Watching the 2017 NBA Finals between Golden State and Cleveland has been an absolute treat for both casual and devoted fans of the game. Despite the Warriors being up 3 games in the series, fans are seeing two of the greatest teams ever created colliding on the hardwood in spectacular fashion. On one side of the ball you have the Golden State Warriors. Arguably the most talented assembly of young players in the history of the game, GSW are one win away from claiming a second championship in 3 years and the title of most dominant post-season ever. And on the other side of the ball you have LeBron James. A remarkable story of a young man who somehow found success in the NBA despite NOT going to college for one year……?
Hard to believe, isn’t it?
James entered the NBA draft straight out of high school, two years before the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement. The NBA players union and then NBA commissioner David Stern agreed to change the eligibility requirements for young men entering the draft in exchange for some tweaks to the salary cap for current players. Stern was (understandably) in crisis mode after the infamous Malice at the Palace on November 19, 2004. The commissioner was deeply concerned about the image of the league and wanted to start transitioning from undershirts (also known as wife-beaters) and chains to suits and ties.
So, the rule changed.
Players now had to be at least 19 years old and/or one year removed from high school before entering the draft. The rule was immediately met with much criticism. Many fans, coaches, and players said the rule was nothing more than concealed racism. Jermaine O’Neal, a 1996 high school draftee, was one of the most outspoken critics. He challenged that tennis, hockey, and baseball didn’t have an age requirement, so why should basketball? He asked why a young man can fight, and possibly die, for his country straight out of high school at age 18, but cannot play professional basketball until he’s 19 and a year removed from high school. Despite some eye-opening points, most believed the NBA DID have an image problem. The wheels on the basketball machine kept turning.
Who does this rule help? Who is the league protecting? If the goal is to have the best players competing against one another, why are we requiring a minimum age limit?
Here we are, some twelve years later, watching the BEST player in the league average an otherworldly triple double in the greatest stage in the game, the NBA Finals. He wasn’t forced to risk injury and the future of his family for a pointless one-and-done season for coach Calipari or Coach K. He has had zero arrests. He donates MILLIONS to impoverished communities and has breathed life into two cities desperate for championships. And guess what…
It all started when he was 18 years old without a single college credit hour under his belt.