Thursday, February 14, 2013

The NBA's Age Limit Doesn't Even Make Sense for the NBA Anymore

Nerlens Noel's torn ACL served as a reminder to many of the stupidity of the NBA's age limit.

By Joe Parello

Kentucky freshman sensation Nerlens Noel tore his ACL in Tuesday night's big game against Florida, and with that ligament likely went the Wildcats' chance to make a run in March.

But, more importantly, it got people talking about the NBA's age limit, or what sports fans casually call the "one and done rule."

To enter the NBA Draft, you have to be 19-years old, or out of high school for at least one year. On its face, that seems like an arbitrary number. In the United States, where all but one of the NBA's 30 teams reside, you become a legal adult when you turn 18. You then become a "real" legal adult when you turn 21 and can consume alcohol, but that's neither here nor there.

So why, in a nearly entirely American professional sports league, do we choose the age of 19, and not 18 or 21?

Well, it's about making these kids stars before they enter an NBA arena. At least, the NBA thinks the rule is making stars.

Why would the NBA invest money to make stars and build brands when the NCAA tournament can do it for them? Don't let David Stern tell you lies about maturity and making sure these kids are ready for the NBA lifestyle, this is about a kid already bringing star power from the day he enters the league.

Case in point, Anthony Davis, who's uni-brow became a brand unto itself when he led Kentucky to a national title in 2012. Davis entered the league with the pre-packaged recognition that comes with averaging a double-double and over 4.5 blocked shots on a championship team. The NBA didn't get that when high school stars like Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neal and Tracy McGrady entered the league prior to the age limit's institution in 2005.

The counterpoint to that is that guys like Kevin Garnett, LeBron James and Dwight Howard all brought considerable buzz coming out of high school, and that was before recruiting websites were frequented by nearly every sports fan.

Back to Noel, who now has people arguing that he should never have been at Kentucky in the first place. The sure-fire NBA stud, many say, should already have been making millions in the association. As of now, we don't know how this will impact Noel's draft stock. He was viewed as the consensus No. 1 pick before he went down, but it's safe to say a torn ACL will not help his cause.

Personally, I have always thought the age restriction made no sense, especially when you can point to many players drafted straight out of high school that have gone on to become stars and respected veterans. I always thought of pro basketball as any other profession: When the job market determines you are ready for a position, then you are ready for a position.

If ESPN wanted to hire me out of high school, thinking I was a highlight reading prodigy, who is to say they are wrong to make that decision? That is why I give the NFL a bit (a very small bit) of a pass, because, back in 2007 for example, I highly doubt any NFL scouts would have thought seriously about drafting Jimmy Clausen or Joe McKnight right out of high school.

But, if every team in the NBA would have taken Noel on their roster in a heartbeat, isn't it a little silly for him to toil on John Calipari's semi-pro team in Lexington? Speaking of Calipari, he may be the only person, other than shady agents and handlers, benefitting from the "one and done rule," because it sure isn't helping college basketball as a whole.

In 20 years, will anyone even remember that Kevin Durant played at Texas?

The rule makes little sense for the NBA now as well, because how many of these one year players are truly becoming "stars" before they enter the NBA? Durant was one, sure, and Derrick Rose is another, but the NBA Draft is still littered with one and dones like Bradley Beal who come with little star power outside their respective fan bases.

The rule is also outdated if the point is to build stars. With recruiting websites, dunk mixtapes and constant high school and AAU hoops updates all over the internet, the nation's top high school player often receives more pub during his recruitment than he does when he actually plays in college. I would make the case that guys like Greg Monroe and Harrison Barnes were way more marketable when they were high school phenoms.

Is Shabazz Muhammad really going to be any more marketable after a year playing for an average UCLA team?

Oh, and the argument that these kids need to mature for a year? Child please. If the proper maturation process is having grown men fawn over you, tell you what you want to hear, give in to your every wish and possibly give you illegal gifts, just to get you on campus for one year (where you don't have to attend class), then clearly most of this country is just not growing up properly.  If anything, this process stunts their maturation and makes them feel more entitled. Better to put them in the draft where their value determines where they go and they're under contact like everybody else.

Ultimately, it's the NBA's rule, and they don't need to worry about the bastardization of NCAA basketball, or the injury risks of players like Noel. But, this rule has (already) become outdated and makes little sense for the NBA from a star making perspective or maturity standpoint.