July 29, 2005, - 5:37 am

O’Neal is Right: NBA Rule is Wrong, Anti-Free Market

By Debbie Schlussel
It’s rare that I agree with spoiled gazillionaires in the NBA. It’s even rarer that I sympathize with claims of racism in pro sports, usually trumped up. (I’ve been very critical of the NBA’s Thuggery, Inc.)
In this case, though, it’s two for two.
I agree with NBA player and Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O’Neal. In part.
O’Neal says the new NBA rule–that players can’t turn pro until age 19–is racist. I agree that it’s unfair. But more important, it’s also anti-capitalist, against the free market, a drain on taxpayers, and a whole bunch of other negative things. In general, capitalism and a free unfettered market correct racist tendencies–which tend to reduce maximum efficiencies and profit.
Before this new rule, players like LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, and O’Neal himself, could skip college and join the NBA upon turning 18–usually right after high school. Now they can’t.
Talk about an artificial restriction on the labor supply and the free market.


O’Neal says it’s wrong and unfair. “In the last two or three years, the rookie of the year has a been a high school player. There were seven high school players in the All-Star game, so why we even talking an age limit?” O’Neal said, according to NBC Sports.
“As a black guy, you kind of think that’s the reason why it’s coming up. You don’t hear about it in baseball or hockey.”
I partly agree. O’Neal is right that the NBA is now the strictest of the major league pro sports. Pro hockey’s NHL, for example, has a minimum age of 18, but many NHLers come from the professional Canadian Major Junior Hockey Leagues, where they’ve played since their earlier teens.
Also, the NHL, NBA, and Major League Baseball are entirely separate business entities. They make separate deals with their unions, and this new rule wouldn’t exist without the acquiescence by O’Neal’s union, the Black-dominated NBA Players Association.
The real double standard is public attitudes about turning pro–which vary depending upon the sport. But what’s more interesting is the political identity of those supporting these variant rules: liberals. More on that later.
I think it’s intellectually dishonest to tell a future O’Neal he shouldn’t turn pro until after a year of college, while no-one would bat an eyelash if golfing phenom Michelle Wie, 15, turned pro today. And she possibly could. The LPGA tour minimum is age 18, but players can petition the League for an exception to turn pro as early as age 18. To date, Wie has forgone at least $500,000 in earnings and millions more in endorsement deals. Morgan Pressel, another prodigy golfer at age 17, committed to attend Duke. Now she’ll probably go pro instead. But no-one begrudges her the choice.
Today’s Jermaine O’Neals won’t have that ability.
Why can’t teen-age basketball players–who largely come from the killing and welfare fields of America, not to mention, single-mother homes–have the same choice, the same chance to support their families, who need it more than those of the more well-off golfers?
Because anti-free market liberals have joined geeky, wanna-be-sports-exec college presidents in pressuring the NBA’s David Stern to create this rule. Stern’s NBA needs colleges as his free, tax-funded farm and developmental systems. So he gave in to them–allowing them to milk these wannabe pros for at least a year of TV rights and licensing, all while the athletes risk career-ending injuries. It doesn’t hurt, too, that the NBA Players Association, ruled by (again, mostly Black) veterans, isn’t the least bit repelled by the idea of keeping young competitors (for their jobs) out of the marketplace.
If you don’t believe me that liberals are the ones who support these absurd restrictions, take last Sunday’s “McLaughlin Group”–he old fogie pundit-fest well past its expiration date.
MSNBC liberal Lawrence O’Donnell declared that teen-age hoops players, like Kobe Bryant (one of only a few bad apples in the high schooler NBA crowd), are “too immature” to handle so much money, so young. Fellow liberal screecher, Eleanor Clift, echoed him–in her always obnoxious way–stressing the need for college.
Funny, I didn’t hear them whine this way about pro tennis’ Jennifer “the pot-smoking shoplifter” Capriati, Anna Kournikova, or Andre Agassi–all of whom turned pro in their teens. Deafening silence from them about Bill Gates dropping out of Harvard to start that failed effort called MicroSoft. No complaints from them about some of the “90210,” “Dawson’s Creek,” and “The O.C.” cast skipping college for greener pastures. Britney Spears and LeeAnn Rhimes, anyone?
It was a conservative, free-marketeer (if pan-Arabist sympathizer with “former” Nazis) Pat Buchanan who agreed with O’Neal–and me.
Who would get more out of college? Kobe Bryant or Michelle Wie? Which would just be passing the time at keg parties and off-campus strip clubs, courtesy of taxpayer-funded scholarships?
Remember the Fab Five at the University of Michigan? They did it all–managing to remain college basketball players and pro athletes at the same time–courtesy of booster/gambling king Ed Martin. When he was at Ohio State, NFL linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer took courses with the titles, “Golf” and “AIDS: What Every College Student Should Know.” Is this “scholarly” path a reason to keep him artificially out of the marketplace (the NFL’s age requirements are more draconian)? It was the only way to keep him eligible to play in college. Hint: He wasn’t there to study Socrates.
These days, it seems the only motivation for an athlete to get a degree is to get a job as an FBI agent if his sports career washes up. The FBI seems to love recruiting washed up jocks, because–as everybody knows–the ability to throw a pass, learn a silly playbook, or block a jump shot, means you will make a great investigator in criminal and life and death matters. Right?
Then, there’s the NBA’s Voshon Lenard. At the University of Minnesota, his history professor asked him why George Washington was considered a Founding Father. According to Sports Illustrated, Lenard responded, “George Washington . . . name sounds familiar. Can you give me a hint?”
Here’s a hint: The Founding Fathers wanted less government interference in our lives and less government tax burdens. Dropping the ridiculous NBA rule before it starts would do both–as we could avoid subsidizing a wasted year of partying and waiting for the likes of Lenard.
As Voshon Lenard demonstrated, college isn’t for everyone.

