I hate the NBA’s age limit for potential draftees. Hate it.
I think it’s an unfair rule that keeps young men (mostly young black men) from attaining multimillion-dollar opportunities that they’d be allowed to pursue if they played other sports.
Hockey, tennis, baseball, golf. If you’re elite in those sports after high school graduation (even before it in some cases), you can make a living in the sport you love.
But basketball put the restraints on high school players in 2005, the year the one-and-done culture emerged as the league implemented an age limit (19 years old and one year removed from your high school classes’ graduation date).
This is not the NCAA’s rule. But college coaches and officials aren’t exactly banging on David Stern’s door to change things. They’re still chasing the kids they know they’ll only have for a season. And the players are still the faces of the power programs and marquee games that drive up revenue for everyone involved.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a fan of it. If they’re talented enough after high school, let them play.
But pieces such as the one Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams published Thursday about NBA draft bust Korleone Young (find time to read this story this weekend) make me recognize that the issue is not black and white.
There are players, such as Young, who could ruin their lives by entering the NBA draft a year or two early. That could happen with college kids, too. But most of the horror stories all stem from the era that granted high school kids the right to turn pro after graduation.
Young, a second-round pick in the 1998 NBA draft, has tried to rebuild his life after playing just 15 minutes total with the Detroit Pistons in the 1998-99 season. More than a decade later, however, that decision is still affecting his life.
The sad cycle began as he tried to find a paid gig after the Pistons cut him following his unproductive rookie season.
Instead, Young embarked on a self-destructive cycle. Though there was still interest from overseas teams, he let himself slip out of shape. He treated the tryouts with foreign squads like paid vacations. Young did stints in Australia, Russia, China, and Israel from 1999 to 2006. The farther he traveled, the further he got from his dream of returning to the NBA. He started to think of himself as a victim. He drank. He smoked. He partied. He struggled with depression, wracked by the mistakes he'd made.
"[Man], I was so dumb," Young said. "I leased [cars] then. I had a Ford Explorer. I had a Chevy Corvette. I had a couple mopeds. I was a big kid. I had toys, man. Kids have toys."
During this time, Young employed a financial adviser to oversee his affairs. But he'd sabotage himself. He'd tell the adviser, a young woman, that he planned to visit his daughters in Houston for a couple of weeks. The adviser would give him the money he needed for the trip, then Young would leave Houston after a couple of days, return home, and burn the surplus on more cars and clubs, and on fronting money to more friends and family. His father asked for money every once in a while. Young said he gave what he could when he could.
"[The adviser] couldn't tell me what to do," Young said. "She answered to me. It was the complete opposite. I should have been answering to her."
This cycle continued until Young could no longer secure a roster spot on a team overseas. Back in Wichita, police arrested him for missing a hearing over child support payments. Young said that he could not afford to pay them at the time. That was four years ago.
Young is not the only young player who made a poor choice by entering the NBA draft too early. And he won’t be the last. Even veteran players can leave a year too early or a year too late. I don’t think that is a valid reason to maintain the current age limit.
Andrew Wiggins doesn’t need a year of college. Kevin Durant didn’t need college, either.
That assessment, however, is really just tied to what happens on the floor.
To mature off the floor, most of these young players will benefit from a year in college. But I’m not convinced that’s justification to make them all go to school for a season.
Some 18-year-olds are definitely ready to make the jump.
But heartbreaking stories like this one about Young’s career should make opponents of the rule think twice. The solution might not be as simple as it appears to be.
Young’s case proves as much.