The best thing to come out of NBA All-Star weekend wasn’t Nelly’s startling comeback or Gary Clark Jr.’s electric version of the national anthem with his hat on or even Blake Griffin’s 32 dunks in the slam-dunk contest. Oh, Griffin did that in the game? Never mind then.
No, the best thing was commissioner Adam Silver’s promise to revisit the draft eligibility requirement in the near future.
You can call it Article X in the collective bargaining agreement, or you can call it just plain one-and-done. I call the rule that allows a teenager to turn pro after one year in college to be the worst thing for basketball since . . . since . . . I can’t remember. Except for a few isolated cases, kids that age aren’t ready emotionally, physically or in any other way for such a radical career move. To attempt such a quantum leap after a few weeks on campus, what good can come of it for them and the sport itself?
Lucky for us, the new commish feels much the same way.
“We’d like the opportunity to try to convince the players that it’s in all of our interests to move to a 20-year-old age limit and move away from one-and-done,” Silver said. “Improved college ball is better for the NBA, and it will also mean a better NBA with kids coming (later) out of college.
The college game needs one-and-done the way Justin Bieber needs another frisking.
There was a time when we were addicted to college hoops from the first jump ball to the final trophy presentation. There was plenty of name talent around the country, so much of it at times that we couldn’t help but watch the games even if many of the outcomes meant little if anything. But now, why bother? Many of the best college-aged players are in the pros already.
The current rule promotes instability and deprives us of great teams as a result. Some argue that it’s good for parity, and there may be some truth there. But wouldn’t it have been nice to see Kevin Durant and his Texas team come close to their full potential, for instance? It’s even money that Dick Vitale will remain silent for 30 seconds before an NCAA champion repeats again. Instead, we get assembly lines where the best players bolt almost as soon as they walk through the doors.
These basketball players take up space in the classrooms even if it is for only one semester, the minimum requirement for eligibility. Well, they are in the classrooms, right? Many will never get a college degree, and in some cases, they’ll never need one. They’re people such as Derrick Rose, who had someone take his SAT exam to get into Memphis, where the graduation rate is lower than Dwight Howard’s free throw percentage.
“Talking to a lot of my college coaching friends and college (athletic director) friends, their view is, one-and-done is a disaster,” Silver said. “I think this is one of these issues that the larger basketball community needs to come together and address, not just the NBA owners and our players. Youth basketball and college basketball should have a seat at the table as well.”
Even the person who may have benefited most from the system claims not to like it. That’s Kentucky’s John Calipari, the postercoach for one-and-done. He has taken a lot of flack for his willingness to pursue the five-star recruits who are almost certain to say buh-bye after one year, but can you blame him, really? Imagine what would happen if he said, ‘If the kid’s a one-and-doner, I don’t want him. Louisville can have him”? The fans and alumni would be on him like lint on Velcro. Don’t compete for the best players, and he stands to lose more games and his job eventually.
“I’m the one guy out there saying we’ve gotta change this somehow,” Calipari told Kentucky Sports Radio last spring. “We’ve gotta encourage these kids to stay two years. But the NCAA’s gotta do some stuff, and if they don’t do it, we need to separate from them. I’m not afraid to say it. Look, they’ve embarrassed me. I’ve done nothing, so they’re not gonna come in, show retribution to me and do stuff. I don’t really care. But something’s gotta change with this one-and-done rule. I seem to be the coach saying anything.”
To make matters worse, ratings whores such as ESPN slobber over the stud freshmen as a way to promote the next wave of NBA stars and further its own selfish interest. Last fall the Worldwide Hype Leader rammed future lottery picks Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins into our ears before they played a single game. Meanwhile, Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott went virtually ignored for no other reason than he spent four years in college. Flunky!
“Nationally I’m a little bit worried that that is always becoming the thing,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of all the hoopla before the Preseason NIT last fall. “I think part of it is that the people who show our games show NBA, too, so their constant thought is cross-promoting.
“In college basketball, you should not want to tell one story. And if the one story you’re telling is a lead-in to not even your sport, then somehow our sport needs to kind of control that more. That’s my take on it. That’s why I think there should be a commissioner for basketball so we work together.”
Even Parker considers the ESPN hysteria to be “dumb,” as the Duke freshman described it in an SNY.tv interview earlier this season.
“I mean, what have we done?” asked Parker, 18, as bright as he is humble. “We just came in here and played a couple games and (ESPN) just worried about us and not the entire team.”
One-and-done hurts the NBA worse than a stick in the eye.
The vast majority of kids who move on to successful pro careers require time to grow on and off the court. Many play bit roles or sit on the bench for all or parts of their first two seasons, which are guaranteed for first-rounders in their rookie contracts. The talent pool becomes less experienced and the product that much worse.
As Silver said, “It is my belief that if players have an opportunity to mature as players and as people for a longer amount of time before they come into the league, it will lead to a better league. And I know from a competitive standpoint that’s something as I travel the league I increasingly hear from our coaches especially, who feel that many of even the top players in the league could use more time to develop even as leaders as part of college programs.”
One-and-done turns the draft into can-miss television.
Once upon a time, the annual event was something special. It featured a number of tested All-Americas who either could or would change the fortunes of NBA teams for years, possibly decades. Now you may as well read
tarot cards to project what kind of player a teenager will become down the road. The draft gives us too many guys we’ve barely heard of let alone seen play the game.
So how to fix it? I say borrow a page from the hockey manual.
In the NHL draft, any 18- to 20-year-old who hasn’t already been selected or played in the league is eligible. If chosen while in college, the player is bound to that team for the duration of his stay there. That allows a kid to hone to further his education, hone his skills and be part of the college experience for as long as it’s in his best interests and that of his team. For those who aren’t college material, financially or otherwise, there’s always Europe or the Developmental League.
If it were only that simple. The players’ association has gotten its butt kicked in collective bargaining over the years, and it considers the eligibility issue to be the biggest chip it has left. The union wants the most talented kids to start their meters as soon as possible, ready or not. The best we can hope for is a two-year requirement, which doesn’t solve the problem but is a step forward nevertheless.
Maybe Silver is the right person at the right time to get it done. It’s no secret that his predecessor David Stern could be difficult to deal with across the table. The new commish seems to be more of a basketball fan and a bit less, um, stern. He can be firm when necessary, we’re told, but he won’t do it at the expense of the game. By all accounts, he has made a good first impression on players, teams owners and media alike thus far.
“When we finished the last collective bargaining agreement, we had a so-called list of B issues, and we agreed we would address those issues once we got the season up and running,” Silver said. “A collective bargaining agreement is like any contract. It can be amended at any time as long as both parties agree.”
The sooner, the better, I say. Like in the next half-hour or so.