At the annual NBA draft this Thursday, at least five of the top six picks will be "one-and-done" players. These are players who, blocked by NBA's collectively bargained 19-old year age limit, unconsciously play a year of college ball then go straight to the pros.
The age limit is a blatant restraint of trade and I can't believe somebody hasn't taken it to court. The New York Times sportswriter William C. Rhoden sees collusion, calling the restriction a
"three-tiered maneuver by the N.C.A.A., the N.B.A. and the players union to prevent talented high school players from going directly to the N.B.A."
I tend to agree.
Proponents of the rule say that the 365-day gap between high school and the pros helps prepare the players who are somehow not ready for the NBA. Well, some are ready and some aren't. For every Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James there is an equal or greater amount of players who come straight out high school, languish at the ends of NBA benches or are quickly out of basketball altogether. The NBA doesn't really have much of minor league per se. So on draft day, it falls on the NBA GM's who must gamble whether a high school post-grad has the skills necessary to immediately compete in the league or whether that youngster's raw physical talent will quickly mature into professional material. Either way, it's hard to pass up on the unrealized potential which is being identified younger and younger every day.
Rhoden calls 18-year old high school star Brandon Jennings a "trendsetter" for his "brilliant" idea to snub his nose at the NCAA and play for pay in Europe for a year. That solves the restraint of trade problem but not the quality of basketball issue.
Even with the forced one-year, pre-NBA apprenticeship -- be it in Europe or the NCAA -- the problem remains that many young players arrive in the NBA having missed an entire level of basketball education. The NBA shouldn't be a place where one learns basketball fundamentals for the first time. Shouldn't draftees be close or near professional grade already? Isn't that what we pay for -- to see the craft performed at its highest level?
I say, scrap the age limit but administer an "NBA Minimum Basic Skills Test." Like any profession where you earn of lot of money commensurate with highly skilled expertise and requisite education -- medicine, law, accounting -- make NBA players wanting to earn the league minimum $200,000-plus submit to a licensure exam. Electricians, plumbers, contractors and teachers all have licenses. Why not NBA players?
Establish a licensing board of coaches and legends that put player-applicants through a battery of tests and determine whether they have mastered the necessary skills to be certified as an NBA player. Who would question a Regents-like panel of Magic Johnson, Morgan Wooten, Bob Hurley, Sr, Larry Bird, Lenny Wilkens and Oscar Robertson?
Proficiency areas to be tested would include: rotating on defense, fighting through a screen, the pick and roll, boxing out, successfully executing a 3-on-2 fast break, etc. If they pass they get their NBA Draft card which permits them, upon being drafted, to automatically become a "Licensed NBA Professional." If they fail, they can work on their skills wherever they want - Europe, NCAA, NBA D-League, Nike Camp - and take the test again. But they can't come in until they've passed.
Licensing doesn't stop a team from signing a player or paying them. It just keeps them off the NBA court until they prove they can play the game according to league standards. And the league should have standards.
Putting a prophylactic age limit doesn't ensure professional standards. Requiring that the word "professional" means something does.