Joe Price
Department of Economics
Brigham Young University
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NBA Research

Academic Papers:
Dr. Joseph Price
Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees
Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2010
Joseph Price and Justin Wolfers
[Executive Summary] [Additional Materials][media links][data and do files]

The NBA provides an intriguing place to assess discrimination: referees and players are involved in repeated interactions in a high-pressure setting with referees making the type of split-second decisions that might allow implicit racial biases to become evident.  We find that more personal fouls are awarded against players when they are officiated by an opposite-race officiating crew than when officiated by an own-race refereeing crew. These biases are sufficiently large that they affect the outcome of an appreciable number of games.  Our results do not distinguish whether the bias stems from the actions of white or black referees.

Racial Bias in the NBA: Implications in Betting Markets
Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, 4(2), 2008.
Tim Larsen, Joseph Price and Justin Wolfers
[data and do files]

Recent studies have documented the existence of an own-race bias on the part of sports officials. In this paper we explore the implications of these biases on betting markets. We use data from the 1991/92 - 2004/05 NBA regular seasons to show that a betting strategy exploiting own-race biases by referees would systematically beat the spread.

Interracial Workplace Cooperation: Evidence from the NBA
Lars Lefgren, Joseph Price, and Henry Tappen

Using data from the National Basketball Association (NBA), we examine whether patterns of workplace cooperation occur disproportionately among workers of the same race. We find that, holding constant the composition of teammates on the floor, basketball players are no more likely to complete an assist to a player of the same race than a player of a different race.  Our confidence interval allows us to reject even small amounts of same-race bias in passing patterns. We find some evidence of own-race bias in situations where the outcome of a particular play is less important.  Our findings suggest that high levels of interracial cooperation can occur in a setting where workers are operating in a highly visible setting with strong incentives to behave efficiently.

Profitable Biases of NBA Referees
Joseph Price, Marc Remer, and Daniel Stone

This paper empirically investigates ways in which the National Basketball Association (NBA) may have benefitted from unfair enforcement of the rules. We find that NBA referees make calls to favor home teams, keep games close, and extend playoff series. All of these actions likely increase league revenue. We identify these effects as caused by referee bias, as opposed to player behavior, using play-by-play data that allow us to analyze separately those statistics largely determined by the referees and those determined by the players. We also find that the biases do not increase in situations where their direct financial benefit to the league would be greater, and thus conclude that the biases are likely of an implicit nature.


Special Report for ESPN:

Statistical Tests of Tim Donaghy’s allegations of games officiated by Dick Bavetta
Joseph Price and Henry Tappen