... but, in my opinion, a real lack of nuance and compassion. The NBA age limit helps two groups, and two groups only: NBA executives and the NCAA oligarchy. Supporters of the age limit may claim some greater interest in the sanctity of basketball as a key tenet, but come on. This is about money. Not education, not better basketball, not the salvation of misguided youth. It's about money, the elimination of some small slice of financial risk for NBA owners and the enrichment of the high-powered athletic programs of American college sports.
And who bears the burden of this policy? Kids like DeMar DeRozan.
Meanwhile, Diane DeRozan, DeMar's mother, continued to suffer from lupus, a painful and destructive disease which causes the victim's immune system to attack the body's healthy cells, muscles, tissues and organs. It's treatable, but terrible. And expensive. Something that, hmm, a multi-million dollar NBA contract might help with. DeRozan, a newly minted Raptor, said as much during his 2009 draft conversation with ESPN's Stu Scott.
Of course, families shouldn't have to rely on NBA contracts to pay for lupus treatments, but that's an argument for another website. The point is that Diane DeRozan shouldn't have had to wait until June 2009 to get the best health care possible. If not for the age minimum, DeMar would have been an NBA player drawing more than $1 million in salary in 2008. She had to wait a whole year for better health care solely because of an arbitrary rule.
Go ahead, tell me, "Well, that's how it's got to be. For the good of the game." Now go tell that to this year's Diane DeRozan. And for what? So UCLA can build a nicer gym? So CBS can sell ads for a higher price in March? So Donald Sterling or Michael Heisley or Clay Bennett can avoid blowing $2 million on an unproductive player if their evaluation systems fail? Those things are more important than the perfectly sensible and, frankly, American right to earn a living in a suitable profession?
The track record that Povtak discards is not ignorable. Three of the five players voted to the All-NBA first team this season (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard) were drafted at age 18. Six of this season's All-Stars jumped to the NBA straight out of high school. And to say LeBron or Kobe weren't "fun to watch" as 18-year-old rookies? LeBron, who average 20/5/6 and finished ninth in MVP voting his rookie season? Kobe, who was a rotation player for a 56-win team? Dwight, who finished in the top 10 in rebounding and field goal percentage as an 18-year-old rookie, wasn't good enough for our Holy league? Give me a break!
Povtak lists the infamous straight outta high school busts: Kwame and Darius leading the way, with Darko Milicic thrown in for good measure. (As if another season of Adriatic League performance would have discouraged some team from picking Milicic top five.) The age minimum has not eliminated the bust, however.
Heck, in the first draft consummated after the age minimum was instituted, we were treated to selections including junior swingman Adam Morrison at No. 3, senior big man Shelden Williams at No. 5, senior guard Randy Foye at No. 6, sophomore center Patrick O'Bryant at No. 9, 20-year-old center Mohammed Sene at No. 10, senior guard J.J. Redick at No. 11 and senior center Hilton Armstrong at No. 12. Clearly, the age minimum did not fix the draft! You think those lottery teams might have been better off with the opportunity to select from the graduating high school class of that season, guys like Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Thaddeus Young? I think Charlotte might have been better off with Durant instead of Morrison. That seems fairly safe to say.
Michael McCann of Sports Law Blog has written a great deal on the age limit, and he has one particular line I think about often when discussing the issue: "[The draft] is not about age and it's never been about age; it's about talent, and scouts' ability to assess it." Don't blame 18-year-olds for the failures of retired ballplayers masquerading as talent evaluators. And please, don't argue the arbitrary age minimum protects the game by keeping woeful talents like John Wall out for an extra year.
And please don't say it's somehow in the players' best interest to live a lie in college for a year. It wasn't in DeMar DeRozan's best interest. There will be a story like his every year so long as the age minimum exists. And if the league gets its way and extends the minimum to age 20 ... families like the DeRozans will have to wait another whole year to earn that salary. All so the Donald Sterlings of the world can avoid a little bit of risk. Great system, y'all.