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5 Responses

Why all the interest and outrage concerning the “unfair” treatment of black basketball players? It would appear you have run out of SERIOUS topics to discuss.
If I want to join a company and THEIR requirements are for new employees to have a college degree, do they have the right to establish THEIR OWN requirements or do they have to have requirements that mimic the rest of the marketplace? This, even if the owners son decided to go to work for his father at this company without a college degree. Likewise, the NBA has the right to setup their own requirements, regardless of what the PGA establishes for their players. You sound more like an egalitarian than a conservative. Egalitarians, generally, fall into the liberal camp.
One aspect of this topic that you left out is that those who do not INTEND to go to college can spend less time studying and devote more time to practicing their chosen sport. This is UNFAIR to those who intend to go to college since those who practice more have a better chance of gaining a position on a sports team than those who practice substantially less.

frozenchosin on July 29, 2005 at 1:31 am

The NBA is not the most strict league on admission-the NFL is. There, you basically have to either finish your sophomore year or it is two years since your high school class graduated. And even major league baseball has only had less than a handful of players who have gone directly from high school to the major leagues at 18 in the last 15-20 years. Instead, all are in baseball’s developmental league-the minors. But the reason for the rule is not because of racism or to in favor of the college system. It is only because a vast majority of these players are not ready and they just sit on the bench. Since a rookie’s first contract is for three years, by the time he is starting to even start returning on the team’s investment, their contract is up. (Kobe Bryant needed threee years to become a very good player. The list of high schoolers who don’t is long), In addition, the purpose of the draft is to help the poor teams get better. If everybody at the top has to pick high school players so that the team will not be accused of letting the next Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant go, they will stay at the same level of mediocrity as before. And the players associationis happy for the rule because its members wont lose their jobs so that some kid will sit on the bench in their stead.

Chgolaw on July 29, 2005 at 2:12 am

I disagree the new NBA rule has anything to do with racism. It all boils down to money and nothing else.
The NBA wants to keep their free minor league college development system. And, they have wasted a ton of money on these high school kids, 90% who have no fundamental skills besides dunking.
I agree the NBA has a right to set their own rules. As a sports fan, I am glad because drafting high schoolers in the NBA has damaged both college and pro basketball.
The solution should be for the NBA to create a development system like European teams have done, which is why the foreign players are eating our lunch these days. This would get rid of the idiots wasting college scholarship money, they could earn some money, and learn the skills needed to succeed in the pros.

Jeff_W on July 29, 2005 at 9:23 am

The issue here is money not race. While the MBA may be comprised of mostly black players, it isn’t restricted to blacks.
Since the policy is geared to all players regardless of race, country of origin or any other discerning factor, claiming it is a racial issue is nothing more then a disengenuous attempt to cause public outcry and reaction.
I have little respect for arguments that are so intellectually weak they must rely so heavily on buzz words and spin to make their case instead of reason and logic.
I don’t mind you agreeing the policy is stupid, though that could certainly be debated.
But I would have hoped you would see through the rhetoric.

Karl on July 29, 2005 at 10:53 am

I don’t agree with Jermaine O’Neal that the policy is racist, but I do agree that it is pointless and unfair. In fact, I think the subject of race has clouded the discussion, which is regrettable.
Congratulations, Ms. Schussel. This was a very outstanding column. It’s patronizing for people to tell someone who is eligible to be drafted that they can’t play basketball for a living. Going to college does not ipso facto make someone a better person. College is not for everyone; many high school graduates simply aren’t smart enough to succeed in college.
As for the poster who said the NBA has a right to make its own rules, you’re missing the point of Schlussel’s column. Nowhere do she say they can’t have an age limit, only that they shouldn’t do so.

Jack Davis on August 21, 2005 at 4:16 pm

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