The NBA age limit has been around for ages, although the “age of eligible” entry has changed throughout the history of the NBA. Why institute an NBA age limit?
The answer is easy. At 16-18 years of age, are you really able and responsible enough to handle millions of dollars? Can you hold your own when the game you use to dominate suddenly is against men twice your size and speed?
Can you really handle the long season, off-season dedication, and public appearances? For most, the answer is a quick NO!
For a few special and very rare talents like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Lebron James the answer is “yes.”
But a Kobe and Lebron only emerges every ten to fifteen years and the NBA finally learned its lesson about allowing high school players to enter the NBA directly from high school.
Too many high school studs were tricked by agents and friends about their true NBA value and assumed they were an instant lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft. When the day of the draft came arrived and the player’s name was still on the board, his once bright future was nearly destroyed on one night.
In the NBA, the first round is the only guarantee. Drafted in the first round and you are locked to at least three years of a contract with the organization that drafts you (until you are traded of course). In the second round, no such protection exists. Teams can draft a second round player and cut them at camp for nothing. No guaranteed contracts exist, so if a high school player slips to the second round, the future looks very bleak.
Very few second round players ever make an NBA roster, and those that do usually sit the bench. Only a couple of stars, like Gilbert Arenas, has emerged from the second round and shined on his team. Most second-round players are cut and eventually learn their future in the NBA is no longer there.
The player can usually find work overseas, but you are asking an 18 or 19 year old to go play ball overseas in a foreign country where he doesn’t speak the language or know anyone. And worse of all, when a player entered the league straight from high school he automatically killed any chance of returning to college, thus leaving that option no longer possible.
So the NBA made a correct decision in my mind when they changed the NBA age limit from 18 to requiring the player to attend college for at least one season. The new NBA age limit is not without faults (discuss further in a moment), but it’s the right start.
I just do not feel that 18 and 19 year old high school studs are prepared and mature enough both physically and mentally for the NBA. I also do not think that playing college ball is a bad idea, because it further improves your game and provides a free education while competing at a high level.
But the current NBA age limit is at fault because of the “one-year limit” for college players. High school studs now willingly bypass the NBA for one year of college and then direct entrance into the NBA. This “one and done” philosophy kills college coaches and fans.
In the past, college coaches could at least guarantee two years of commitment from the high school star, but now unfortunately college is looked at like a small roadblock on the path to the NBA.
The new NBA age limit also has some loopholes.
Players have taken advantage of the NBA age limit rule for decades. For example, Kansas star Wilt Chamberlain wanted to leave college early to enter the NBA, but at the time this “early entry” from college was not allowed. So what did Wilt do? Instead of staying in college, Wilt elected to make money playing ball with the Harlem Globetrotters (he would later enter the NBA).
Last year, college basketball faced a cold and harsh reality when Brandon Jennings, the nation’s top high school recruit, elected to play professional ball overseas rather then attend college for a year.
Jennings decision rocked college and the NBA alike, proving that high school players do not have to follow the traditional path. For Jennings, it made much more sense to play professional ball and earn money for a year, rather then attending college and not making a single dime.