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One and Undone

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The NBA is getting ready to dump the one-and-done rule. Commissioner Adam Silver has hinted at this himself. All indications are, this change will happen in the next 3 to 5 years. This means high schoolers will be able to go straight to the NBA.  Kids don’t have to play in college or wait for an extra year to be draft-eligible. Most people are in agreement that this change will be good for all parties involved. Very few folks have questioned or criticized this potential change.

There is something very un-American about telling 18-year olds that they are not allowed to earn millions. These kids have the talent that employers are willing to pay top dollars for. But the league rules are basically legislating this opportunity away from them. That doesn’t sound right in free-market America. So, doing away with this rule will definitely be the right thing to do. Of course, it is also great news for the talented youngsters coming out of high school. They can start learning from the best and making big money a year earlier.

The one-and-done rule has been a source of controversy in college basketball as well. NCAA has never been a paragon of virtue, but the one-and-done system seems to have added another layer of slime and dirt to an already corrupt system. College programs “renting” these high-schoolers for literally 8 months with no pretense of educating them is not what college sports should be about. While the NCAA may not like losing elite athletes directly to the NBA, they may not mind the one-and-done rule going away. That should help cleanup some of the mess in college ball.

These are some of the strong motivations to get rid of the one-and-done rule. It’s morally and ethically the right thing to do, helps the kids, and helps the integrity of the NCAA competition. You can read and listen to many experts making this case against the rule. However, if you read and listen closely, one thing that is often missing is, how does this benefit the NBA itself? You will see some feeble attempts at explaining the benefits for the NBA. But, there is a reason NBA instituted this rule in 2006. The rule was widely accepted as a move that will help the quality of play in the league. Only concerns back then were legal and moral. Luckily for the NBA, the legal challenges never came and the rule stayed.

David Stern instituted the one-and-done rule during his reign as the commissioner of the NBA.  He used to point out that the one-and-done rule was a business decision and not a social program. That’s something to keep in mind. The NBA is doing great right now, but the post Michael Jordan years in the early 2000’s were a little rough for the league. There were a bunch of reasons for that dip in popularity starting with MJ’s retirement and an ill-timed lockout. The plodding, physical, iso-ball offense was another problem, as was the glut of high-school players coming in and not really making the product any better.

Most high school kids coming in to the NBA were nowhere near being a finished product. It’s not fair to charge your season ticket holders thousands of dollars to sit and watch an 18 year-old learn to dribble, pass, and shoot. Even successful high-school draft picks took a long time to become high-impact players. Rookies in general take time to hit their potential, but the high-school kids can take forever to even start contributing. Except for LeBron James, most high schoolers in the NBA, including the legendary Kobe Bryant, took some time to get going. Jermaine O’Neal had a fabulous career in the NBA, but he literally did nothing in his first 4 years in the league. To wait that long requires a lot of patience from your average fans.

The NBA is flying high right now, thanks to a huge renaissance since the early 2000’s. There are many reasons for this revival. At the top of the list is the sheer star power NBA has had to offer over the last 10 years. Today’s NBA is blessed with transcendent stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry. The rule changes in the early 2000’s and the 7-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns team from the mid-2000’s were a great help as well. That team’s up-tempo style revolutionized the game and changed it for the better.

The explosion of social media has been a huge boon for the league as well. The NBA and its daily highlight clips seem to be tailor-made for the Instagram generation. In addition to all this, we should at least consider the possibility that the one-and-done rule instituted in 2006 has also helped some. Eliminating the unpredictability of drafting high schoolers and not having their immature play on the court doesn’t hurt the product.

With all that said, there is hope it will be different this time for the high schoolers coming in. This is due to three major reasons. First, the high school kids today are better prepared for the league. They now have access to professional training, counseling, and mentorship programs that are much improved compared to 15 years back. What these agents and handlers do to a 18 year-old basketball prodigy is typically bad for the youngster. But, it may be a necessary evil that helps prepare them for the NBA.

Secondly, the NBA’s minor league, now called the G-league, is better positioned now than 15 years ago to handle these players coming in. NBA could also develop some framework for making sure the G-league is in the picture for developing their younger draft picks. Last but not the least, the current generation is more mature and plugged in due to social media, smart phones, and all other resources at their fingertips. The days of Kwame Brown not knowing how to do laundry are long gone. The current crop of high schoolers should be better suited for life in the NBA.

The bottomline is, high schoolers are coming soon to the NBA. We sure hope NBA carefully considers all the pros and cons of such a move. They should also spend some time to put the right structures in place before jumping all in. It’s easy to do the popular thing, but the NBA must also make sure it doesn’t end up affecting its own popularity in the long run.

 

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About Aravind Srinivasan

Aravind loves two things- the Phoenix Suns and writing. He has been a long-time Suns fans since the Charles Barkley-Kevin Johnson era of the mid-90's. An avid sports and NBA blogger since the early days of blogging, he is now a Suns writer for TLSM. His favorite Sun is Steve Nash. Twitter: @15cent

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