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Monday, February 27, 2006
NBA Age Limit and Questioning "Business Reasons"

Last week, Greg posted on David Stern's recent comments about the new NBA age limit. Stern said the new limit was "a business issue" and nothing else. He noted that it would be better for the NBA that amateur players develop in college, and that NBA scouts could better assess their talent while college, and, after playing in college, these players could more immediately make contributions when entering the NBA. To illustrate this point, he cited Celtics rookie Gerald Green, a high schooler taken with the 18th pick in last year's draft who hasn't played much and has bounced back-and-forth between the NBA and NBDL.

In light of Stern's reasons, I found it interesting to read that the 20th player selected in the same draft as Green -- Julius Hodge, a 21-year old college senior from NC State -- has, like Green, barely played this season and, like Green, has bounced back-and-forth between the NBA and NBDL.

So let's apply the Stern 3-Part Test:

1) Did Hodge develop his game in college? Against other college players: yes; against NBA players in games, practice, or summer league: no.

2) Were NBA scouts better able to assess his talent? Apparently not.

3) Did Hodge make an immediate contribution when entering the NBA? He's averaging 1 point per game on 36% shooting--and he's now off to play for the Austin Toros of the NBDL.

So I wonder: maybe it's not about a player's age, but rather others' ability to measure his talent? I mean, why would NBA scouts, with all of the information they had obtained from watching Hodge play college basketball (and at a major program), pick him so high? How come he hasn't made an immediate impact after doing so well in college and for so long in college? Wasn't he great in March Madness? Wasn't he great in the conference tournaments? As Dick Vitale would say, wasn't he awesome baby??!! In fact, Vitale actually did say that.

And if the NBA business model is really enhanced by amateurs playing in college, then how come there have been so many college juniors and seniors who were drafted high but ended up playing poorly in the NBA? Rafael Araujo, Trajan Langdon, Ed O'Bannon, Mateen Cleaves, Kirk Haston, Brandon Armstrong, Dahntay Jones, Marcus Haislip, Reece Gaines, Marcus Banks--this list could go on and on and on. These players were twenty-one, twenty-two years old when they entered the NBA. They had played three or four years of college where they had excelled. They had attracted the interest of NBA scouts who gobbled up all that "college basketball information." Would an arbitrary age floor of 19 or 20 years of age have stopped any of them from being drafted? Nope. Too bad the NBA couldn't create a rule that protects itself from drafting poor players, because that is what it really needs.

The other thing is this: don't automatically nod your head when commissioners, CEOs, and other managers cite "business reasons" as a justification for a move. "Business reasons" does not mean the reasons are correct, intelligent, or even legal--think of all of the companies that have failed in this country: they likewise made "business decisions," but they weren't good ones. And some of them--like MCI WorldCom or Adelphia or the scores of companies that have violated labor and antitrust laws--also made decisions based on "business reasons" that were illegal, even though it took us a while to figure that out. "Business reasons" can also be a purposefully ambiguous phrase that veils other, more socially-nefarious reasons. We sometimes don't pick on up these problems because when a business says that it is doing something to "maximize profits" or for "maximum efficiency," we tend to accept that reason without further inquiry--and businesses know that, so they can get away with a lot of stuff, at least for a while. Sometimes a healthy dose of skepticism toward corporate behavior isn't the worst thing. Businesses are not always right, and they are not always good or law-abiding.

And going back to the NBA Draft, again, despite the popular and appealing rhetoric, it's not about age and it's never been about age; it's about talent, and scouts' ability to assess it. Age is just a proxy, and it appears to be a poor one in the NBA. Any good CEO would tell you that.


1. Every big man in the All-Star game (at least 6'9), except Ben Wallace, was a known commodity at age 18.

2. If going to college is so great for a basketball player, college seniors, by virtue of their extensive apprenticeship, should dominate the NBA, the CBA, or the Euroleagues. They do not.

Since Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry, and Tyson Chandler are such busts and the reasons why we shouldn't take highschoolers, then those teams should have taken the college seniors available, Shane Battier and Brendan Haywood; and been no better off today after four years in the league.

