The one-and-done conundrum

In the 2005 NBA labor negotiations, former commissioner David Stern won a key provision. The new collective bargaining agreement mandated that draft prospects be at least 19 years old and a year removed from high school.

Now a decade old, the one-and-done rule is no less controversial. Here are three perspectives on its impact:

The players: A glossary of key one-and-done terms

By Coleman Collins

Since graduating from Virginia Tech, Coleman Collins has played professional basketball in Europe and the D-League after a brief stint with the Phoenix Suns. He's also a semi-regular TrueHoop contributor.

YOU MIGHT HAVE heard that the college athletics system is unfair, immoral and destined to collapse under the weight of its massive contradictions. You might also have heard that the players are undercompensated, that everyone else is overcompensated, and that the fact that a giant billion-dollar ecosystem exists to watch, bet on and market unpaid athletes in an allegedly academic setting is absurd. People might have told you that forcing top players into the aforementioned system (via the one-and-done rule) instead of going directly to the NBA is indefensible and only serves to highlight the illogic of the entire structure.

You've been lied to.

In truth, the NCAA and its student-athletes are in better shape than they've ever been. Revenue is up across the board, attendance is growing and students are studying just as they always have been. NCAA basketball is guaranteed to generate one billion dollars a year for the next 20 years -- it practically sells itself. Everything is totally fine. So if you're a college basketball lover, and you find yourself cornered at a sports bar by someone who's frothing at the mouth about "fairness" and "profit," here's a handy guide to help you redefine the terms of the conversation.

Amateurism -- An inviolable principle of the NCAA. It means that the people who play college sports -- the ones everyone pays to see -- aren't allowed to share in the resulting money, because money corrupts young people.

American high school basketball players -- Mostly black. Generally ignorant. In need of refining. In need of education. In need of fathers and/or father figures. Incapable of making mature decisions. Incapable of making informed decisions. Differ from European basketball players in that they require college to become proper players. Unique among athletes in that they require classroom time to become proper people. What do they want? It seems that some of them want to go directly to the NBA. When given the choice, they have shown a propensity to declare for the NBA draft, which demonstrates that they are incapable of making decisions for themselves. Have been significantly more successful than players who go to college before going to the NBA, but this is immaterial. Include LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Dwight Howard, Tracy McGrady and Amar'e Stoudemire -- all anomalies. They should be restricted from movement for their own good.

Athletic directors -- Millionaires. Deservedly so. Hard-working men. In charge of running sports-related activities for universities and making sure students comply with those increasingly sensible NCAA regulations.

Athletic scholarships -- More than enough compensation for playing a simple game. When you think about what an education's true worth is (invaluable!), they're actually overpaid. And if you consider how tuition costs have been steadily going up over the years, the players are better compensated than they've ever been. Don't listen to the naysayers -- being given a tuition voucher from a university that profits from your labor is absolutely nothing like being paid entirely in store credit at a retail job.

Basketball -- A hobby. Not a respectable profession. Not a serious profession -- which means any decision by a young man to devote himself to it is inherently absurd. Of dubious value. Anything that keeps young black men from focusing too much on it is a good thing.

Best interests of student-athletes -- Absolutely no one knows how to do protect these better than the NCAA. No one.

Black/African-American -- Irrelevant. This isn't about race.

College -- Brings light to the dark. Takes blackness and refines it. Even six months of it can work wonders. Even sparse attendance in sham classes lends a young man an air of gravitas. Even not going to class is fine -- just being on campus is magic. As equally valuable to reluctant attendees as it is to those attending of their own free will. Best attended before a professional basketball career and not after, for reasons too complicated to explain here (you might want to wave your hand dismissively as you say this). Graduation day is the cornerstone of a young person's life -- unless he or she is dropping to start a tech company, in which case they shouldn't be forced to waste their time. Apples and oranges.

