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Wednesday, July 20, 2005
NBA Players That Get In Trouble With the Law: Do Age and Education Level Matter?
Among the claims often expressed for raising the age floor in the NBA is that prep-to-pros players are more likely to get in off-court trouble, since they lack a college education and, as David Stern puts it, "life experience." One way to test this idea is to study NBA players that have actually gotten in trouble with the law. Were they college educated? Were they young and impressionable? I did a little bit of research, and while I cannot ensure that the following chart reflects a complete list, it is quite extensive and likely covers most of the recent NBA player arrests. The chart reveals the arrested players’ level of education and their age and level of professional experience at the time of arrest. Disclaimer: obviously, an arrest does not mean that someone is guilty of anything; that’s what a trial is for. But, it might a good proxy for “getting in trouble with the law,” particularly given the reputational cost often absorbed by an arrested player, his team, and the NBA.
Arrested NBA Players: Education, Age, and Experience
Assistant Professor of Law, Mississippi College School of Law
LL.M., Harvard Law School (2005)
J.D., University of Virginia School of Law (2002)
B.A., Georgetown University (1998)
Update 8/9/05: Dwight Jaynes of the Portland Tribune published an excellent column today concerning this study. (Jaynes, "Stern Has it Exactly Backward on College," Portland Tribune, August 9, 2005).
Update 7/28/05: I added an education-level comparison of arrested NBA players to all current NBA players. There are some rather striking results that appear to amplify the study's findings. Most notably, although 41.1 percent of all NBA players went to college for 4 years, 57.1 percent of arrested NBA players went to college for 4 years--meaning that players with four years of college represent a proportionally higher percentage of arrested NBA players than all NBA players. In contrast, although 14.8 percent of NBA players either did not go to college or went for one year, only 9.6 percent of arrested NBA players share the same educational background--meaning that players with one or less years of college represent a proportionally lower percentage of arrested NBA players than all NBA players. Also, a continued thanks to the those who have analyzed this study by e-mail or on their blogs (including Professor Mark Godsey of the University of Cincinnati College of Law and Criminal Professor Blog).
Update 7/25/05: I added statistics for the averages and medians of only those players who were arrested while still playing in the NBA (denoted as "without retired").
^ Woods played two years of junior college plus one year of community college .
Also, several of the players were arrested after their careers had ended, and that is noted by “was retired.” I used the last year in which they played as the numerical base. One could make a good argument that they should not be included, although I felt that their arrests still reflected poorly on them, their NBA teams, and the NBA itself (e.g., the Jayson Williams murder trial), and thus deserved to be included.
What does this data tell us?
On the other hand, the lack correlative power of education might only reflect intervening causes (such as personal and professional relationships) that can obscure the lessons one learned in school (or at home or with friends etc.). In that respect, I found some of the media coverage of the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case especially baffling. Here was a player who was considered the NBA's poster child for most of his first seven seasons, during which time he was routinely praised for his charity work with the Los Angeles Girls and Boys' Club, and then, at age 24, we are supposed to believe that he suddenly became a rapist because he didn't go to college seven years earlier?
Second, players appear more likely to get in trouble with the law towards the middle and end of their careers than at the start. This could be interpreted in a number of ways. For instance, it might suggest that the “pressures of being an NBA player” are more manageable at the start of one’s career, perhaps because the player is less autonomous and more reliant on the team. This interpretation is bolstered by the financial stake of NBA teams in facilitating the transition of their players from life as an amateur to life as a pro. Second, and related to the preceding interpretation, new NBA players are often surrounded by veterans in their late 20s and 30s who can monitor them and serve as de facto “big brothers.” The presence of these veteran players is obviously something distinct from the college experience, where the “veterans” are often just 20 or 21-years old, and are thus not likely to be as well-equipped in steering their 18 and 19-year teammates away from nefarious influences. Alternatively, the data may suggest that as the player accumulates wealth and notoriety, he is more likely to succumb to these “pressures.”
No matter the interpretation, it doesn’t appear that the recent decision by the NBA and NBPA to raise the age of NBA draft eligibility from 18 to 19 (or one year out of high school) will improve the overall law-abidingness of NBA players. If anything, actually, this data suggests that it might have the opposite effect.
I look forward to further analyzing this data with all of you. Your insight and interpretation would be much appreciated, and please use the comments section below. Or, if you have any additions/corrections to the list, please e-mail me (along with some type of substantiation for your claim) at firstname.lastname@example.org – I would appreciate it.
I am grateful to all who have e-mailed me, as well as to those who have commented below or who have written about this study on their websites and blogs. Along those lines, thanks to Henry Abbot of True Hoop for his discussion. I especially liked his title, "The List David Stern Never Wants You to See." Thanks also to following for their discussion of the study: Jeffrey Lewis of The Southern California Law Blog, Jeffrey Wojciechowski of Beaneball, Ken Lammers of Criminal Law Blog, Mike of Crime and Federalism, Scott Townsend of H-Town Sports, Kevin of Hoop Log, and Cisco of Filsteu.
Also, Professor Todd Zywicki of George Mason University School of Law and The Volokh Conspiracy has a must-read take on this study, as he predicts that "raising the draft age by one year will likely just increase the corruption in high school and college basketball." Definitely check out his post, as it reflects upon this data in a completely different way: the unintended consequences on amateur basketball. The Sports Prof ("Rap Sheets and the Rap Generation") and Cal Lanier of Football Fans for Truth ("Fools Rule") also check in with excellent responses.
For further discussion of this study's relevance to the NBA's efforts to raise the age floor, see my 5/23/05 post "More on NBA Player Arrests and Age/Education." For a broader discussion of age and the NBA Draft, see my law review article "Illegal Defense: The Irrational Economics of Banning High School Players from the NBA Draft," 3