Blogger SmittyBanton -- 2/27/2006 11:28 AM  

Mike wrote: "Too bad the NBA couldn't create a rule that protects itself from drafting poor players, because that is what it really needs."

Actually, they could -- it's called non-guaranteed contracts. What do you want to bet Stern would trade any and all age limits if the players gave up guaranteed money? And this makes the most business sense -- let's pay the players who are producing. You think the players would go for this?

Blogger Greg -- 2/27/2006 12:53 PM  

I think it's reasonable for the NBA to take the position that they will do a better job evaluating a player if they get to see him play more often against better competition. I also think it's reasonable for the NBA to want kids who have already built their "brand" before they get to the NBA (see, e.g., Jordan, Magic, Bird, J.J. Redick, etc.). It's also reasonable for NBA teams not to want to have have to babysit some 18 year old.

And since age restrictions are clearly legal, those are probably good enough reasons for the NBA to impose an age restriction.

p.s. Tim Duncan wasn't a known commodity at 18. In fact, even when he was drafted there were planety of experts saying he was too soft to play in the NBA.

Anonymous john -- 2/27/2006 3:03 PM  

Not sure about 18 but I am pretty sure Tim Duncan was ACC player of the Year when he was 19yo so that argument is not overly strong. My problem with the age restriction is that Stern felt the need to "protect" the teams from their own decisions, If the owner of my team continues to make poor decisions, see Kwame Brown, then it is his bad call and I may change my allegiance to some other team. What the age restriction really did was change was when a players second contract ran from and to if you start at 18 the first contract runs out as 21/22 and the second contract is in the prime years, if you push that back less prime years especially on the back end of the guaranteed money and the money the owner's make multiplies.

Anonymous Brian Barnes -- 2/27/2006 8:52 PM  

It is just like hiring lawyers. Law firms complain law school is not grazing the students properly, well it is more like the firms do not know how to hire. Just because you play at a certain school, are a certain age, went to a prestigous school (whether for basketball or law) does not mean anything. At this point it is about the person, what they have put in at that school.

Anonymous tommie -- 2/27/2006 9:23 PM  


That analogy appears to be flawed...high school basketball competition is hardly a grazing ground or weeding out mechanism for future competition (where law school actually is because there are many levels one must endure to become an attorney: high school, college, and actually getting through law school. Furthermore, what a high school or college player has contributed or "put in" to their school can hardly be a tool to measure future success. There are too many unsuccessful all-state, McDonald's all-americans, or NCAA superstar basketball players they never made it, even though they contributed or "put in" to their schools.

Blogger Packy -- 2/27/2006 11:40 PM  

Gerald Green plays for a struggling team that needs all the help it can get. Hodge plays for a playoff team that might not need him to make a contribution. By this logic, the Pistons' Jason Maxiell and the Heat's Wayne Simien are total busts, less than 60 games into their careers, becuase they can't crack the roster of established playoff teams. By the same logic then, the Lakers must have lost their touch drafting Andrew Bynum. Grading how well NBA scouts can judge talent less than a season into a player's rookie season is like taste-testing cookies after baking them for three minutes.

Anonymous Taco John -- 2/28/2006 8:41 AM  

Packy, I am not sure i follow your argument. I believe it needs more clarification. However in the basketball world it does matter where ou go to highschool sometime. Certain highschool recruit players, such as Oak Hill. They recruit players from AAU, so you still have to put in your time sometimes to be a well known prepstar.
You say " Furthermore, what a high school or college player has contributed or "put in" to their school can hardly be a tool to measure future success."
The same thing happens for students whether you get a 4.0 or 3.0 or even a 2.0 does not mean you will be a better lawyer, banker, or doctor. However it still comes down to juding talen, especially in basketball.

Anonymous tommie -- 2/28/2006 10:54 AM  


You raise three good points. However, even when where you are factually correct, your inferences do not necessarily follow.

