Do black NBA players play better without the fans?

Young displeased woman using megaphone and shouting while protesting with group of people on city streets.
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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-`a-vis White players. This is consistent with Black athletes being negatively affected by racial pressure from mostly non-Black audiences. We control for player, team, and game fixed-effects, and dispel alternative mechanisms. Beyond hurting individual players, racial pressure causes significant economic damage to NBA teams by lowering the performance of top athletes and the quality of the game.

That kind of causal mechanism is difficult to demonstrate, but perhaps there is something to this.  Alternatively, how about the “fewer distractions in the bubble effect”?  Entourage effect?  etc.  How could they miss this possibility?  Here is the full paper by Mauro Caselli, Paolo Falco, and Babak Somekh.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

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