SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Rap Sheets And The Rap Generation

All winter and spring, one of the major stories in the NBA was that Commissioner David Stern wanted an age limit. He didn't want Diaper Dandies playing in the NBA, plain and simple. He probably didn't like what he perceived to be the NBA's version of childcare, the posse, running the lives of young players who were entering the league. Perhaps he didn't think that these kids could handle the pressures of NBA life, and you can bet he perceived the influx of HS kids as being bad for the NBA's image.

I had argued the contrary position before, because I didn't think that the youngsters are the cause of the NBA's problems. I still don't, and I think that the best players should play in the premier league, whether they're eighteen (LeBron James as a rookie) or thirty-eight (Reggie Miller). And, to the extent that the NBA's reasoning resulted from rap sheets of the kids once they joined the league, Michael McCann of The Sports Law Blog has demonstrated that there is no correlation whatsoever between youth and arrests among the NBA population. In fact, the opposite is true.

Read his entire post, as it presents an excellent study of NBA players who have been arrested over the past several years. The striking point is that the kids (with perhaps one exception) don't show up on the list, but college-educated veterans predominate.

A friend of mine once told me that in life "the complaint isn't the problem," that when someone complains about something he usually has a beef, but the beef isn't what he relates. It's usually something else.

I've always thought that to be the case with the NBA, and I'll reiterate my point that by focusing on the ills of the HS generation, the NBA was deflecting the public's attention from its real problems. Sure, the NBA doesn't want HS kids who aren't ready for the league joining it; no one does. Sure, the NBA doesn't want the Korleone Youngs and Ousmane Cisses of the world from ruining potential promising careers by joining the draft out of HS. But the NBA did benefit greatly from LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire, to name a few, and foregoing college didn't hurt the careers that much of kids named Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neal and Rashard Lewis, even if it took them a few years to get going in the league. My guess is that Greg Oden and O.J. Mayo would help the league more than hurt it if permitted to skip college and join the league directly out of HS. If the age limit is a real issue, it's a minor one.

You can read my prior posts as to the ailments of the NBA; I won't repeat them here (you can hit the links about and read what I had to say). And while I don't love the dunk, think And1's street ball is mildly amusing for about five minutes but otherwise think it's neutral at best for the game, and while I think that there are too many self-interested people giving biased advice to young players (translated: put up the points to get noticed; forego the fundamentals), it's the overall product that needs an overhaul.

The influx of foreign players has been great for the NBA. It has given the league an international appeal, it has enabled the best players from around the world to play in the best league, and it has injected a core of fundamentally sound players into the league. Does this mean that the quality of U.S. hoops has slipped or that the quality of international ball has improved? I think it's a little bit of both. The great players in the U.S. are so athletic that they have eschewed the fundamentals to some extent. That tactic may work through HS and some college, but when you get to the NBA a lack of skills even for the best athlete could make him an average player at best. In contrast, less athletic foreign players have made inroads because they can shoot the mid-range jumper, defend, pass and hit the boards. This phenomenon has nothing to do with the age of players entering the NBA.

The proof is in the rap sheets, not the rap generation.

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