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Coaching tenure in the NBA

From the NY Times***:

Over the last decade, black N.B.A. coaches have lasted an average of just 1.6 seasons, compared with 2.4 seasons for white coaches, according to a review of coaching records by The New York Times. That means the typical white coach lasts almost 50 percent longer and has most of an extra season to prove himself.

This fragment of evidence does not imply white racism, and in theory, might imply the reverse. The economic theory of discrimination implies that, should owner tastes favor their own race, the employment of other races will be lower and their productivity higher. This implication is confirmed in an 2002 paper in the American Economic Review by Goff, McCormick, and Tollison (although it is secondary to the main point). Their paper documents the time path of slugging percentage among baseball players in an era when integration replaced a segregated system. Initially (in the Robinson/Doby era), the slugging percentage of black players was significantly higher than white players, but the stats converged as clubs tapped the entire pool of talent in both races.

One third of NBA coaches are black, which suggests that both pools of talent are being utilized extensively. The Times article does not discuss results on the court (at least on the first page). But it does say this:

Of the 14 N.B.A. coaches who have held jobs for at least five seasons since 1989, only one has been black - Lenny Wilkens, in Atlanta, from 1993 to 2000 - despite the fact that teams began to hire black coaches in large numbers in the late 1980's. The three active N.B.A. coaches with the longest tenure are all white, and they have been in place for about a decade on average.

I was a huge Lenny Wilkens fan when I was going to school in Seattle. He won the NBA title there, and his Supersonic teams were a joy to watch. But that was a long time ago. His record since, is not anything to write home about. The latter day Lenny Wilkens may be the poster child for reverse racism - i.e. giving the black coach the edge in a job search - in today's NBA. A mistaken belief that a coach's skin color might motivate his players would explain both sub-par performance and short tenure among black coaches in the NBA.

Update: The entire article is loading now, and near the end we find this observation:

Both black and white executives said they had no doubt that the situation had improved, though, and the records bear them out. Over the last decade, blacks have been hired to coach good teams just as often as whites have, based on teams' records in the season or partial season before a new coach took over. In the 1980's and the early 1990's, white coaches got significantly better jobs by this measure.

Interesting. I'd like to see the data on current winning percentages.

***The article is a three pager, and as is customary for the NY Times, getting to pages 2 and 3 is a nightmare. Maybe tomorrow.