only getting bigger. According to league statistics, the average height of an NBA players was 6-foot-4 in the early 1950s and slowly crept upward until the 1981-82 season, when it reached and remains 6-foot-7.

There are 447 players in the NBA, 218 of them related to current or former elite athletes. Most connections come by way of brothers and fathers.

Click here to read the complete report.


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