College basketball -- Popular sport but impossible to quantify its popularity. Intangibles. Sure, people pay to watch it on TV. The tickets aren't free. But still -- a game. A pastime. But seriously -- it's played by amateurs; whatever revenue is created is incidental to its essence. It's about student-athletes competing; good clean fun. It is not a business in any way.

College basketball analysts -- Often millionaires, and why not? Disinterested observers. Truth tellers. They provide a public service.

College basketball coaches -- Millionaires. Leaders of men. Father figures for the fatherless. Wise counselors for the ignorant. White, ideally. Fond of military metaphors. Provide an extremely valuable service. Deserve every penny they get -- they are the primary drivers of a team's success. In many states, they're the highest-paid public employees (behind college football coaches). Entitled to move on if they find a better-paying job. Deserve to be paid in full even if they provide unsatisfactory results. Any restrictions on their salaries to, say, the level of college presidents or (heaven forbid!) professors would be illegal. Immoral, even.

College basketball players -- Oops, sorry... "Student-athletes." Unpaid, and rightly so. The backbone of the "NCAA". Amateurs. Provide little of value. Should not be compensated. Should not be consulted for their opinions on policy or procedure. What do they want? What's good for them? Who can really say? How can anyone know? It's generally considered to be a waste of time to find out.

Down -- Up.

Good for the college game -- Anything that increases the value of the product on the court. Anything that gives student-athletes less power, or restricts their movement -- keeps them from making bad decisions.

Image rights -- Must be signed away by "student-athletes" and given to their schools, athletic conferences and the "NCAA" as a condition of receiving their athletic scholarships. This further helps the "NCAA" protect them from themselves. Dealing with shoe companies, signing "contracts" and making "money" -- these are confusing things. It's best if it's left to the coaches, conferences and universities.

Lawyers/agents -- NBA players pay them to negotiate and advocate for their interests. Universities hire them to protect their interests and defend them in court. Coaches at all levels hire them to negotiate and advocate for their interests. NBA owners keep them on retainer to protect their interests. Student-athletes should be barred from consulting with them; they are amateurs without interests to protect, so why waste their time? Keep your head in those books, son.

NCAA -- The good shepherd. Billion-dollar "non-profit organization." Steward of "amateurism."

NCAA men's basketball tournament -- Yearly three-week-long amateur basketball competition. The rights to broadcast this event are worth $1 billion. Annual bets on this event amount to $9 billion. This alone is proof that the "NCAA" knows what it's doing. Nothing succeeds like excess.

NBA commissioner -- Millionaire. Seems like a nice guy, really.

NBA GMs -- Millionaires.

NBA owners -- Billionaires.

NBA collective bargaining agreement (CBA) -- An agreement negotiated between NBA billionaires and millionaires, and acquiesced to by collegiate millionaires, that specifies certain rules. High school and college players -- who have no money, no advocates, and are not part of the negotiations -- are subject to it.

NCAA president -- Millionaire.

Nineteen -- The age at which boys become men. The age of wisdom. Further research might show that this actually occurs at 20 -- depends on what gets put in the next CBA.

One-and-done rule -- Completely logical. Exists to encourage elite players to better themselves by spending three or four months showing up a half-hour late for Geography classes. Is absolutely not related to NBA owners' desire to delay their employees' max contracts. Is absolutely not related to NBA GMs unwillingness to devote money and time scouting young players under uncertain conditions. Has been a fantastic success. Dozens of players who never would have gotten the chance have been exposed to the sublime beauty and unparalleled joys that can only be found on college campuses. Instead of making millions when they were too young and too naive to handle it, they've each spent a solid five months safe from those worldly temptations, fully devoted to the life of the mind.

Payment -- Generally given in return for a job performed or in exchange for a service or entertainment. Magazine writers are "paid" for writing, coaches are "paid" for coaching, and so on. "Fairness" generally dictates that those who create value should be compensated in proportion to the value that they create. This is a fallacy. Don't believe it for a second.

Up -- Down.

