NBA defends age limit policy in letter

WASHINGTON -- The NBA defended its minimum age requirement to Congress, but a critical lawmaker was unmoved and is asking to meet with top league officials to discuss it, according to letters obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

The rule, which is part of the league's collective bargaining agreement with the players union, requires that players be at least 19 years old and a year out of high school before entering the league. Last month, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., urged the league and union to scrap the requirement in the next collective bargaining agreement, calling it unfair.

NBA president Joel Litvin told Cohen in a recent letter the purpose of the requirement is to promote the league's business interests by "increasing the chances that incoming players will have the requisite ability, experience, maturity and life skills" to perform at a high level. The policy also helps teams make informed hiring decisions, he wrote.

In addition, he said, players get an extra year to mature and develop, making it more likely they can handle the challenges of being an NBA player.

Litvin said the policy is motivated by "business considerations," not a desire to force players to attend college against their wishes.

He wrote that many employers require job candidates to have post-high school experience, and that the U.S. Constitution sets minimum ages for House members, senators and the president. Given that, "we do not understand your objection" to the rule, Litvin wrote.

In a letter sent to Litvin Monday, Cohen maintained that players should have the "economic freedom" to make their own decisions. He said he understood that the policy may help the league in its scouting and hiring decisions.

"However, my concern is that the players who must abide by this rule are harmed by the league's pursuit of these business interests," the congressman wrote, adding that the "age discrimination" prevents players from supporting their families.

The policy increases the chance that such players will be injured before getting the chance to play in the NBA, he added.

"I am concerned that the careers of young men who possess all the skills necessary to succeed in the NBA," Cohen wrote, "may be sacrificed in favor of the bottom lines of the teams on which they hope to play."

Cohen, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, asked for a meeting with Litvin and commissioner David Stern. Cohen has said that that he'd consider both hearings and legislation if the requirement remains.

Neither the NBA nor the union immediately responded to requests for comment Monday.