Reaction To O’Neal’s Comments Are Predictable

By Tony McClean
Updated: April 14, 2005

”If I can go to the U.S. Army and fight the war at 18, why can’t you play basketball for 48 minutes and then go home?”

– Jermaine O’Neal

Jermaine O’Neal

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — The comments by Indiana’s Jermaine O’Neal about the NBA’s proposed stand on underclassman entering the league has received the predictable backlash and scorn from the media and others.

Unfortunately, between the bombast and hypocritical outrage of some lies the truth. No matter what you may think or feel about O’Neal and or his comments, this reporter feels that Jermaine has made some serious points.

To dismiss his comments as uneducated and misinformed only lends credence to the subtle point he’s trying to make. O’Neal didn’t call the league racist as many have claimed.

He speaks more of the double standards and misconceived notions about black athletes that have and still exists in the professional sports, especially in the NBA.

When U.S. born hockey player Pat LaFontaine left the country in the early 80′s to go play junior hockey in Canada and improve his game and draft status, he was perceived as being a shrewd young man.

When an inner city, high school phenom announces his intentions to turn pro, all of a sudden there’s outrage. ‘He’s not ready’ or ‘He’s too immature’ become the battle cry.

One of my BASN colleagues, Greg Moore, uses the example of Washington Wizard Kwame Brown as the poster boy for a system that has failed and brought the quality level of the NBA down.

While I respect Greg’s opinion, I do disagree with some of his points.

I think if you look at the high schoolers coming in as a whole, Brown is a more of an exception than the rule. While not all the high schoolers have made an immediate impact like a LeBron James or a Amare Stoudamire (the league’s last two Rookies of The Year), they haven’t failed miserably either.

When the Minnesota Timberwolves made Kevin Garnett the fifth pick overall back in 1995, he like many other high schoolers before and since were looked upon as projects.

While players like O’Neal, Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant didn’t walk into superstardom, they’ve all been given the chance to have their game mature gradually. We are now seeing the fruits of that maturity given each of these player’s impact on the game today.

Even this year’s No. 1 overall puck, Orlando’s Dwight Howard is averaging doubles figures in points (11.8) and rebounds (10.1). There are several examples of college kids who have struggled before finding their niche.

Last year’s NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups was the third pick overall in the 1997 Draft. It took four teams and nearly seven seasons after he left the University of Colorado before he really made an impact.

Why make an example out of a high school kid and let someone who attended college and supposedly a better skilled player get a pass?

What’s always bothered me about the league’s policy about dealing with high schoolers is the hypocritical nature they’ve handled it. Commissioner David Stern loves to go on and on about how he’s not crazy about seeing a glut of young kids in the league.

Meanwhile, the league and its scouts are always seen and made to be seen at some of the nation’s all-star high school hoop happenings like the McDonalds All-American Game, Dapper Dan Classic, and the Capital Classic in D.C.

Not to surprisingly, it doesn’t end with just the All-Star events. I speak of one of my own experiences as a reporter for the New Haven Register nearly eight years ago.

I was covering a Class LL semifinal game between West Haven High and Harding High of Bridgeport with the winner going on the the championship game. While there were very talented players out there on the court, there wasn’t anyone out there that was even marginally NBA caliber or NBA ready.

However to my surprise, I saw at least two NBA scouts at this game. I approached them both about who they were looking at, but they declined to tell me.

These weren’t McDonalds All-American players, just two fairly talented teams going at it. It made me realize that the some suits at the NBA have been talking out of both sides of their ass all these years.

On one hand, they play this ‘We’d really like to see them (high schooler) stay in school’ role when speaking in public. Then on the other hand, they’re gleefully ready to sell the carrot of NBA riches to these starry eyed teens.

Now since the influx of European players along with Team USA’s failings in the past Olympics, these same kids are being used as scapegoats for the league’s failings on and off the court.

When the NBA formed the NBDL (National Basketball Development League) a few years ago, it was perceived that this would be the alternative for young players (high school or college) coming out early.

Wouldn’t the league’s proposed age limit stunt the growth of the NBDL? Or has the NBA already given up on this concept?

Could this another example of the NBA talking out of the both sides of their ass again?