NBA: A rule designed to protect owners from themselves

By Pablo S. Torre

Two years into retirement, behind the closed doors of a hotel ballroom in Washington, D.C., the greatest player of all time warned his competitors about teenagers.

It was All-Star weekend, a time when then-NBA commissioner David Stern liked to assemble owners, team executives and union leaders under the guise of labor-management diplomacy. Michael Jordan, who was both part-owner of the Wizards and its president of basketball operations, spoke up in support of the issue Stern would call "a personal project of mine."

Yes, a 19-year-old Kevin Garnett had skipped college, warranting a lottery pick in 1995, opening the gates for Kobe Bryant the next year and Tracy McGrady the year after that. But with a growing gallery of perceived busts -- from Korleone Young (1998) to Jonathan Bender (1999) to Darius Miles (2000) -- Stern and the owners, Jordan included, advocated for a rule change to stem the tide.

Never mind that the pipeline from high school to the NBA would soon deliver LeBron James. In the ballroom, Jordan lamented what he saw as the league's sinking standard of professionalism. Fellow attendees recall him explaining that these high schoolers were too unpredictable to scout, badly needed to learn fundamentals, even that they threatened disaster, both on and off the court.

Of course, less than five months later, Washington found itself in possession of the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NBA draft. And Jordan could not help but select ... out of Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Georgia ... Kwame Brown.

"Poor Michael," Stern would say years later of the Brown pick in the book "Boys Among Men." "That's the system we had."

No longer. In June 2005, as one of the final alterations to the NBA and NBPA's renegotiated collective bargaining agreement, Stern's personal project became systemic change. The revised text of Article X, Section I of the CBA mandated that draft prospects be at least 19 years old and a year removed from high school, thus producing the one-and-done feeder system. Welcome to the University of Texas, Kevin Durant.

But most of all? The new rule sought to protect owners and talent evaluators like Poor Michael from their biggest fear.


LOOK BACK AT the league's campaign for one-and-done, and you'll find rhetoric that has been conspicuously phased out over the last decade. In May 2005, months before instituting a mandatory dress code, and months after the seismic "Malice in the Palace" brawl in Detroit, the eternally image-conscious Stern told the Boston Globe that "it is time to tell the communities that we serve that the sixth-grader, as Arthur Ashe used to say, is far more likely to be a rocket scientist, biology professor, etc., than a pro athlete."

Stern and his successor, Adam Silver, have since stopped arguing that letting John Calipari borrow Karl-Anthony Towns for 39 games will inspire the next Neil deGrasse Tyson. The real argument for an age limit is instead rooted in economic self-preservation.

It's basic math. Unlike football, baseball and soccer, basketball is a five-on-five game wherein one star player can singlehandedly elevate a billion-dollar franchise or one costly underachiever can entomb it. "Nothing in sports is more valuable than an NBA first-round pick," one league source points out. And the bigger a prospect's résumé, and the better his competition, the easier it should be for teams to avoid investing millions into a bust.

"It has been our sense for a long time that our draft would be more competitive if our teams had an opportunity to see these players play an additional year," Silver told USA Today. "We believe the additional year of maturity would be meaningful." And if that maturity just so happens to coincide with the brand-building exposure of a nationally televised college tournament, even better.

Many players object to this logic on principle, naturally. Union leaders have long observed how absurd it is that 18-year-olds can die in Afghanistan or fly a helicopter or buy a gun but not draw an NBA paycheck. "I started working when I was 13 in New York," NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told ESPN in 2014. "I've never not worked. I understand that you want to work to support yourself and your family. It offends me that there should be some artificial limits set on someone's ability to make a living."

But this ethical concern is far from a legitimate threat to Article X, Section I. It is, in fact, the opposite.

WITH BOTH SIDES able to opt out of the current CBA this December, one-and-done's biggest political problem is simple. In the minds of its boosters, a yearlong delay isn't nearly lengthy enough.