1. It is reasonable for one to hypothesize that college makes it easier to scout athletes. Reasonable does not mean correct. In this case, the first reasonable inclination is easily rebutted by the comparative success rates: highschool players drafted by NBA teams are far more successful in the NBA than college seniors drafted by NBA teams.

2. The NBA has far more trouble "babysitting" college seniors. It is not highschool players who get in trouble, it is the collegians, Dennis Rodman, JR Rider, Chris Anderson, Damon Stoudamire, etc. Abuse of privilege for college basketball players in any other context except this debate is usually thought to be extremely troublesome. Why do we seek to perpetuate and even exacerbate it.

3. Tim Duncan was known to NBA scouts at age 18, was encouraged to come out as early as his freshman year, and his personal choice to stay in college is what makes him exemplary as a human. Assuming arguendo he wasn't known at 18, the fact that he is the only other exception further helps prove the point.

4. That it is reasonable for the NBA to wand kids to have a brand name is absolutely correct. There is no argument against this, other than a normative one involving age discrimination, inequitable racial competition, etc. As a black person, I do not like seeing other black people being denied the opportunity to exploit their talents. This of course need not be the concern of others, including David Stern; which is why I am more disappointed in Billy Hunter regarding this issue.

5. Age restrictions are However, time will tell. The Non-Statutory Labor Antitrust Exemption does have limits, usually involving its impact on non-members of either bargaining unit. I hope one day it will be recognized that there is a limit to the extent which the employer and employee representatives can bind those not yet in the union. Those rules are under the auspices of the National Labor Relations Board, and need further examination. Aside from that, I return to criticizing my fellow HUSL alum, Billy Hunter.


Blogger SmittyBanton -- 2/28/2006 4:11 PM  


Have non-guaranteed contracts prevented NFL teams from bad draft choices?

The NBA doesn't NEED anything. Players and owners are making money hand over foot. All because we support the monopolistic practices on both sides. When we do, we are asking for these higher ticket prices.

Also, capping or otherwise reducing player salaries will not lower ticket prices. In a monopolistic enterprise, the cost savings will not be passed on to the consumer, it will be kept by the owners (unless of course they are not profit maximizers and came upon their fabulous wealth by happenstance).



Blogger SmittyBanton -- 2/28/2006 4:22 PM  

"...highschool players drafted by NBA teams are far more successful in the NBA than college seniors drafted by NBA teams."

Is this a true statement? I'm guessing there's a huge sample size problem.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 3/01/2006 8:21 AM  

Excluding Darryl Dawkins, Moses Malone, and Bill Peterson, we have at least the last 10 years for samples. You can go to and test the hypothesis yourself. It is very, very clear. If that sample is not large enough, then I fear there will not ever be one that is.

Blogger SmittyBanton -- 3/01/2006 12:20 PM  

This is a bit off topic, but I was still curious about the matter.

Does the NBA utilize any kind of intelligence or personality test like the NFL uses the Wonderlic on draft prospects?

One could argue that one reason there is an age limit is because the players are not mature or intelligent enough to handle the pressures of NBA life. If that were accurate, you would expect that players who had gone to college to have that maturity and understanding. However, you still have the Damon Stoudemires, the Keon Clarks, etc.

Rather than just having an age limit, the league could have implemented a series of standardized tests measuring the adaptability a player would have to the NBA lifestyle or how they could handle the new pressures that face them. There is no real way to predict how a player will act once he makes the transition into the NBA, but you'd get a better idea at the least.

Anonymous Ryan -- 3/01/2006 1:48 PM  

I agree with your assessment that this shold be about "talent" rather some other artificial reason(such as age).

An individual who reaches the age of majority should be able to make life decisions for themselves. The NBA is on weak ground when it attempts to take away "rights" others possess.

The same applies to the dress code the NBA has instituted.

The NBA should concentrate on judging "talent" and let individuals "of age" decide for themselves how they will dress and
where they will work (play).

The real issue here is one of civil liberties!!!

Anonymous Richard Mock -- 3/03/2006 2:07 PM  

thank you

Anonymous kurtlar -- 2/10/2009 3:59 PM  

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