Kids in the NBA

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Kids in the NBA

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

A major decision is about to come down in professional basketball, and I'm dead set against it.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has been pushing for some time to establish a minimum age for entry into the pro league. Twenty is the age he seems to think is right. He hasn't been able to get the Players Association to agree on an age restriction in the past but come the end of June, when the new labor agreement hits the boardroom conference table, NBA insiders say this time both sides are going to ink the new guidelines regarding age. If 20 is not the new minimum standard, the very least that is supposed to come down is that players right out of high school will no longer be able to dribble straight into the pros.

I do understand the argument that most young people would be well served to earn their college degrees. What if you turn pro and don't make it or blow out your knee and then you have no education to fall back on and at that point no opportunity to get that education once offered you for free?

Agreed, it's not an easy decision, whether or not to establish an age limit for the league. But no matter how convincing the arguments for college are, in the end I do come down on the side of no age qualification at all. Even high schoolers should have the right to pursue their dreams, and make unfathomable sums of money, if they're able to do so. It's simple. There's a job in front of them that they're fully capable of performing. It's one of the highest paying jobs in the world. It can only be done when one is young. There is definite risk of injury to continue playing as an amateur. Nobody should have the power to keep them from this job that they are uniquely qualified to take.

I think many of us are a bit Pollyanna when it comes to the notion of a college education for many of these kids anyway. There are many scholar athletes. And there are athletes who aren't particularly gifted students but who work hard for their degrees and make those degrees work for them, once out of school. But we must admit that college isn't for everyone. And in the case of a supremely talented athlete in a sport where there is a rich pro league beckoning, going through the motions of struggling and underachieving is pointless.

At the NBA All-Star game this February, when the cream of the pro crop took the floor, fully one-third of the twenty-four players invited were teenagers when they joined the league.

If you've been watching the first round of playoff games, you've no doubt been duly impressed with the strength and quickness--and maturity--of Tracy McGrady....and Amare Stoudemire...and Jermaine O'Neal, all of whom came into the league before the age of twenty.

Put yourselves in the shoes of Sebastian Telfair's parents. Here's a superstar who was about to graduate from Brooklyn's Abraham Lincoln High School a year ago, excited about going to the University of Louisville. His family and his high school teachers were very happy he'd be going to a good school...and at full scholarship. He wasn't thinking of turning pro until after college, especially given that he is under six feet and could no doubt use a few more years to make up for his height with more experience. But then Adidas swooped into his neighborhood and offered him close to $2 million a year to wear their sneakers. The family pow-wow didn't last long. Sebastian called Coach Pitino at Louisville with his regrets and signed with the Portland Trail Blazers. Who can blame this young man for wanting to breathe the rarified air of the pros if there's a valid place for him there? I doubt Sebastian Telfair or LeBron James or Kobe Bryant or Gilbert Arenas will ever regret their decisions to turn pro young. With the money they're making, they'll be able to pay their way through college later in life, when they might have a chance to immerse themselves in academics instead of spending their college years wrapped up in the time-intensive world of basketball.

Ten high schoolers wound up going pro last year. We don't yet know just how many youngsters will enter this year's draft on June 28 but it will probably be a similar number. And if the NBA executives vote to institute the new age limit, that rule will go into effect on June 30 so this will ostensibly be the last draft to allow a high school phenom to choose the professional route.

I know this phrase is usually applied in a vastly different arena, but decisions about one's body, one's life, should be &quotan; individual's right to choose."

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad