At least they’ll be able to vote…

An NBA age limit.


Jermaine O’Neal, who will become my favorite active player once Reggie Miller retires, is doing what he can to emulate teammate Ron Artest – more specifically, he’s sticking his foot in his mouth with what seems like an out of nowhere statement.

In response to NBA Commissioner David Stern, who has made it widely known that, during the upcoming NBA labor negotiations, he wants an age limit of 20 years for the NBA added into the verbiage, O’Neal said;

As a black guy, you kind of think [race is] the reason why it’s coming up. (…) You don’t hear about it in baseball or hockey. To say you have to be 20, 21 to get in the league, it’s unconstitutional. If I can go to the U.S. Army and fight the war at 18 why can’t you play basketball for 48 minutes?

Sorry. I don’t get it. How can this be a race thing? It isn’t like the age limit is only going to effect one race – it’s going to affect EVERY race, and every country. Sure, LeBron James would have had to go to college, or found somewhere else to go for two years. But so would Darko Milicic (and god knows he could have used a few more years of practice). For every Amare Stoudemire, there are countless players, like Rob Swift and DeSagana Diop, who are not ready for the NBA. This has to do with the quality of play, the fundamentals of basketball, and not the color of skin. The fact that many of these high school players are black is a product of the sport – but not the reason for an age limit. Scoop Jackson says

It is not race at the base of Stern’s quest to install an age limitation for entrance into the game, but it is race at the base of who that rule will directly affect.

And how is it unconstitutional? You need to be 16 to legally use sharp objects at a job. You need to be 18 to vote, and to join the military. You need to be 21 to imbibe alcohol. You need to be 25 to rent a car. These are not unconstitutional — these are age limits. If you are saying that this is unconstitutional, then you are also saying that it’s unconstitutional to have an age limit on the Presidency. And if it’s so unconstitutional, why are the courts still striking down anyone who tries to enter the NFL draft early? And, in the court of public opinion, I wouldn’t doubt if many feel that Kwame Brown’s shortcomings are more unconstitutional – it’s unjustified punishment to watch him flounder on the court.

But, though it makes perfect sense, in my mind, to set an age limit, others do not agree.

Some are saying that it would be a better idea to set up the NBDL and CBA as minor league systems. Others are claiming that this is happening for money only – that nobody cares about the plight of the 18 year old who wants to jump to the NBA.

First of all — the NBDL would never work as a minor league system, for two reasons; players are afraid that they would be sent down to the minor leagues as punishment, and owners don’t want to draft a first round player, pay him first round money, and then have him learn the game at a lower level. It’s a great idea, but the way the NBA’s contracts are set up it would never work.

Second — the NBA is doing this to make money? Of course they are… but they’re not doing it for the sole reason of making money — they are suggesting this because they want the quality of the NBA game to raise. I don’t care if you are a big fan or not, you have to admit that the level of play in the past 5-6 years has been much poorer than what many of us grew up with — the Jordan, Bird, Magic era. By keeping these players in college — and teaching them the fundamentals of the game — it will not only make the NBA a better league, with rookies who make an immediate impact, but also it will make college basketball even better than it already is. If anything, it could harm the NBA’s ability to make money off of young phenom’s, like Sebastian Telfair (who’s book, The Jump: Sebastian Telfair and the High Stakes Business of High School Ball, chronicles the strain on Telfair’s life while he was trying to jump to the NBA, sign shoe contracts, and struggle through high school all at the same time) and LeBron James.

We need to remember that this rule is being suggested by Stern, but is being backed up by many league veterans. According to Adrian Wojnarowski;

It shouldn’t be the NBA’s responsibility to protect the slight percentage of ready-made kids who are candidates for the prom-to-the-pros leap, but rather protect the greater good of a sport in crisis, the coming to a roost of an AAU and And1 generation.

Grant Hill agrees;

“I always thought that it was the purpose of the union to protect its members, not potential members,” Grant Hill was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “I think if anyone gets left out, it’s the older players, guys who put equity into this league, card-carrying members paying their dues to the union. I would hope they would be protected.”

O’Neal’s words, according to Jason Whitlock, are coming from the mouth of;

the stereotypical NBA Million Dollar Baby. His youth, lack of formal education and bank account all stand in the way of his grasping the bigger picture. The NBA is headed toward making a good business decision in its next collective bargaining agreement – the players’ union is likely to agree with Stern – but O’Neal can’t see beyond his own interest

Really, I think O’Neal’s a little defensive about his own place in NBA history – as a player who was drafted straight out of high school (and straight to the end of the bench) he sees how his life could have been different had he been required to wait two years after graduation to enter the league. Perhaps he would have been exposed as a mediocre college basketball talent, and maybe he wouldn’t have received a lucrative contract. Maybe it’s true that nobody is holding a gun to these GM’s heads, telling them to draft unproven young prospects that will, ultimately, sit the bench and slowly develop for four years, at which point many of them may jet off to other teams. But David Stern, and the Players Union, are looking out for a little more than the rights of a handful of high school prospects.

They’re looking out for the life and livelihood of the game itself.

This was lovingly handwritten on April 14th, 2005