AAU Basketball, Greed, and Its Effect on The NBA

Jay KingCorrespondent IMay 24, 2009

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While at an AAU tournament today, I was struck by the amount of money changing hands in the industry that is AAU basketball. When I started playing AAU basketball, there were hardly any teams out there; to find a “local” tournament, my team had to travel all around New England and sometimes into New York.

So you can understand how surprised I was when I heard that the tournament my brothers played in today held 170 teams! In my brothers’ age division alone, there were 26 teams.

The boom in AAU basketball participation isn’t due to mounting interest in the sport. Rather, it’s due to greedy men seeing dollar signs and beginning new organizations and running more tournaments.

Where once the children’s development and enjoyment were the main focuses, the concentration has now shifted towards making money.

In the tournament today, a team was only allowed to have one assistant coach, because coaches didn’t pay and God forbid a team have two non-paying coaches. My brothers’ team has two assistants, but only one was allowed free admission.

Never mind that both of them volunteer to coach four hours of practice every week, not to mention donating their entire weekends throughout the whole spring in order to help coach.

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Why would anyone let such a person in for free, especially when allowing their free admittance would have cost the tournament director five whole dollars? The director needs that money, there were only 170 teams paying $450 each to get into the tournament! That’s only $76,500! With concession and admission prices added in, you can see how badly he needed the assistant coach’s five dollars.

Over the years, AAU basketball has evolved from an organization dedicated to providing an outlet for children to improve skills and develop valuable skills such as teamwork and leadership to an industry designed to put money into its leaders pockets.

The steady evolution has left AAU basketball in the hands of sleazy, money-hungry businessmen rather than conscientious adults with the kids’ best interests at heart.

But there is another aspect of AAU basketball which is hardly talked about: AAU basketball has raised basketball’s competitive bar within the United States to a level we have never seen.

Every time I hear AAU basketball discussed, people are criticizing the unorganized quality of play, the aforementioned excessive greed or the lack of commitment players hold to teams and vice versa.

I’ve heard a lot about AAU basketball being the component that is unraveling the United States’ dominance in the world of basketball.

Never mentioned, though, is the amount of quality competition AAU provides and the players the AAU circuit has begun to breed. The AAU circuit brings all the nation’s best players together at the same time, providing a battleground for competition.

As any basketball player will tell you, competition breeds improvement. The better players you can play against, day in and day out, the better you will become. By affording the opportunity for the best competition to continuously play each other, AAU basketball has provided the means by which young players can more readily fulfill their potential.

Have you seen the collection of young talent in the NBA? Just to remind you, the list of players under the age of 25 includes LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Al Jefferson, Brandon Roy, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Devin Harris and Chris Bosh, among many other very talented players.

Right now, the NBA is in the great hands of its spectacular young talent that has already established itself as stars and superstars in the league. Do you think those players would be nearly as polished as they are right now had they not been playing against the best players in the country throughout high school?

If you ask me, it isn’t a coincidence that the growth of AAU basketball has coincided with the remarkable infusion of talent the NBA has seen over the past few years. Allowing all the best high school players to compete against each other on a consistent basis has created more skilled players who are ready to handle the rigorous NBA schedule.

Competition breeds success because it forces players to change. If you play against better players, you will find out what does and does not work, and be able to change your game. Because they have been playing against such elite talent for years before they enter college, nevermind the NBA, young players have arrived in the NBA more advanced and talented than ever before.

If AAU basketball were not so prevalent, the best players in the country would still merely be playing high school basketball, finding good competition every once in awhile but taking much longer to realize their full potential. The AAU expansion may be driven for all the wrong reasons, mostly for the leaders to make money, but the side effects have been a talent level the likes of which the NBA has never seen.

The NBA is entering into a golden era of outstanding players and previously uncharted levels of talent, and AAU basketball is certainly to blame.


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