From the classroom to the pros

Feb. 13, 2003, midnight | By Michael Sidorov | 17 years, 11 months ago

Exchanging an education for an athletic career is not a crime

The sixth-ranked Fighting Irish have traveled all the way from the Midwest to play in this critical game. Although UCLA's Pauley Pavilion is filled to capacity with enemy fans, the Irish pull together in the second half to eek out an upset. However, Notre Dame University is nowhere to be found. The highlight of this nationally broadcast high-school basketball game between St. Vincent's-St. Mary's (Akron, OH) and Mater Dei (San Francisco, CA) is 17-year-old superstar forward LeBron James.

James, often touted as the next Michael Jordan, seems sure to be the first overall pick in this year's NBA draft. He is more talented than most college players, and, according to announcer and former player Bill Walton in the Jan 13 Sports Illustrated, "would start on any NBA team today." James' recent ineligibility, conferred by Ohio State after James took a picture with store employees in exchange for free jerseys, shows he has already acquired superstar status. Still, many in the media believe players should never be allowed to jump straight from high school to professional ball.

Despite the immense success of high-school draftees Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, among others, the NBA is trying to enact a 20-year age minimum, essentially forcing players to attend and stay in college. The success of unique players such as James and even college kids who leave before their senior year, such as former Maryland star Chris Wilcox and Memphis University phenom DaJuan Wagner, should dissuade the NBA from implementing the age limit.

Very few players leave school early or go pro straight from high school, and those who do are good enough that their careers will surely lie on the basketball court. For these NBA-caliber players, attending college is a waste of time. They can get an education at any age, but athletic talent is not life-long.

Also, while student-athletes benefit from an education, they risk injury.

Whether or not NBA players should be paid in the millions, they are. A player missing out on a year of professional ball is a player missing out on a year of an NBA salary. The league perpetuates huge salaries yet expects high-school players to pass them up for an education—an education that their basketball talent will render unnecessary.

Some argue that leaving early will hurt most good-but-not-great college players later in life. It is true that if a player isn't a superstar, he should get a degree first.

But the league shouldn't prohibit players from entering the draft at their own risk. Parents, friends and coaches will help a player make the personal decision to turn pro, and the NBA should not assume it knows what's best for them.

In professional baseball, wherein 33.5 percent of 2002 draftees came straight from high school, there are no age requirement questions, even though a draftee is far less likely ever to make the pros in baseball than in basketball.

If high-school and college players leaving early are not up to the pro level, teams will stop drafting them. Until then, players have a right to play at the highest level they can and teams have the right to draft the best player available.

Tags: print

Michael Sidorov. More »

Show comments


No comments.

Please ensure that all comments are mature and responsible; they will go through moderation.