Don’t raise the NBA’s minimum age

Unlike in football or hockey, teenage players’ size does not put them at risk for injuries.

NBA commissioner David Stern is looking to raise the age limit for NBA players to 20. While Stern feels this would be a progressive move, many feel it would be unjust and fueled by racist motives. I must applaud Stern as a public relations and marketing genius, who revived the NBA fan base. But I see nothing but foolery in his desire to place an age limit on entering the NBA. There is simply no legitimate reason for it, while the reasons to pen the doors are boundless.

An age limit for 20-year-olds would tarnish college basketball and only inflate the already gargantuan egos of young NBA prospects. College basketball would be hurt by an overwhelming number of one-and-done players, who play their freshman year before making the jump to the professional game.The players who consider forgoing college for the NBA are already the top-25 players in the nation, and trust me, they know it. They were worshipped at their high schools and are primed to be the next big men on campus. Let them take their lumps in the NBA instead.

Stern likes the NFL’s requirement of players waiting three years after high school to enter the pros, but Stern doesn’t realize the physical contact in pro football is exponentially greater than that of pro basketball. In comparison with high school players, pro football players are mammoths. NFL defensive backs are the size of high school linebackers, and pro linebackers are the size of prep linemen.

Physical size is not a critical component in becoming a great basketball player. Allen Iverson, Earl Boykins and current rookie Ben Gordon continue to prove that, on the court, size doesn’t matter. If you can run, shoot and pass with the best of them, there is an NBA jersey with your name on it. Plenty of high school players can already run, shoot and pass like the pros. They can also rebound, defend and dunk like them too. LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Amare Stoudamire have become household names for these reasons.

Quite possibly, the strongest argument to make against imposing a 20-year-old age limit is the case of international players. Young foreigners such as Darko Milicic of Serbia-Montenegro and Nikoloz Tskitishvili from the Republic of Georgia made life-changing leaps to the pro game. These players, like many others, spent most of their professional careers and teenage years overseas playing for corporately run teams. European players are paid less than a fraction of what NBA players are paid, and they aren’t presented with the opportunities to cash in on endorsements.

Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O’Neal wouldn’t have developed into the player he is today if an age limit had been imposed. He put it best when he said, “You don’t hear about it in baseball or hockey. To say you have to be 20, 21 to get in the league, it’s unconstitutional. If I can go to the U.S. Army and fight the war at 18 why can’t you play basketball for 48 minutes?”

High school players are like maraschino cherries. Some of them are ready to make the leap, steal the spotlight and win over the crowd. Some of them are ready to sit atop the sundae, while others who aren’t ready will just float at the bottom and marinate just a little longer. Stern, don’t take cherries off the sundae.

Mike Durkin welcomes comments at [email protected]