Why the NBA's Eligibility Rule Is a Disgrace

Spencer MorrisCorrespondent IApril 8, 2009

PHOENIX - FEBRUARY 15:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Western Conference walks across the court in front of LeBron James #23 of the Eastern Conference during the 58th NBA All-Star Game, part of 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend at US Airways Center on February 15, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Should the “mistakes” of others affect your ability to gain lawful employment?

Should collective bargaining agreements (otherwise known as union contracts) prevent you from entering a trade (a profession) because you will be paid too much—according to others in that trade?

How much is too much?

Should we regulate how a person can enter a profession, including factors that have nothing to do with the actual profession?

Is a young man’s education, or lack thereof, any of our business?

Have we determined that the only path for “success” in life must run through college?

If a young man’s goal is to make it to the NBA, and teams are willing to pay him to play professionally, should he be denied that opportunity because he is too young (or too this or too that)?

How young is too young?

A man’s way in life is complicated—there are twists, turns, dead-ends, U-turns, hop, skips, and jumps. This is also true for professional athletes; they are people as well.

Presuming the future of someone else’s life is an impossible task, yet that is exactly what the NBA’s eligibility rule does: presumes to know the “best” or “proper” way a young man can and may enter the NBA Draft.

Currently, the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement states that no American can enter their name in the NBA Draft unless they are 19 years old and are one year removed from high school. There are a few “reasons” for this, and none, I repeat, none are acceptable. 

The biggest “reason” for the rule was to shield the public from the heart-wrenching stories of the dashed hopes and dreams of NBA stardom­—at least the publicized ones. We just couldn’t take it anymore. 

It’s all really quite pathetic.

Watching a young man’s dream collapse before your eyes isn’t fun, it is tragic. Yet it happens to thousands of people, and it happens every single day. We only care when we see no other future for them, and somehow, this is how we view professional athletes. That is the pathetic part.

As “Alabaster Stone” has pointed out in his (or her) article, The NBA’s Bender is Finally Over: The “Gap” Year is a Success, Jonathan Bender’s NBA career didn’t take off: “Potential, potential, potential.”

Well then, his life must have been a total waste. Any accomplishments beyond the tender age of 25 are irrelevant­. Notice how this is true in only one aspect: our (sports media’s) idea of what his life should have been.    

Never mind the bizarre assertion made in Alabaster’s article that Bender’s knees would have been better off had he gone to college. It is entirely possible that the man simply didn’t have a whole lot of tread on his tires. In that case college would have severely hampered his, albeit brief, professional career and all the money that came with it.

Did Jonathan Bender “fail?”

This is a matter of perspective. Media pundits—known for their mystifying accuracy on who is and who isn’t going to be a star—predicted a Hall of Fame career for Bender. That didn’t happen, so society (modern media, us, Congress, the Courts, you name it) labeled him a failure. 

It doesn’t matter if Bender had had a successful professional basketball career, it doesn’t matter if he had ended up in the gutter, and it doesn’t matter if he took his NBA riches and now owns an Italian wine imports company, invented a fitness device called Bender Bands, and owns a New Orleans recording studio. 

Or if he's developing a reality show, Brand New Orleans, based on his numerous ventures in the New Orleans area, including Kingdom Homes, a for-profit home-building company focusing on the still on-going Hurricane Katrina cleanup.

Which is exactly what he did.

It doesn’t matter. It is none of our business.  Alabaster—it is none of your business.

Bender took the “risk” (which turned out to be an excellent decision—for him) of entering the NBA Draft and we did not. His life is his own and no one else’s. 

How do you feel when someone presumes to know what is best for you? 

I most assuredly will be accused of not being pragmatic, of not looking at the facts, circumstances, and other qualifiers. I will be accused of basing my opinions on principle—not “reality.” 

“Surely Bender is an exception,” you say.

Exactly what is he an exception to?  

What rule states that “uneducated” and failed basketball players are destined to a life of misery?

I do base my decisions on this principle: I should not, have not, and will never support rules designed to shield people from the world and everything it has to offer. Freedom and its miraculous benefits—which we experience in this country every day—demands strict adherence to this principle. 

Basketball is a business. People fail and teams fail: in basketball—not life.

Alabaster, you presume that professional basketball players are one dimensional human beings; too dumb or naive to do anything else or have any other constructive interests. 

It is a sad day when you put your pity on another human being because they didn’t accomplish what you thought they were capable of—in a single sport.

By every true measure of human existence, Jonathan Bender’s life has been a resounding success. 

The fundamental question here is this: Do we, as a society, trust individuals to determine the outcomes of their lives, or do we give greater weight to outside influences (in this case sports agents and the entourages) assuming that their efforts to sway young men are so insidiously persuasive, that no one could possibly make a clear and thought-out decision under such pressures?

The NBA eligibility rule answers this question, and the answer is the latter. 

This is not right, it is not true, and it is a disgusting rule that tramples over the individual notion of rights that has given each and every single one us the opportunities we have today. We deny those same opportunities to others based on some warped notion of fairness. 

College, free or not, is an option in America, and it is wrong for us to demand that professional-caliber athletes do what we want—attend college­—and not what they want, whatever that may be.

“Alabaster Stone” is an utter fool who has complete disregard for the power of one’s own choices. He sees the world as a series of happenstances, of conditions and circumstances that cloud and distort the correct and incorrect decisions of “the people.”

Naturally, none of this applies to Alabaster. Only to those poor and unfortunate athletes, whose talents and abilities will always be relegated to the basketball court. If they don’t “make it,” their lives are over. 

A man’s life is his own.  It is not yours, it is not mine, and it is not the NBA’s.  

The NBA’s eligibility rule is a stain on our country and on the sport of basketball. It should be revoked on the simple principle that judging a man’s life, judging his “success,” is up to him and him alone. We play a fool’s game trying to qualify and rationalize “success,” and in the end it is an inherently selfish one.