I would argue that, on its principles, the NBA’s age-restrictive ethos are even more insulting to those it oppresses than Augusta’s vagina-restrictive ethos.
At Augusta, at least they’re up-front: We’re a boys club. You’re a girl. We don’t want you here. It’s the kind of honest, Southern prejudice you might expect to find in an east Georgia suburb. The NBA on the other hand employs more of the white-collar, systematic, smile-in-your-face-shank-you-in-your-liver discrimination you’d find up North. The league doesn’t want 18-year-olds, and commissioner David Stern recently admitted he doesn’t want 19-year-olds either, he just hasn’t gotten the rule altered yet. But rather than blunt truth, the league dresses it up as a matter of development and concern for the athlete. The NBA condescendingly approaches the adults it keeps out like a parent would a child: We know what’s best for you, kid.
The NCAA operates under a similar mindset, and like the NBA, the rule itself isn’t as insulting as the implications behind it.
On some levels, I see why the NCAA is set up the way it is. Paying its student-athletes, as so many have suggested, would open the door even wider for game-fixers and point-shavers and crooked boosters who would like nothing more than to “own” themselves a shot-blocker. But the rules that were put in place to safeguard the game often demean the players. The NCAA makes it appear as if college athletes need an association of super-nannies in order to avoid making bad decisions.
Somewhere along the way, the NCAA forgot that it needs to let its young adults do what every other young adult should do in college – exercise a bit of independence – rather than protecting athletes from the evils of part-time jobs and small-claims loans that traditional students have somehow survived over the centuries.
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Today, two high-profile basketball players will officially enter this culture of overprotection. Muhammad, a 6-7 senior wing at Bishop Gorman H.S. in Las Vegas, and Nerlens Noel, a 6-10 senior center at The Tilton School in New Hampshire, are the two biggest names left in high school basketball who haven’t decided on a college. Both are expected to announce their choices on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s spring signing period.
The two 18-year-olds could, if the rules were different, play in the NBA right now. They’re certainly good enough – if not good enough to be instant stars at the pro level, at least good enough to beat out some veteran benchwarmer for a gig. And seeing as there are no academic or degree requirements for the NBA, they’re certainly intelligent enough. They’re just too young, at least according to the league. Just like Virginia Rommety was too female to get her automatic invite to Augusta; just like Tiger Woods was too Black for that same honor once upon a time.
And yes, there is a racial element to this. How can there not be?
Tennis, baseball, hockey, golf and stock-car racing – all historically White sports – accept pros younger than 19 on the highest level. And yet none of those sports have an endless supply of derisive columns being written about its most famous busts that flamed out because they went pro too early, or smarmy TV segments predicting which of the newest batch of young pros will be busts in the future. Those sports don’t seem to attract the same village of wannabe parents who suddenly know how to best raise a child.
But basketball – Black America’s pastime, the sport for which the top pro league is more than 80 percent Black – just happens to breed millions of volunteer career counselors and just happens to operate under these mom-and-pop rules. That cannot be a coincidence.
At 18 years old, is Shabazz Muhammad ready for the NBA? At 22, is Mississippi State forward Renardo Sidney ready? At 32, is former Oklahoma star Hollis Price ready? Neither has yet to play a minute in the league. But all have one thing in common: They are at least ready to decide for themselves if they’re ready. They should at least be given the opportunity to make a mistake and learn from it.
Sometimes parents just don’t understand.
What do you think of the parental tactics of the NCAA and NBA?
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