Cut Me Loose
A timely—and opinionated—piece on the NBA age-minimum rules.
by Christian Waterman
It makes sense to start an argument against the NBA’s age limit with LeBron James. For him to have gone to college, certainly for just a year, would have resulted in nothing more than leaving millions on the table. In 2004, he would again have been the first pick, ahead of fellow jumper Dwight Howard and three-year UConn graduate.
What profit – financial, mental, physical – does an NBA-ready player such as LeBron accrue from a year at the University of ____? The school’s pockets are sure to be lined handsomely, as well as the NCAA’s capitalizing on the athlete’s image. So is it any surprise that these amateurs are taking money and gifts under the table? Sebastian Telfair, from Seaside Projects in the gritty part of Coney Island, sought a better life for his family – solution: sign with Adidas and declare for the Draft.
These players who were once equals, high school legends appearing together on the cover of SLAM 62, are now miles apart in terms of their impact on the League. It’s unfair to say that Bassy should have gone to college because he’s developed in to a serviceable point guard, and spent the end of last season buried on the Cavs’ bench.
The assessment of this exclusionist policy is that it’s unfair, forcing players to go to college, or in recent years, seek an alternative post-secondary route. While many were ready to cast off Brandon Jennings after his mediocre season with Lottomatica Roma, his 55-point roar and march in to the Playoffs proved them categorically wrong, and Young Buck absolutely right. For prospects like Jennings, playing at the professional level is a much better breeding ground than college, because still the competition level in the NCAA is inferior to that on the next level. Players with size, or those with exemplary skill dominate the college game, and that does not necessarily translate (see Morrison, Adam).
And truthfully, what is the point of college basketball at this point? The cream of the crop has been fending off recruiters since their middle school days, and now college ball is more of a business than an amateur sport. After attending a bevy of shoe camps, playing on AAU teams with and against the best in the nation, and with prep schools that churn out stars like Oak Hill, why spend another year on a campus, when the checks are readily available at the next level. The only discernable difference is school itself, but a one-and-done player only has to fulfill one semester of work if he so chooses.
The NBA age limit does deserve some commendation. It’s saved hundreds of kids who would have come in to the League unprepared to handle the demands. A perfect case is Michael Beasley, who’s only recently gotten his act together, although he would have been a top pick out of high school. On the other hand, his year at K-State apparently didn’t teach him anything about not smoking weed at official league functions or how to spend his money. It’s also avoided more horror stories of the ones who don’t make it like Lenny Cooke’s (where art thou Lenny?). Most importantly, and surely a significant factor in implementing the restriction, is the invigoration of the college game as a result of the best players being forced to go to school.
Even the filthiest of programs cannot compete with the complete freedom, riches, and excesses of the NBA life, so the age limit was a godsend for them. Until the coaches realized these players were nothing more than year-long rentals and started crying foul. Several top coaches including Tom Izzo suggest adopting the baseball model — teams drafting players without the convoluted declaration process – conserving their college eligibility and allowing the player to decide following the Draft.
In all, the NBA age limit, while flawed and in need of change, is positive because it gives these players time to develop before making the final step up. For the top prospects, it at least showcases them and hones their image, with John Wall being a relative unknown on the national scene not too long ago. Of course, the League is the ultimate winner here, with a competent screening process before it takes these young men on. Interestingly, Kobe, KG, LeBron, and Dwight Howard, some of the grandest figures of this year’s Playoffs, don’t have any college experience (Not to mention Perk and Andrew Bynum, the youngest NBA player ever.)
I say take off the shackles and allow the ones who are ready to head straight to the League. If the NBA decided to open up the draft pool to all players instead of those who stay in after their cutoff date, once the 60 picks have elapsed, the decision on whether or not to remain at school will be apparent. If I’m a sophomore who hears some good things about my draft stock and stay in to go undrafted, I just threw away two years of eligibility for a future of uncertainty, based off of hearsay from a businessman looking to sign another client. I’d be pissed.
Christian Waterman is a rising sophomore at UMass Amherst, where he is a double major in Sport Management and English. Christian is a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, and a die-hard Knicks fan, so life’s rough. Check out more of his work at writethefuture.tumblr.com.