NBA age limit: Wrong idea, wrong time
Chris Broussard blog
Tuesday night marked the end of an era – that 10-year period between Kevin Garnett and Gerald Green, when high school kids began pouring into the NBA like never before. Due to the league's new collective bargaining agreement, this was the last year high schoolers were eligible for the draft.
Prep schoolers? Yes. 19-year-olds? Yes. College freshman who are so much more mature than high school seniors? Yes. But no more high schoolers.
When I look at this new toothless age minimum of 19 years, two things come to mind.
First, what's the point? Especially since the same collective bargaining agreement will allow teams to send first- and second-year players to the NBDL? That alone is the perfect solution for the prep-to-pros fanaticism that overtook the league in the past decade.
The difference between 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds is miniscule, and having players such as Greg Oden go to college for one year only adds to the hypocrisy of big-time college athletics. At least before, there was the pretense or illusion of the "student-athlete.''
It's clear the student part has been eliminated altogether in many cases. Who or what, besides the bankroll of a college and its coach, will benefit from this arrangement? It'll be interesting to see if these "one-year wonders'' carry out the charade and go to class and study at all.
Second, Jermaine O'Neal was right. This is not blatant, in-your-face racism, and it would be foolish to suggest that David Stern and the owners are sitting in their meetings saying, ''We've got to stop these black kids from making all this money.''
But I believe this ruling is clearly a form of racial paternalism. It is a documented fact that ever since blacks have been in what's now called America there has been a strong segment of the white population that felt it knew what was best for black people, the implication being that blacks can't make logical, well-informed decisions on their own.
It seems to me that, at least on a subconscious level, Stern and the owners are saying just that – that many of these young men are impoverished, uneducated, from broken families and easy prey for unsavory street "agents,'' so they and their families can't make proper decisions regarding their future. That's paternalism, pure and simple.
Blacks, like any other race, don't need paternalism. What we need and want, in my view, is fairness. And in this case, fairness would be to treat prodigious young black athletes the same way those in the "white'' sports are treated.
Notice the only two professional sports that have such a stringent age requirement are the NBA and the NFL, two sports dominated by blacks. I understand the NFL's rule because of the physical nature of the game. I think an 18 year-old could get hurt beyond repair in the NFL. But that's not the case in the NBA.
It's not like teenage athletes in other sports haven't had their share of issues. They may even encounter greater problems than the young NBA stars. In tennis, there was Jennifer Capriati's drug problem, which appeared to result from her turning pro as a young teen.
In gymnastics, the tales of bulimia and anorexia are many. In hockey, young men 15 and 16 go to live with families they don't know hundreds of miles from home. Some have been abused in various ways by coaches who have become their surrogate fathers on the road.
In baseball, recent high school grads come across the same lifestyle and temptations that those in the NBA have to face.
I keep hearing about Leon Smith, the high school draftee who flunked out of the NBA, but I can name a dozen high schoolers who've had great success in the league, on and off the court. So can you. I can also name several players who went to college yet still did reprehensible things in the NBA. For example, Ron Artest spent two years at St. John's.
Stern's stated desire to keep young kids (read: young black kids) from placing their emphasis on playing in the NBA instead of going to college is admirable. But even before Garnett entered the NBA in 1995, too many young black men were putting their eggs in the basket of professional sports.
That's a real problem in the black community -- overemphasizing sports to the detriment of academic and other pursuits. But it is not the NBA's responsibility to solve it. That job belongs to the adults, parents and schools within the black community.