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On David Stern’s push to eliminate one-and-done players.

by David J. Leonard / @drdavidjleonard

It should come as no surprise that David Stern wants to change the NBA’s age restriction. The effort to curtail the straight-from-high-school baller has been longstanding, gaining the necessary steam and leverage in wake of the Palace Brawl.

With the lockout behind them, the League is obviously seeking to further modify the rule, requiring players to be two years out of school prior to entering the NBA. Stern, who has offered several different rationales for the age restriction over the years, is now focusing on basketball reasons:

“That’s not our rule. Our rule is that they won’t be eligible for the Draft until they’re 19. They can play in Europe, they can play in the D-League, they can go to college. This is a not a social program, this is a business rule for us. The NFL has a rule, which requires three years of college. So the focus is often on ours, but it’s really not what we require in college. It’s that we say we would like a year to look at them and I think it’s been interesting to see how the players do against first-class competition in the NCAAs and then teams have the ability to judge and make judgments, because high-ranking draft picks are very, very valuable.”

Stern is not alone with much support from those who yearn for a repeat Championship run from Kentucky or those who pine for a Jared Sullinger redemption tour as well as those who trot out arguments about maturity, the value of education, and countless other explanations.

Ironically, one of the loudest sources of support for adding a year to the NBA’s age restriction has come from Mark Cuban. He offers multiple reasons for a bolstered age restriction, recycling two of the most commonly articulated arguments: the cautionary tale and they are role models:

I just think there’s a lot more kids that get ruined coming out early or going to school trying to be developed to come out early than actually make it. “For every Kobe (Bryant) or (Kevin) Garnett or Carmelo (Anthony), there’s 100 Lenny Cooke’s.

It’s not even so much about lottery busts It’s about kids’ lives that we’re ruining. Even if you’re a first-round pick and you have three years of guaranteed money—or two years now of guaranteed money—then what? Because if you’re a bust and it turns out you just can’t play in the NBA, your ‘rocks for jocks’ one year of schooling isn’t going to get you far.

These sorts of arguments are not new. In my book, After Artest: The NBA and the Assault on Blackness (SUNY 2012), I explore the history behind the rule, the arguments offered to support it, and the larger implications of the end to the straight-out-HS baller.

While clearly arguing against the rule, I reflect on the larger implications as it relates to race, class and America’s education system. To highlight these broader issues and my belief that the rule is neither fair nor needed and that it embodies the NBA’s efforts to deal with race more than basketball issues, I offer you an excerpt from the book.

After Artest

In an interview in Sports Illustrated, Phil Jackson denounced the NBA for its increased emphasis on young talent, offering insight into long-standing discursive articulations about the necessity and burden of Whiteness controlling savage, child-like Blackness. “It doesn’t matter whether they can play or not. We’ve ended up becoming a service for growth. Now it’s, ‘We’ll hire a chef, we’ll hire laundry, we’ll hire Mom, we’ll hire somebody to come and live with them so that they can perform at this level’” (Quoted in Thompson 2004, p. 84).

David Stern’s successful institutionalization of an age limit for those under 19 did provide an answer to Phil Jackson and others calling for a blockade to the NBA’s youth movement. That wasn’t its true motive. It did, however, seek to appease fans by projecting its purported image problem on to the backs, bodies and cornrows of young straight-out-of-high-school ballers. While the sports world celebrates the youth movement in golf, soccer and tennis, as “prodigies” and geniuses, the opposite seems to be the case in the world of basketball.

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