Are Professional Basketball Fans Racists?

Posted: 10 Oct 1998

See all articles by Robert E. McCormick

Robert E. McCormick

Clemson University - John E. Walker Department of Economics; PERC

Robert D. Tollison

University of Mississippi - School of Business Administration


This paper explores Kahn and Scherer's results in search of a better understanding of this complex issue. We accept their result of a 20 percent salary differential. In an expanded sample of NBA season, however, we find no evidence of customer discrimination by NBA fans. To the contrary, if anything, there is a preference for more black players and more black playing time in our results. We employ the same empirical model as Kahn and Scherer, but add two more seasons' worth of attendance data. We also model playing time for NBA players as a function of performance and race. Definitively, black players are allotted more minutes than comparable white players. In light of these results, we are left with the following: a) a large salary differential between black and white players, b) little basis for a claim of customer discrimination, and c) more playing time for black players, all else equal. This pattern of results, in our view, is not driven by racial discrimination but by price discrimination. NBA owners and executives are engaging in price discrimination across classes of players who have different elasticities of supply. For whatever reason (including past racial discrimination), black players have a higher elasticity of supply with respect to providing professional basketball services than do comparable white players. The salary differential identified by Kahn and Scherer is most likely a result of this condition.

JEL Classification: J31, J70

Suggested Citation

McCormick, Robert E. and Tollison, Robert D., Are Professional Basketball Fans Racists?. Available at SSRN:

Robert E. McCormick (Contact Author)

Clemson University - John E. Walker Department of Economics ( email )

Clemson, SC 29634
United States
8645062224 (Phone)


PERC ( email )

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Robert D. Tollison

University of Mississippi - School of Business Administration ( email )

PO Box 3986
Oxford, MS 38677
United States
601-232-5041 (Phone)
601-232-5821 (Fax)

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