Getting an opinion out of LeBron James can sometimes be more difficult than stopping him as he takes off on one of his patented blasts through the lane, but on Friday night, the MVP candidate made one thing clear: He is against the NBA’s minimum-age requirement.
While providing color-commentary for the NBA Rookie Challenge, a game which featured seven one-and-done players and just two who played college basketball for four seasons, James suggested that guys who plan on only being in school for one year are wasting both the university’s and their own time.
“What’s the point if you don’t want to be in school?” James asked.
It certainly won’t help you become an All Star. That much was clear on Sunday night at the official NBA All Star game, which had six Americans who made the jump straight to the league from high school. The top players from the game only strengthen the argument against Commissioner David Stern’s mandatory minimum rule. The leading scorers were Kobe Bryant (27 pts), James (20 pts) and Amare Stoudemire (19 pts) and none of them needed a year off before going pro.
In fact, you could argue that for the best players in the world, college might actually hinder their development. College athletes are only allowed to spend 20 hours a week working on their skills with their head coaches as opposed to the unlimited amount time they could practice in the NBA. There’s also that whole student part of the student-athlete, which forces players to attend class. And while I’m as big a fan of Western Civ as anyone, if your major is basketball, most of your time ought to be spent in the gym.
The lack of talent that surrounds an elite player is another problem. Think about it. These kids spend their entire lives playing in AAU tournaments with the best players in the country, but how many times per season does the top player in college basketball face any type of decent competition? Maybe a handful? A future lottery pick on some college campus is more likely to end up in a picture partying with Michael Phelps than he is to face a challenge on the court.
When it comes down to it, the NBA’s mandatory-minimum age requirement feels more like a punishment to future pros than anything else. And they aren’t that far off. After all, there are very few things that we can absolutely force upon any American. I can think of two: Jail, if they commit a crime, and college basketball, if they want to play in the NBA.
So when James asks what the point is, he’s actually making the best point of all. Going to college is a dream for millions of people all over the world. So is playing in the NBA.
But one shouldn’t have to happen to make the other a reality.