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Life on the Red Carpet: Star Players and Referee Bias in the National Basketball Association

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Fans of the National Basketball Association (NBA) have long considered the idea that NBA referees are biased in various ways, such as when certain “star players” benefit from so-called “phantom fouls” committed against them or are sheltered from calls against fouls they commit. Using two data sets, the first based on Wallace, Caudill, and Mixon ( 2013 ), and a second based on all player games during the 2011 NBA Playoffs series, including dozens of NBA All Stars, the present study empirically investigates this potential form of referee bias by examining both early- and late-game free throw shooting in these most critical games of any season for NBA players, coaches, owners, and fans. The empirical results suggest that marquee NBA players are the beneficiaries of referee bias that occurs near the end of NBA Playoffs contests. More specifically, through regression models with various fixed effects, we find that NBA All Stars are awarded with an additional 0.32 free attempts per minute during the fourth quarter of NBA Playoff games.
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Keywords: D03; L83; Professional Basketball; Referee Bias; Sports Stars

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 04 May 2014

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