It has been 14 years since basketball phenom LeBron James played his first professional game. He was just a couple of months removed from being a high school senior.
Fans knew that James, only 19 at the time, had the potential to become a superstar. However, the immediate impact he made in the league was astounding. James scored 25 points in his first game out of high school.
In his first game out of high school. Some players go their whole careers without scoring 25 points in a game!
Rewind a bit further to 1996. At age 18, Kobe Bryant played in his first pro game. The next season, he averaged over 15 points per game and was selected to play in the NBA All-Star Game.
Bryant also joined the league straight out of high school.
While many of the NBA’s biggest stars have been brought up through the collegiate system, some have not, and they have had wildly successful careers. However, as of 2005, players no longer have the option to follow the path of Bryant and James.
During labor negotiations, then-commissioner David Stern pushed for a new rule and won in his efforts. Stern’s rule stated that potential draftees must be 19 and a calendar year removed from high school. The issue was controversial at the time and still is even now that sufficient time has passed.
The new rule took away the player’s power in deciding his career path. Whereas formerly, players who felt they needed more time to develop could choose to attend a university to hone their skills, they are now forced to do so.
The reason the NBA created the rule was simply to save money. After a year of watching players in college, scouts can get a pretty good idea of a player’s potential rather than wasting resources to observe high schoolers whose play may or may not translate to the professional level.
This provision to the NBA’s rules benefits the league and the NCAA revenue wise, but this comes at the expense of the players, while also damaging the culture of college basketball.
Most all sports fans have likely heard the “rags to riches” story, where a boy grows up in a poor, urban area, but his talent and passion for athletics save him from life in the slums.
Before the new rule was passed, these players had the opportunity to enter the draft out of high school and start making money for themselves and their families immediately.
Now, they must endure a virtually pointless year of college, where they could sustain an injury that derails their career.
By the way, universities are permitted to rescind athletics scholarships in case a player gets injured. So a player could blow out his knee in his first game, be deemed only a watered down version of his former self by trainers, and have his scholarships stripped, leaving him both out of work and unable to pay for college.
Players are not required to play college ball. However, alternatives, such as playing overseas or training individually, do not offer the same exposure playing in the NCAA does, so choosing either of these alternatives could potentially hurt their draft stock.
In addition to the restraints the one and done rule puts on players, it hurts the culture of college basketball. Gone are the days of college teams maturing and building chemistry together over a three or four year time frame. The best programs in the country must now bring in fresh talent every year to compete for the championship.
As a result, there is less loyalty between many players and their college teams. The player’s focus is not winning an NCAA championship. It is to prove to NBA scouts that they are worthy of a draft selection.
This attitude – a direct result of the one and done rule – damages the competition of college basketball. It also limits how attached fans can be to players on our favorite teams. Lastly, it deprives us of seeing combinations of talent playing for the same team.
Now, all of this is not to say that jumping from high school to the NBA draft is the right move for every star basketball player. Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green, who both played in the 2017 NBA All-Star game, played four years of college ball. Michael Jordan (no credentials necessary) played three.
College can, indeed, be a great time for players to prepare for the next level. However, it shouldn’t be forced upon them. As young men, they are capable of deciding what is in their best interest.
The solution to this issue would be to return to the way things were before. The NBA and the NBA Players Association would have to negotiate a deal that agreed to eliminate the one and done rule, which could happen at any time, according to CBS’s Matt Norlander.
In other words, the players would have to use their leverage over the NBA to force the league into taking action. However, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where current players would be willing to stand up for high school or college athletes at the expense of their salaries, and as I already mentioned, it is financially beneficial for the NBA to keep things the way they are now.
Should the one and done rule be struck? Absolutely. Will it be? Almost certainly not.
For the current players who are already reaping the benefits of playing in the NBA, it’s not a battle worth fighting, and for the NBA, it’s a battle they’ve already won.