Born on the Bayou

Published: June 12, 2012

Louisiana produces NBA players at the expected rate, but many leave home on their way to the big time, blurring Louisiana’s significant contributions to basketball.

I was told a long time ago that “yankees” see “What do you do?” as the question of greatest importance when trying to learn about someone they’ve just met, but for people in the South the most important question is “Where are you from?”

I do not think this is a categorical truth about the people living north of I-10 by any stretch, but I do think the genesis of such a statement lies in deep-seated pride of place, or pride in place, that persists in the hearts of some. Post-Katrina, New Orleans specifically has felt a renewal of this pride, along with similar upwelling around Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. It’s not all Katrina related, and some is a reaction to this, but it’s pride nonetheless. We’re not just from here, we get to be from here. We are actively from here rather than just noting it in our mental autobiography.

During this past Super Bowl, I found myself referring to Eli as Archie’s boy, and remarking who is from `here’, who went to LSU, etc. James Andrews was getting some show or spot on SiriusXM, and I thought “LSU.” I read about the primaries, and I thought “Newt went to Tulane.” I see James Carville out at Panola, and I think “You think a Cajun would order a better breakfast . . . must be a health thing. Hang tough, James.”

For some reason there is this idea persistently bandied about that this pride doesn’t extend to basketball.




When Joe and Jake started talking about doing a court refurbishment piece, one of the items brought up was the “next NBA star” being formed right there on a new court. This is clearly not what the courts are there, but it’s part of the dream. I had done some research before about the rate at which Louisiana produces NFL players (let’s call it a rate that should a source of pride . . . at a time, there were two active players from my TOWN of ~1,500 people, I had seen one around school and my brother played against the other), so I did a quick take on this regarding the NBA.

To define my terms, I’m speaking of male players. These are the players I know the most about and the Hornets, the team that this blog follows, is in the NBA, so I use this term as a matter of convenience. Rather than do a complete analysis of female basketball players, since I can not do justice to such an effort, I simply discuss Seimone Augustus in an appendix to this piece below. Please, read this people. In fact, read that if you read nothing else of mine. She deserves far more credit than she has gotten, at least in my estimation.

Also, there is no clear metric of `fromness’. There are arguments to be made for each of several definitions. For the purposes of this article, “from Louisiana” means “born in Louisiana” according to the data available to me. We track the city of the high school and college each player attended when appropriate, but this is not done for players not born in Louisiana.

Hall of Famers

Louisiana has clearly produced some great players, including eight Hall of Famers.

[table id=41 /]

By convention, if a state is not mentioned in a locale, the locale is in Louisiana.

Considering that 95 players will be in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (Hall of Fame) as individual players (as of the upcoming 2012 class which has no Louisiana-born players), this is about 1 in 12 members. Considering the relative population of Louisiana to the rest of the USA, this rate should be seen as impressive. Adding in that some Hall of Fame NBA players were not born in the USA, the rate even more impressive.

A related statistic, due to the perhaps-perfect implication that receiving this award has on Hall of Fame enshrinement, is that of 57 NBA Most Valuable Player Awards given out, 10 of them have been given to Louisiana-born players: 5 to Bill Russell, 2 to Bob Pettit, 2 to Karl Malone, and 1 to Willis Reed. Russell shares this count with Michael Jordan, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar received the honor 6 times. That is the company this Louisiana-born player shares. Rare air, friends.

Also, there is exactly one award the NBA doles out that has a name attached to it(there are more names on trophies, but not on the awards): Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.

Spurred on by these observations, let’s dig into Louisiana’s role in player production.

Active Louisiana-Born Players

Louisiana produces NBA players at more than double the expected rate, just going on population numbers. The analysis appears at the end of article in an appendix. This will shield the masses from most of the most boring stuff. You’re welcome.

[table id=42 /]

There are 14 active NBA players who were born in Louisiana. This is in line with expectations.

