Should Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard and Tracy McGrady have been made to attend college for a year or at least been forced to go overseas to play professionally before joining the NBA?
The answer to that question is "no."
Had the NBA's age limit rule been in effect when those guys came out of high school, that would've been the reality. The rule mandates that any prospect entering the NBA draft must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year and one year removed from high school.
There is an exception.
International players who have permanently lived outside of the U.S. for at least three years before the draft while playing professionally outside of the U.S and who haven't enrolled at an American college or university or completed high school in the States are automatically eligible.
The 19-year minimum doesn't exist in any other major sport with the exception of professional football. It's understandable in the NFL because of the physical nature of the sport. Prospects need to have their bodies physically matured to a level that allows them to compete with adults.
However, in baseball, tennis and even boxing, the minimum age isn't as high. Why is it in the NBA? Some say it's to help preserve the college game. The influx of prep-to-pro players essentially takes most of the more talented prospects away from college basketball.
Others, such as retired 18-year-veteran and former prep-to-pros star Jermaine O'Neal, says the motives are more dastardly. Per an ESPN.com article from 2005, O'Neal gave a strong take on the impending NBA rule:
In the last two or three years, the rookie of the year has been a high school player. There were seven high school players in the All-Star Game, so why we even talking an age limit? As a black guy, you kind of think [race is] the reason why it's coming up. 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?
It's hard to believe that then-commissioner David Stern was motivated by racism when the rule was conceptualized and implemented, but that doesn't mean that the fallout hasn't been more negatively impacting to minority high school stars.
Of all the prep players to make the jump to the NBA in history (49 in total): 46 are African-American or of direct African descent, two are Hispanic (Charlie Villanueva and Ricky Sanchez) and just one was Caucasian (Robert Swift).
While the intentions behind the rule might not have been racially motivated, there's no disputing which demographic it has impacted.
It's crazy to think that athletes like Byron Buxton, Boris Becker, Serena Williams, Martina Hingis, Ken Griffey Jr. were allowed to pursue their professions at younger ages, but LSU Tigers star Ben Simmons and others are forced to wait.