April 15, 2005
Stern picking wrong fightMajor League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig is fighting the fight he didn't want to with steroids. National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern is picking his own fight with young players.
Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal called Stern's crusade to institute a minimum age requirement racist, saying it would affect young black men the most.
Yes, that demographic has traditionally been the group to test the waters by jumping straight from high school to the NBA. However, that does not mean that Stern's actions are grounded in a race-based thought process. Tying an outcome with an event does not prove their relation.
The bigger picture pits those who are interested in the "good of the game" with those who believe in a free market for employment. After all, basketball players are employees just like the kid making your burger at Wendy's. The pay scale is a little different, but a basketball player's right to go pro should be no different than the kid's right to leave Wendy's for the "big leagues" of Applebee's.
Proponents of the age requirement point to improvements in "the game" as a desired outcome. The thinking is that if the players all went to four years of college, then the overall level of play in the NBA would be greater. I buy that, but only to a point.
The guys who make the jump are usually superstar players, or end up being superstars -- Kobe Bryant, O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James. Out of the list, only Stoudemire and James were instant stars; the rest took some seasoning. That learning curve could have been at the collegiate level, but there's no way to know for sure that the outcome would have been the same.
The no-brainer argument is that the college game would be better. If those listed above played in college, their schools would have been the equivalent of Carmelo Anthony's Syracuse team in 2003.
What is missing from the argument is the academic side of college. Think Kobe could have used a few years of higher learning? Would that have kept him out of trouble? I don't buy that argument. Some players are immature, but who's to say that college would have solved that? Stardom has its way of making people do dumb things.
ESPN's Greg Anthony said Wednesday that players from inner-city high schools aren't academically qualified for college because of the lower quality of education compared to their suburban counterparts. I buy that. Not everyone is made for college.
Anthony pointed out that those interested in art study art, but for these players there's no degree in basketball.
Another argument for players going pro is that in major college basketball, many players aren't getting much of an education anyway. The big business of big-time sports leaves athletes playing for free for a school that makes millions off of their labor. The time put into practice and games takes away from academics and makes the purpose of going to college in the first place moot.
OK, I don't go along with that last part. I hate that the big programs are corrupt businesses, but I don't buy into the overall plight of the athletes. Yes there is a huge time commitment to playing a sport, but we regular students have commitments as well.
My brother once complained in high school about how much time he was at cross country practice. The two-hour practices every day after school were cutting into his free time. He said I didn't have to worry about that kind of thing. What he failed to look at was the 20 hours a week -- twice his commitment -- that I spent at work.
So ultimately, athletes have it great and terrible at the same time. The biggest question to ask when thinking about things like an NBA age limit is "What would I do?" If you were LeBron James, would you have gone to college? I didn't think so.
Nobody should be able to tell a person what job they can seek, whether that person is your mother, David Stern or the ice cream man. Athletes are different, but they're not different enough to change the rules of human courtesy.
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