LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Kevin Garnett are just few of the many names who skipped college altogether and jumped straight from high school to the NBA. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, players were allowed to make the jump. However, after the 2004-05 NBA season, the NBA changed their rule, requiring early draft entrees to be at least one year removed from graduating high school in order to declare for the draft. Since then, many talented players such as Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and Anthony Davis have attended college for only one year before entering their name into the NBA draft. Durant, Rose, and Davis all are currently NBA superstars who clearly would have been able to play in the NBA right after high school.
So why weren’t they allowed to?
Despite the success of many players to enter the NBA straight from high school, there were also many that did not do as well (players such as Kwame Brown and Eddy Curry come to mind). After the 2004 and 2005 drafts, which saw 17 players selected right out of high school, the NBA had seen enough and negotiated a new age limit with the NBA player’s union. The age limit has been 19 years old to this day, and while some people propose it is moved to 20 years old – most notably, NBA commissioner Adam Silver – I believe the age limit should be lowered back to 18 years old, allowing high school superstars to jump straight into the NBA.
If the NBA were to lower the age limit to 18, it would benefit everyone involved – the NBA, players, and even NCAA basketball. In the NBA, they would be able to see stars come into the league sooner, players would be able to make money sooner, and the NCAA would see less “one-and-done” prospects.
One-and-done prospects are players who play in college for only one season before jumping to the NBA, a trend that has become very common among star players since the NBA enacted the 19 year old age limit in 2006. If the NBA lowered their age limit, they could work with the NCAA to institute a rule saying players who do go to college must stay for at least 2 or 3 years. This would greatly help some teams’ stability and consistency, as they would not have to replace many early entry players each season. Also, this could spread the wealth, as there would not be as many spots for large amounts of top players on teams like Kentucky.
The idea that players should be able to jump to the NBA earlier falls in line with Louis Menand’s First Theory of college. In his article “Live and Learn: Why We Have College” for the New Yorker, Menand proposed three theories as to why college is important. The first theory is the most important here, as it revolves around the idea of meritocracy.
Menand’s theory argues that college is a meritocratic system that separates the best people from everyone else. It says the purpose of college is to hone your skills, rise to the top, and potential employers can decide themselves who they believe will be the most successful and hire people from there. However, if you already are at the top of your field before you even go to college, then what would the purpose of college be? Why would you delay your earnings and go into a world of debt only to emerge four years later with the same job you would have had right after high school?
This is not to say the top athletes should be forced to enter the draft – whether, they should be able to have the choice. Some people may value other experiences they could gain in college more than making money right away, and that is totally fine. What is not okay is that they do not have the choice to decide for themselves. If they feel they are ready, they should be able to go.The argument that an age limit protects players from failure is ludicrous, as there will be busts no matter what the age limit is. However, an age limit for top athletes can only hurt their draft stock once they enter college. A perfect example of this is Josh Selby.
Selby graduated high school in 2010 as the top recruit in the nation, and if he had been allowed to go pro right away, he would have undoubtedly
been a top 10 pick. However, he was forced to go to college for a year, and he struggled mightily in his year, never fully being able to adjust. He still left college after his freshman year, where he was picked 49th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies. Selby never found a spot in the NBA, and now is playing oversees. If Selby were allowed to enter the draft right away, there is no guarantee he would be an NBA star (or even a serviceable rotation player), but he would have made a lot more money and been much better off in life, even if his career on the court did not turn out as well.
All in all, I believe the NBA is wrong in forcing players to wait until they are a year removed from high school to enter their name into the NBA draft. If they are ready to play in the NBA, they should be able to go and earn as much money as they possibly can in their career. In accordance with Louis Menand’s first theory of college, these players are already at the top of their field and thus have already completed the purpose of college without even attending in the first place. As such, forcing players to wait is cruel and unfair, and allowing players to go straight into the league from high school would benefit everyone involved.