College administrators -- who compete every year to live at the mercy of a transitory teenager -- complain to Silver that the current rule is "a disaster," upending the continuity of a coach-driven sport. NBA owners, meanwhile, want prospects with even more comprehensive résumés, further reducing the risk that they, like Jordan, will find themselves unable to pass on Kwame Brown.

This is why Silver has declared, in venues ranging from GQ to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, that one of his top CBA priorities come winter will be to raise the age minimum to 20.

At first blush, a two-and-done proposal would trigger intractable conflict. Beyond mere principle, the union already argues -- accurately -- that one-and-done limits the career earnings of young stars, whose cost-controlled, CBA-regulated rookie contracts now push a year deeper into their physiological prime. "You're talking about artificially deflating when marquee players would be able to start making money," Roberts has said.

The league points out -- also accurately -- that such stars represent a statistical minority of the union. It argues that in a system where both the number of jobs and the total salary payout remain fixed, the money is, in Silver's words, a "zero-sum game." An age minimum doesn't kill salary; it redistributes it from incoming rookies and stars to veterans and the league's middle class.

Such a dynamic may well be philosophically problematic, raising yet more questions about who a union is obliged to represent. But when it comes to choosing a hill to die on, it is no surprise that financial issues that resonated broadly across the NBPA -- the uncapping of year-to-year raises, for instance -- were considered more vital causes a decade ago. One-and-done passed, in part, because a majority of players chose personal profit over the rights of the non-voting teens who'd be coming for their jobs.

As veteran Grant Hill bluntly told the New York Times in 2005, "I always thought that it was the purpose of the union to protect its members, not potential members." Or, as one team executive recently said about the next wave of rookies, "I never understood why players would even give a s--- about those guys." For all the bluster around an age limit, the policy mostly functions as a bargaining chip for the NBPA: It's something to be swapped, not defended. And Silver, like Stern, knows it.

"It's just a matter of what the threat is," one former member of the NBPA's executive board says. "If the league and Adam really want two-and-done? They could have it. The union isn't going to cancel the season or miss games over the age limit."

The current players, not unlike the owners, would much rather protect themselves.

College basketball: Duke, Kentucky's disparate approaches converge

By Eamonn Brennan

On March 21, 2006, the first tweet rang out to the world. Co-founder Jack Dorsey wrote "just setting up my twttr," back when Twitter was actually called Twttr, when the idea was to create a group text-messaging service for flip phones. Fanfare was muted. Adoption was slow.

While Dorsey was setting up his "twttr," the first college players barred from turning pro straight out of high school were wrapping up the NCAA tournament. In 2005, frustrated by an increasing glut of untested raw talents on the rolls, the NBA increased the draft's entry age from 18 to 19 and required prospects to spend one year removed from high school. The 2006 season was hardly dominated by newcomers and the 2006 draft saw only one true freshman -- Memphis forward Shawne Williams -- selected in the first round. Fanfare was muted. Adoption was slow.

A DECADE ON, the one-and-done-era has now had a profound impact on the NCAA, which was a mere bystander to its inception.

The same authority that once prevented Lew Alcindor from playing on the varsity as a freshman has now crowned two of its past five national champions (Kentucky in 2012 and Duke in 2015) led primarily by one-and-dones. Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins ruled upon arrival. In 2010, the media made Harrison Barnes the first freshman preseason Associated Press All-American in college basketball history. Three more (Andrew Wiggins, Jahlil Okafor and Ben Simmons) have since joined. And only once in the decade since -- in 2009, when Oklahoma sophomore Blake Griffin went to the Clippers -- has a one-and-done freshman not been the No. 1 overall pick.

John Calipari immediately seized upon the power of prioritizing his prospects' immediate NBA futures, first at Memphis, then at Kentucky. In 2010, after five Wildcats were drafted in the first round, including Wall at No. 1 and Cousins at No. 5, Calipari called it the "biggest day in the history of Kentucky's program." Dan Issel, UK's all-time scoring leader, recoiled, calling it "the dumbest thing I've ever heard."

