Sports Law Blog
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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."
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.