(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
Normally I have the utmost respect for Commissioner David Stern of the NBA. He is steadfast, intelligent, a pioneer, and he strikes fear into everyone associated with the Association.
But last week, a little tidbit of news flew out of the league offices, under the radar, and squarely into the lap of hypocrisy.
The NBDL (the NBA’s Developmental League for those of you unfamiliar with your Arkansas RimRockers) announced a new player eligibility rule that lowered the age to 18, effective next season.
You may remember that last year the NBA passed an age requirement that stipulated a player must be 19, or at least one year out of high school, to be draft eligible.
Stern intimated that the rule was passed to better the play in his league and the NCAA, as well as mandating that players who aren’t ready would have to attend college, instead of throwing an opportunity at a free education away in order to chase a dream.
That sounded great. Since the NCAA wouldn’t do anything about early entry, the NBA was going to make the rules for them.
It seemed as if Stern and his boys were truly concerned and wanted to make the situation better for everyone.
Of course, there was criticism. A good deal of it was levied by Stern’s own players, a few of whom cried racism.
Which was ridiculous, as a number of foreign players would be affected as much as African Americans.
But Stern eloquently defended himself against those accusations, and eventually everyone involved accepted the age limit and moved on.
Until last week when Stern’s subterfuge was revealed by a simple press release from the NBDL.
That innocuous release showed where Stern’s intentions really lie.
While he may be concerned with the state of his game, that is where his worries begin and end.
What good will come from lowering the age limit of the NBDL? While it isn’t the NBA, it is an avenue where young kids can get paid for playing basketball.
The average salary in the D-League is $30,000, which isn’t much – compared to the NBA average salary of $4.9 million. But it is enough to sway a kid with not-so-great grades to make the jump into a not-so-great league, where he won’t learn fundamentals, or the correct way to shoot, or the proper way to move without the ball, or how to raise your game against high level competition.
I would wager that this will cause more harm than if Stern had simply left the NBA’s age limit alone. The NBA has greater resources to help kids adjust to professional ball, not to mention more guaranteed money.
The college game will continue to suffer, because now not only will you have superstars still playing just one year before moving on, now you’ll have below average students giving up the chance to attend an institution of higher learning to make their bones in the NBDL.
This season just 13 players were called up for brief stints in the NBA. Large portions of the NBDL’s rosters are made up of journeymen professionals who have been out of college for years.
So, it will probably be even tougher for a high schooler to make the cut than in the NBA, where if you’re drafted in the first round it’s a sure-fire roster spot.
And the D-League just announced it was expanding by four teams. Seems to me like they are counting on an influx of players in the near future. I wonder what Stern and the boys can do to ensure that happens?
I was disappointed to say the least. I think that the NBA’s age limit should be raised to 21, or three years out of high school. The NBA is a man’s sport.
Not just the game itself but living outside the arenas and chartered team flights. Most of these young men have never even washed their own clothes or made their own meals, much less been faced with life-altering decisions.
Attending college is a good option for any student-athlete, and until last week I thought David Stern and the NBA agreed.
(Mike Gaines is the sports editor of The Sun-Times. His columns, which frequently detail his fascination with all things Memphis, appear each Wednesday and Friday to the delight of his four loyal readers.)