"In the last two or three years, the rookie of the year
has been a high school player. There were seven high school
players in the All-Star Game, so why we even talking an age
limit?" O'Neal said.
The past two rookies of the year were drafted out of high school: The Cavaliers' LeBron James was the 2003-04 rookie of the year, while the Suns' Amare Stoudemire won the award after the 2002-03 season.
Players currently have to be at least 18 to be drafted, but NBA commissioner David Stern would like to see the age raised to 20.
"We are seeking to raise that to 20 or two years out of high school. The NFL's minimum age is 3 years after high school. I'm optimistic the union will agree to some raise in the minimum age in the current collective bargaining," Stern said in a recent ESPN.com chat.
The NBA's seven-year labor agreement expires after the season. The union
originally opposed raising the current age limit of 18, but has
begun to waver.
O'Neal doesn't agree with Stern's agenda, however.
"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?" O'Neal said.
If the NBA had the age limit Stern is proposing in 1996, O'Neal would have had to postpone the start of his NBA career.
O'Neal went to the NBA straight out of high school in 1996 and was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, who made him the 17th overall selection.
O'Neal didn't blossom into the star he is today until he was dealt to the Pacers during the 2000 offseason. He has made the past three Eastern Conference All-Star teams.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.