Calipari was merely ahead of the curve. His pitch was heard loud and clear by the nation's top high school prospects: Come to UK, compete for a national title, and then go get your money. Among them were Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who led UK to a 38-2 season and the 2012 national title. Three months later, they were the top two picks in the NBA draft.

Calipari's success affected the way nearly every prominent coach talks about their players. Gone are the days of open draft discouragement. Few are now willing to disavow an eight-month commitment to a player. The rules are different.

In 2006, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski expressed his distaste for the whole idea to the Raleigh News and Observer: "If you have to go for one year, I may be placing you in a situation you don't want to be in. What courses do you take? Do you go to school in the second semester? Do you ever unpack your bags?"

In 2015, Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, and Grayson Allen scored 60 of Duke's 68 points in the Blue Devils' national title win over Wisconsin, the most ever by freshmen in an NCAA championship game. A few weeks later, Okafor, Winslow, and Jones entered the NBA draft.

Ten years is a long time. A lot can change.

THE REMARKABLE COMPONENT about the one-and-done rule is its power to unite basketball's wide cross-section in universal disdain.

As a high schooler, Oden called it "unfair." Bob Knight said it was the "worst situation there is in college sports." David Ridpath, the executive director of the Drake Group, which seeks to defend collegiate academics "from the corrosive aspects" of athletics, told the Lexington Herald-Leader the rule "defeats the purpose of college sports" and "makes the hair on my neck stand up."

Coaches hate uncertain rosters. Elite players resent delayed earnings. Fans miss bonds with upperclassmen. Academics hate that "mercenaries" don't engage in the college experience. Legal scholars are troubled by the idea of forced amateurism. Administrators, including NCAA president Mark Emmert, fear undermining the "student-athlete model." Media members pine for the good old days: Patrick Ewing ... four years ... Georgetown, etc. Even those who have adapted and thrived in the new world, like Calipari and, yes, Krzyzewski, lament its existence in the first place. Sports arguments are rarely this one-sided.

But the result hasn't been a complete disaster. Mostly, it has been ... fine.

By now, many of the old arguments against the rule sound trivial. Lamenting its effect on the aesthetic quality of college basketball appears outmoded in the face of the NCAA's recent -- and largely successful -- rules changes. More important, the "student-athlete model" has a Q-rating crisis of its own: Seven hundred players transferred in 2015; serious academic scandals have plagued (among others) North Carolina and Syracuse.

For all of the decade's changes, the game itself has remained. Two of the past five national championship teams may have been led by NBA talents. But the other three? Mostly veterans and few future pros.

In 2016, a season largely defined by senior stars, the 10th national champ since the introduction of the NBA's age limit staged one half of the best national title games ever, with arguably the greatest buzzer-beater of all time.

Villanova had the least projected NBA talent of any national champion ever.

A lot can stay the same.

THE 10TH YEAR of the one-and-done era began with two titans, once at philosophical odds, arguing over nuances to a now-shared approach.

Five-star 2017 prospect Hamidou Diallo, a target of both Duke and Kentucky, explained the difference between the two schools' pitches to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

"Kentucky's pitch was just the NBA thing," Diallo said. "Duke's pitch was if you come to Duke, you're going to be set for life."

On May 9, in a blog post for his own site, Calipari described the latter pitch as "preposterous." "Our approach," he wrote, "is to give them the fishing rod and the lures to help them catch fish, not to just give you the fish."

Eleven days later, five-star 2016 forward Marques Bolden chose to attend Duke. His second choice was Kentucky.

The official Duke basketball Twitter account responded with an epic subtweet: A couple of dozen fire emoji, and then a fishing rod, and then some fish.

In 2006, the previous sentence would have made zero sense. Subtweets weren't a thing, as tweets didn't exist. No one spoke the now-universal language of emoji.

In 2016, Duke and Kentucky -- the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in every 2016-17 poll, with the top two recruiting classes -- can let their escalating hostilities spill onto Twitter. Where else? And why not?

The one-and-done era didn't ruin college basketball. But it did remake it.