NBA Needs Age Limit To Protect The Quality Level Of The Game

By Gregory Moore
Updated: April 12, 2005

While O.J. Mayo may be a first round pick, the NBA wants to curtail high school players from jumping straight to the league. Players like Jermaine O’Neal think the ploy is racist yet how can that be when the league is 90% African American?

SAN ANTONIO — Jermaine O’Neal has no idea what racism is. He’s every bit of twenty something. He thinks that the NBA would be wrong in wanting to institute an age limit in the next collective bargaining agreement because, in his eyes, it is a racial ploy. Maybe O’Neal is forgetting how long it took him to become proficient in Portland. Wait, that never happened because he was then traded to Indiana after four seasons. He was 18 years old when he came in the league and got limited playing time for almost four years. It wasn’t until he got to the Pacers in his fifth year as a pro did he average double digits in points. Ironically this has been the same structure for a great many other ‘high school’ prodigies who have been drafted by NBA teams. Only a select few have been star players or even starters for ball clubs; the rest have been pining on the bench learning the game. Yet O’Neal doesn’t see that because he is now 26 years old. All he sees is a ‘missed’ opportunity but in reality it’s a misguided place of reality by him and anyone who doesn’t believe the league needs an age limit.

The youth movement in the league may think it’s a racial ploy but lets get real about this. When you have a league that is every bit of 90% African American, race is so far removed from the equation that it has a hard time getting through the front door. O’Neal’s assumption is typical of anyone who thinks that somebody is trying to hold an individual back. However let’s just look at the situation for a moment and I will use one player who has been a total bust since he has been in the league; Kwame Brown.

Brown was selected as the first overall pick of the 2001 NBA draft and made history as the first high schooler to ever be picked at that draft position. Yet he has been pretty much an average player since coming into the league. As the forward/center for the Washington Wizards, he is averaging just 7.0 ppg this season and about six rebounds a game. He isn’t a starter and he really isn’t the focal point of the Wizards’ core when it comes to crunch time in games. He was a gifted high school player but amongst the men in this league, he is still just a boy. The sad commentary on this is the fact that there are more players like Brown who are ‘average’ than there are superstars like Kevin Garnett or Tracy McGrady; two high schoolers who were phenoms when they came out. Those players are few and far between in any draft these days.

What O’Neal and anyone saying that this is a racial ploy need to realize is that the influx of untrained ball players from the high school ranks actually hurts their job security. Owners are in business to make money and to have winning teams. When you have an influx of unskilled players in your workforce, the demand for skilled players increases. That also means that as players get older, owners would sacrifice skilled players who are older for the younger, cheaper unskilled players to save money. This is the classic supply and demand economic model that we all learn in Economics 101 in college.

What the league wants to do is to protect the integrity of the game and that mainly falls on the quality level of play and the skill level of the players. It is why the NFL has their three year removed from high school clause and why Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have developed minor league systems. What the NBA wants to do is put an age limit of 20 years old as being the youngest you can be drafted. What does that do to the high school graduate or freshman in college? It forces them to hone their skills before coming into this profession.

The age limit debate has been going around the mulberry bush long before Jermaine O’Neal even laced up a pair of sneakers and it will go on long after he retires. Should there be an age limit? That depends on whom you talk to. From the standpoint of a player, O’Neal might want to rethink his position however. Requesting that a player be two years removed from high school is nothing compared to what the league could really want; a semblance of the real world. Because in the real world to make the kind of loot O’Neal is making now, you need a college education. Now that’s a new way of racial profiling and it happens every day.

All David Stern wants to do is protect the integrity of his product and have mature individuals employed to carry out the task. There is nothing racially discriminatory about that request; despite O’Neal’s uneducated claims.