This sounds nice on its own, as least for those who like the idea of Louisiana producing quality NBA players at the rate, but the story has layers. In the past 10 years, 1164 players were drafted into the NBA, 25 of which were born in Louisiana. This rate is consistent with expectations. This is in contrast to the percentage of players in the Hall of Fame from Louisiana, a rate associated with a state that had twice the population of Louisiana during the relevant time period.

Comparing the rates as which Louisiana produces NBA players and the number of Hall of Famers from Louisiana, I draw the following conclusion: Even though Louisiana produces NBA players at the expected rate, the rate of great NBA players is striking. Thus, Louisiana is not just a producer of basketball talent, it’s an exceptional producer of NBA greatness.

Sprinkle some powdered sugar on that, Mr. Big Market, Mr. Contraction. How about you pay a little attention to where stars that built this sport come from instead of where you’d like them to go?

Talent Flux

Let’s not get too excited, however. The above number is simply counting the number of players born here. If we ignore the NBA, it is easy to say that NCAA basketball is the main showcase of basketball talent in America. Thus, we need our players playing their college basketball here for fans, scouts, and critics to fully appreciate the contribution Louisiana makes to professional basketball talent.

If we first trace these players to high school, we see that 8 of the active players finished high school here. Of the 6 who did not, one was forced out due to Katrina, and one left during his senior year for other reasons.

If we expand the net to include players who were not born here, we find none. Not a single active player who was not born in Louisiana played their high school basketball in Louisiana.

Tracking those 8 – 10 players to college, whichever you prefer, the story gets even worse. Only 5 of the 14 active Louisiana-born players went to college in Louisiana, with one player skipping college altogether.

These observations are in contrast to what we find in the Hall of Famer dataset, small as it is.

Players from other states did some time here for college, at least. “Pistol” Pete Maravich changed the game of basketball, and the Hall of Fame agrees. He is arguably the greatest LSU Tiger to play basketball, and the argument would be about Shaq and Bob Pettit. Shaq is from New Jersey and is a future Hall of Famer. Pettit is a Hall of Famer, as mentioned above, and was the first recipient of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award.

In a bit of irony, the jersey right next to Pistol’s in the Arena . . . the Charlotte one . . . is that of Louisiana native Bobby Phills.

Foundation Problems

So Louisiana produces NBA players, and Louisiana has colleges that can attract NCAA talent with NBA potential, but the holding that talent here through high school is the issue.

This could be in part because the players are very good and want to go to universities that have a reputation for contending, such as UNC or Duke. If the high school retention problem were resolved, then perhaps Louisiana schools would have those same reputations young players are seeking elsewhere today.

This has also got to be in part due to family decisions independent of basketball considerations. Any short term effects of Katrina are not showing themselves here, but it may be too soon to fill out the real damage report, but it may be that Chris Duhon is a harbinger of things to come, or things that are already set in motion.

The damage to our already `noteworthy’ educational system that Katrina wrought is still being felt as budgets are slashed and districts are redrawn. On the athletic side, coaching networks and player support systems have been disrupted to various degrees. There is no easy fix to this, but the Hornets holding clinics to coach coaches will be a help in this direction. In fact, just being here may inspire players and coaches to elevate their respective games while associating the game they love with the state they love.

Well before Katrina, however, Louisiana’s relative growth rate declined. This was due to a number of factors, but the economic climate here following the collapse of oil prices, and a net flux of population outward followed.

In the more distant past, as in the case of Bill Russell, segregation cast a shadow on life here, sending his family to the West Coast where they could have a better life. While such social institutions have been removed at least superficially, the damage that was done can still be felt today in all likelihood in this particular area at the very least.

A basketball court refurbished by the Hornets in a neighborhood isn’t going to change a family moving in search of better income, dissipate a hurricane, or magically make some talented youth suddenly notice that he could be good at this “strange new game” the court has introduced. Rather, a court can create social ties than can affect some decisions. Positive social interaction on the court and all the positives that can come from playing sports can keep a young player going even when their development plateaus temporarily or permanently.

