Concerns have been raised recently by players’ associations regarding the risk of death among retired players. Using a retrospective cohort study, we analyzed factors associated with the mortality of National Basketball Association (NBA) players and compared their life expectancy with that of the general population. We analyzed a cohort of 3985 players who participated in the NBA from its inception in 1946 to April 2015 (481 active and 3504 former players). We used the data for the 3504 former NBA players, of whom 687 (19.1%) died before 15 April 2015, to study the elapsed time between the end of their NBA careers until death. Cox proportional hazards models were employed in the multivariate survival analysis. After adjusting for age at the end of the NBA career and calendar year, we found that mortality is associated with height and ethnicity. Taller players and African-American players had a higher instantaneous risk of death than shorter players or white players. In addition, the life expectancy of players (regardless of height and ethnicity) has increased since the inception of the NBA. This is one of the first studies using such an extensive cohort of professional basketball players and Cox proportional hazards models. Results confirmed that height is associated with mortality. In addition, ethnicity is also linked to mortality; white players and small players live longer. Our study is useful for devising strategies for health interventions and the proper allocation of resources with respect to the general population.
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