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Inside the NBA Bubble: How Black Players Performed Better without Fans


  • Caselli, Mauro
  • Falco, Paolo
  • Somekh, Babak


In the NBA, predominantly Black players play in front of predominantly non-Black fans. Using the 'NBA bubble', a natural experiment induced by COVID-19, we show that the performance of Black players improved significantly with the absence of fans vis-à-vis White players. This is consistent with Black athletes being negatively affected by racist pressure from mostly non-Black audiences. We dispel several alternative hypotheses. Beyond hurting individual players, fans' behavior causes significant economic damage to the NBA by lowering the quality of the game.

Suggested Citation

  • Caselli, Mauro & Falco, Paolo & Somekh, Babak, 2022. "Inside the NBA Bubble: How Black Players Performed Better without Fans," GLO Discussion Paper Series 1178, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:glodps:1178

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Principe, Francesco & van Ours, Jan C., 2022. "Racial bias in newspaper ratings of professional football players," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 141(C).
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    More about this item


    discrimination; harassment; racism; performance; basketball; NBA; COVID-19;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J71 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Hiring and Firing
    • Z22 - Other Special Topics - - Sports Economics - - - Labor Issues

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