Also, it’s difficult for a player to become great without stiff competition. A social center can help hold those `honing’ players in the fold. Eventually, that potentially great player will emerge, and with the right infrastructure, that potential will be become real. The question is “Where?”

Part of the return on these court refurbishing investment that is Louisiana players shining in the NBA is years away from being measurable, but that’s no reason not to look at each and every court and wonder if the next Karl Malone or Seimone Augustus is practicing layups alone so that one say they can win a game, or a title, as you sit the same distance away, literally watching a dream come true.

Sharing the Legends

So what else are we going to do about it?

This is a nice story; it’s about time it’s told more often. Those Hall of Famers should be recognized by the Hornets. If the Miami Heat can recognize Michael Jordan with a jersey in the rafters (or off to the side of them), then the Hornets can recognize (a part of) the basketball legacy of the state that is giving them about $100m over the next 12 years.

Additionally, Louisiana ranks first in the country in terms of percentage of residents who are native to the state, at 78.8%. Comparing this to the national average of 58.8%, we have a have half the rate of transplants than the nation as a whole. Louisiana has been among the top states in this regard for some time, but they are squarely number one now. This not surprising given recent disasters and the pride discussed above.

The practical effect of this with respect to basketball is that an embrace of “Louisiana as Home” is essential to the NBA’s success here. This means not only reaching outside the New Orleans DMA to grab revenues, but embracing the State and all its idiosyncrasies . . . and its most famous sons.

The Hall of Fame’s, LSU’s, and the New Orleans Jazz’s Pistol Pete Maravich is recognized, as is Baton Rouge’s own Bobby Phills. Let’s include the Louisiana-born Hall of Famers.

In Louisiana, our past, present, and future all walk side-by-side. You can taste our history over breakfast . . . for instance, in the chicory that was used to stretch our coffee when shipments slowed during the Civil War before going out to build the office where the a business will take root, eventually moving a new family to the city from one of these same states that kept our coffee away so long ago . . .

Show everyone our legacy, bitter as chicory or sweet as sugar, and we’ll embrace it and you.

Appendix: Data Analysis

I did not stratify by any factors, such as race, gender, etc. This is simply based on NBA data available to me and bulk census data.

[table id=39 /]

Squeaky did not appear on the NBA’s player page, so I left him off in the interest of conservatism with respect to proving the point here. No disrespect to Squeaky. Squeaky, Mr. Johnson, if you are reading this, I’ll make it up to you with some Walker’s.

Eyeballing this table may not do a whole lot for you, so we break it down here, adding in the relevant census data and that of the Hall of Famer table above.

[table id=40 /]

The percentage of active players from Louisiana is not significantly different from the percentage of births in Louisiana during the relevant time period.

A difference being significant means that this observed difference is unlikely due to random chance under the assumptions that the player’s `selection’ is independent of birthplace, all `selections’ are independent, and a selection being from Louisiana has a chance equal to that of the ratio of the number of births in Louisiana to that of the U.S. A binomial distribution is used to assess significance.

These assumptions about independence are pretty standard, as is the assumption about the ratio of number of births inLouisiana to that of the U.S. representing the chance for a `selection’ to target players from Louisiana. When the data seems to contradict the assumptions taken as a whole, we challenge the easiest to challenge: That the `selections’ are independent of place. Specifically, we take this as evidence that Louisiana produces exceptional basketball players at a much greater than expected rate.


I would be remiss if I didn’t take a minute and give the ladies their due. LSU’s women’s basketball is very popular, draws among the largest crowds, including a record setting crowd at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (PMAC), and has produced some high-grade WBNA players, including some from Louisiana, such as Seimone Augustus.

Seimone is on our reigning WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx, and our reigning Finals MVP. She supplements her WNBA play professionally in Moscow and for the US national team. She is world class, born and raised in the Big B.R. as my paw-paw called it. Did I mention the gold medal in Beijing?

Seimone is a jewel, one of the best to ever play.

Congrats to you again, Lady Tiger.


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