- - Monday, February 25, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A shoe dropped last week, after another shoe — one worn by Duke superstar Zion Williamson — exploded in a nationally-televised game with former President Barack Obama sitting courtside.

The equipment malfunction sent chills through the basketball world, which breathed again when Williamson’s injury was deemed a mild knee sprain. But the incident reignited debate on NCAA shamateurism and the NBA draft’s age requirement. Once again, reasonable folks wondered why elite prospects aren’t eligible to be drafted right away, instead of one year after high school.

Last Thursday, less than 24 hours after Williamson went down, USA Today reported that the NBA had submitted a request to the NBA Players Association to drop the minimum draft age to 18 and effectively end the “one-and-done” era. The timing might not have been coincidental, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver hinted last summer that such a move might occur.

It wasn’t too long ago that Silver favored a change in the opposite direction, raising the minimum age from 19 to 20.

I’m thrilled that he’s come to his senses, though not everyone is on board.

“No one under the age of 21 should play in the NBA,” Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told the Sporting News during the All-Star break. “Have the developmental league let them go through that. Then they can come in when they’re 21 and have some emotional maturity.”

I’m a big fan of Abdul-Jabbar and believe his heart is in the right place. But he sounds like the old man who admonishes kids to stay off his lawn. And he’s painting with a way-too-broad brush regarding maturity levels, or lack thereof, upon reaching drinking age.

There are 18-year-olds with more maturity than some 25-year-olds.

At least KAJ’s apprehension is genuine. I can’t say the same for others who make similar arguments, with profit motives masquerading as concern for youngsters’ welfare. I call it selective paternalism.

Take, for instance, Dallas Mavericks owners Mark Cuban, who said he’s fine with the NBA lowering the age limit, but he’s worried, too. “There’s going to be a lot of people pimping ‘none-and-done,’ and you’re going to see a lot of kids fall hard and be ineligible, all kinds of issues,” Cuban told the Dallas Morning News on Friday.

I have repeatedly pointed out the hypocrisy of interest in the personal and professional development of young basketball (and football) players, compared to young people who … do virtually anything else. What’s so hard to understand?

In sports, teenagers can turn pro right away in golf, tennis, baseball and hockey, to name a few. Whether they’re destined to succeed marvelously or fail miserably, no argues that they should be denied the opportunity to pursue their dreams right away.

Examples are more glaring in other entertainment industries. Jennifer Aniston graduated from a renowned performing arts high school in New York and immediately launched her acting career. Leonardo DiCaprio signed with an agent and dropped out of high school when he was 14.

The ranks of actors who never set foot on a college campus — if they even finished high school — are deep. Ditto for many singers and musicians, who had no desire to delay their chosen path and faced no arbitrary impediment.

Naturally, a far greater number failed to become big-time stars or even small celebrities. They either kept going — accepting whatever gigs come their way — or they gave up and entered “the real world.” Yet, the next generation isn’t forbidden from taking their talents to New York or Hollywood just because they’re under 21.

Their parents might worry about long-term prospects, but the industries only worry about talent.

So, I ask the question for the umpteenth time: Is prohibiting high school basketball players from the draft REALLY about their welfare? If so, why isn’t there equal concern about delaying professional paychecks for prep golfers, actors, tennis players, singers, etc.?

Yes, some players will make foolish decisions by declaring for the draft when they’re not ready and be massive busts. Some will put all of their energy and effort into the game from an early age, forsaking schoolwork and intellectual development. Some will get to the league and make horrible decisions off the court, financially and otherwise.

So what? The same would be true regardless of the minimum draft.

But other prep-to-pros teens will be among the best of a generation, like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Moses Malone and Kevin Garnett. Still, others will become “average” NBA players who enjoy lengthy careers, like Kendrick Perkins, Amir Johnson, Shaun Livingston and C.J. Miles.

NBA teams will hit some and miss some. But there’s no mandate to draft a player out of high school. Besides, the G League represents a fallback that didn’t exist before the one-and-done rule was applied. So now there’s no good reason to summarily bar prep stars.

Not that a good one existed before, either.

⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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