Can statistics recognize racial bias?


Research from a University of Pennsylvania professor and a Cornell University graduate student says yes, according to the New York Times (registration required). Judging by comments on the article, many Times readers disagree.

In 2005, when the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) award raised similar questions, three Southeastern economists turned to data analyses to determine whether a bias existed.

Mike DuMond, Jay Coleman and Allen Lynch created an MVP model to crunch the numbers and also predict the MVP winner. The results? Their MVP model showed that race was *not* a factor in whether or not a player won the MVP.

Two of the economists, Coleman and Lynch, have also received attention for their popular Dance Card model, which they use to predict NCAA Dance Card rankings each year.

This year, the black and white of the NBA MVP data shows that Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks will win the MVP. The MVP model predicts, in order of finish:

  1. Dirk Nowitzki- Dallas Mavericks (26%)
  2. Steve Nash - Phoenix Suns (21%)
  3. LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers 16%)
  4. Tim Duncan - San Antonio Spurs (16%)
  5. Kobe Bryant - Los Angeles Lakers (12%)

The NBA will most likely announce its MVP winner this week. We'll be watching to see if the model is right.

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About Author

Alison Bolen

Editor of Blogs and Social Content

Alison Bolen is an editor at SAS, where she writes and edits content about analytics and emerging topics. Since starting at SAS in 1999, Alison has edited print publications, Web sites, e-newsletters, customer success stories and blogs. She has a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from Ohio University and a master’s degree in technical writing from North Carolina State University.


  1. You got 5 out of 5 ... not bad. Kudos!
    NEW YORK, May 15, 2007 – Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks was named the winner of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the 2006-07 season, the NBA announced today.
    The nine-year NBA veteran totaled 1,138 points, including 83 first place votes, from a panel of 129 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. Players were awarded 10 points for each first-place vote, seven points for each second-place vote, five for third, three for fourth and one for each fifth-place vote received.
    Rounding out the top five in voting for MVP were Phoenix’s Steve Nash (1,013 points/44 first-place votes), the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (521 points/two first-place votes), San Antonio’s Tim Duncan (286 points) and Cleveland’s LeBron James (183 points).

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