Last year, most basketball talk involved how good LeBron James of the Cleveland Caveliers was. This year, it is how amazing LeBron James is. What separates LeBron from the rest of the National Basketball Association superstars is that LeBron is only 20 years old and entered the NBA straight out of high school. Not many players in all of sports (except tennis and golf) can say that some of their elite players are mere teenagers.
This all might change for basketball when the next collective bargaining agreement between the players union and the owners ends after this season, and a new one is negotiated. NBA commissioner David Stern has asked for an age limit of 20 for players wishing to enter the NBA.
This has been a contested issue involving the NBA in recent years. It shouldn’t seem like such a big deal, but some players object to it. Indiana Pacers center Jermaine O’Neal disagreed with such a move.
O’Neal sees baseball and hockey as examples where age limits don’t exist and players, no matter how young they are, can play as long as they have the ability to play professionally. The real question is, how popular is college baseball and college hockey compared to college basketball and college football? I don’t think O’Neal understands that some colleges exist around on either their basketball or football programs, and less on baseball and hockey. And the only reason that the college hockey championships are being shown on ESPN2 is because the NHL’s season was cancelled!
But O’Neal can hardly sound objective because players, as part of the players union, only look out for themselves. If 19-year-olds can play in the NBA, why can’t they?
They can’t because they don’t have the experience to survive at such a high level. Jumping from high school players to professional NBA players is hard. Being able to dunk on teenagers half your size isn’t the same as being able to dunk on adults twice your size.
They can’t because they don’t have the maturity to survive at such a high level. The real reason that players want to jump from high school to the NBA is because they can earn money playing basketball instead of playing for a college education. It’s very tempting to have so much money at such a young age, but the truth is that most people aren’t mature to handle the responsibilities with money and fame. Sure, many of the top choices in recent NBA drafts were out of high school, but how many were really ready?
They can’t because it would hurt the college game. College rivalries are just as fierce as your Yankee-Red Sox and 49ers-Cowboys rivalry. March Madness is treated with similar devotion as the MLB or NFL playoffs. It might seem refreshing to see colleges other than Duke and North Carolina play for the national championship, but how exciting would it be?
Having great basketball players helps the game of basketball on every level. If every highly touted prospect went to the NBA, how competitive or exciting would the college game be? Would we ever have a classic match-up between Larry Byrd and Magic Johnson whose rivalry transcended college and into the NBA? The sport as a whole benefits from the exposure of great play. If LeBron really wanted to be like Mike, LeBron would have went to college like Jordan did instead of just wearing his number.