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Across the United States, players find their way to the Big Four (NBA, NHL, MLB, and NFL). Not to mention, plenty of pros come from far and wide, as they were born abroad. Let's take a look at how each league's roster differs in terms of diversity and where most of these players come from before they sign that professional contract.
While the NBA has some big-name players who were born outside of the U.S. (Greece-born Giannis Antetokounmpo and Spain's Marc Gasol come to mind), a strong majority of NBA players are U.S. born (89.5%). We also looked at both the home states and cities of these America-born professional basketball players, and California and New York were the largest contributors to the NBA landscape. (9.6% of NBA players, or 413, hail from California, and 8.7%, or 373, come from New York.)
As far as cities that have helped to fill NBA rosters, Chicago, Illinois, wins hands down, with 136 of its players sent to the NBA. The next closest city is Philadelphia with 108 players, followed by Los Angeles with 107 players.
When we look at the few players who have come from outside of the U.S., we see that number pales compared to the 3,659 all-time players who hail from Uncle Sam. Canada is second on the list with 34 players in the NBA, followed by Germany (26), France (23), and Serbia (22).
Ice hockey is obviously a cold-weather sport, so it's no surprise the majority of players who have hit the rink for an NHL team have hailed from the Great White North, aka Canada. Hockey is as much a sport as it is an important part of Canadian culture, where kids hit the ice when they're young, and parents get used to hauling sticks, skates, and hockey gear early on in their parenting careers.
Not all NHL players come from Canada, of course. There have been 1,220 players from the U.S., 324 from Sweden, 242 from the Soviet Union, 215 from Finland, 47 from the United Kingdom, and 41 from Russia (including Alex Ovechkin, who was a part of the Washington Capitals squad that took home the Stanley Cup in 2018).
Next, let's take a look at the birthplaces of MLB players. Similar to the NBA, a majority of professional baseball players hail from the U.S. (87.2%). On a state level, California comes out on top with 11.7% (or 2,246) players coming from the Golden State. Behind California are Pennsylvania, a state that's contributed 1,424 players (7.4%), and New York with 1,205 players (6.2%).
Excluding the U.S., though, there is one nation that has contributed more players than any other country – the Dominican Republic. This may be due, in part, to the fact that all 30 MLB clubs have founded an academy in the DR in hopes of recognizing and developing future greats. After all, household names like Albert Pujols, Adrian Beltre, Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Robinson Cano, Juan Marichal, and Vladimir Guerrero all once called the Dominican Republic home.
Now, let's take a peek at the NFL to see where these players hail from. Nearly all NFL players (97.4%) come from the U.S., and there's a large concentration in California and Texas, both of which make up 19.8% of total players who made it to the NFL. Texas, of course, has a huge high school football culture that probably contributes to the huge number of players it sends to the NFL (311 all-time NFL players have called Houston home, for example, with 2,437 players in total coming from the Lone Star State).
City by city, Chicago comes out on top with 478 players, followed by Los Angeles (449) and the aforementioned Houston. Miami comes in fourth (284 players), then Detroit (255) and Dallas (244).
While we've already mentioned that most NFL players come from the U.S., there is still a handful from other countries. Canada has sent 107 players to the NFL, including guys like Nate Burleson, hailing from Calgary, and Austin Collie from Hamilton. Other countries that have fed NFL rosters include Germany (80 players), Jamaica (39), American Samoa (34), and England (29).
While having a baby in a certain state or province doesn't guarantee that someday he or she will wind up a professional athlete, there are "hot spots" that have helped populate professional rosters more than others. California, for example, is a huge contributor to the NFL and MLB, while Texas isn't far behind in total professional athletes, with a huge chunk going to the NFL.
Canada, of course, provides plenty of talent to the NHL. Interestingly, though, 100% of Ontario's pro athlete exports have found their way to the NHL.
No matter where a professional athlete calls home, his birthplace helped make him the pro he is today. As you look over our findings, you can spot a few trends, such as a huge percentage of NHL players hailing from Canada and NFL players coming from California and Texas. Don't forget, though, there are players who come from a large number of different locales, so maybe you (or your child) will someday be a pro athlete, even if you hail from Nebraska.
For this project, 53,457 birthplace records were gathered from sports-reference.com for all-time professional athletes in the NBA, MLB, NFL, and NHL. The league breakdowns were as follows: NFL: 24,700 players; MLB: 19,365 players; NHL: 5,193 players; and NBA: 4,199 players. NBA player data include records from both the NBA and ABA. Data were pulled from Dec. 13 to Dec. 17, 2018. Data were spot-checked to ensure they were correct and complete.
Please note that the information from sports-reference.com may not be complete due to some players' birthplace information being unknown or unentered. The number of players with unlisted birthplaces are the NFL with 766 (3.1% of total players), MLB with 62 (0.32% of total players), and none acknowledged as missing for the NHL and NBA.
No matter where you hail from, if you're interested in sharing our findings of where pro athletes call home, you're free to do so. Feel free to share this with your readers for any noncommercial purposes, but play fair and include a link back to this page so that our contributors earn credit for their work, too.