Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
The Power of Situation: Joakim Noah's Decision to Stay at Florida

After leading the Florida Gators to an NCAA title, many thought that sophomore Joakim Noah would declare for the 2006 NBA Draft. A number of draft experts, including Aran Smith of NBA Draft Net and Chad Ford of ESPN (and Brigham Young University-Hawaii) predicted that Noah would be the first or second player selected, especially given the unusual absence of premiere talent in this year’s draft. In contrast, because of what appears to be deeper class in the 2007 NBA Draft, Noah might struggle to be a top 10 pick next year. And keep in mind, the economic difference between being the first pick in 2006 and the 11th pick in 2007 is the difference between a guaranteed, three-year contract worth $14.4 million and one worth about $6.2 million, plus the difference between being one year closer to NBA free agency and one year farther away.

But Noah passed up what would likely be a top two selection in this June’s draft to stay at Florida. And by doing so, he received the predictable praise from those who advocate that players stay in school: by staying an extra year in college, Noah will better develop his game and position himself for another championship. He also appears loyal to his school at a time when stars are leaving as early as possible, a phenomenon which some believe is attributable to the greed and immaturity of young basketball players.

But Noah's choice appears to say more about his situation than about loyalty. His father is Yannick Noah, a former tennis star who won the French Open in 1983. Yannick Noah is now a rock star in France and is worth tens of millions of dollars. Joakim's mother is actress Cecilia Rhode, a former model who was Miss Sweden in 1978. I don't know how much she's worth, as she later divorced Yannick Noah, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say she's probably doing alright.

So Joakim Noah's decision, like the decision of any amateur player contemplating whether to declare, is more about the situation than about the individual. And for most amateur basketball stars, the decision to turn pro is deeply affected by the systemic poverty around them. Indeed, many players turn pro because they are from impoverished families--families who have been poor since they arrived in America centuries ago (or, more technically, were forcibly taken to America centuries ago). A son turning pro may be the only opportunity for a family to end its cycle of poverty, and it is an opportunity that may never come again--especially given the potential of being injured at any time on the court. And although we like to latch onto endearing narratives and vignettes of those Americans who intrepidly rose from poverty to wealth, aggregate statistics confirm the more common difficulty of moving out of poverty in spite of work ethic. In other words, when the chance is there get out of poverty, it's probably a good idea to take it, because income mobility may be as much about serendipity as about anything else.

But Joakim Noah was not faced with that situation. He's from a very wealthy family, and the millions he would obtain from his first NBA contract probably aren't as meaningful as they were to guys like Jonathan Bender and Al Jefferson and others similarly-situated, along with their families. And if God-forbid Noah blows out his knee next year, he'll still be from a very wealthy family. That is not to begrudge his decision, but before we condemn as disloyal and greedy those who decide to leave school early, it would probably be helpful to first look at the circumstances surrounding their decision. Doing so would probably tell us a lot more about them than does their actual choice.


Ditto for UF's other star, Al Horford, whose father played in the NBA. Probably not as wealthy as Yannick Noah, but there's little pressure on the young Horford to lift the family out of poverty.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/11/2006 5:26 PM  

It should be interesting to see what decision Tyrus Thomas makes. He comes from a single parent home that struggles with financial problems and is predicted to be a lottery pick.
Thomas has been playing with the same teammates for a long time and might decide that loyalty is more important than money. With a new trend of players staying closer to home we might see players staying in school longer. just a thought

Anonymous brandon -- 4/11/2006 6:40 PM  

Saying that a player turning pro is the only opportunity to rise out of poverty is a harsh and probably inaccurate statement. If a players stays at a university and earns a degree, the player will be able to command more salary in a career outside of sports. I understand that going pro may pay more upfront and maybe even over the long run, but saying that it is the only opportunity to succeed in life is not giving much credit to the athlete and his/her intellectual ability.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/11/2006 6:47 PM  

I don't think that anyone is shortchanging the athlete and his/her intellectual ability. It's more of a statement about the difficulty of rising out of poverty and the amount of money available in pro sports. Even with a college degree, someone from a poor background (and therefore a vastly inferior K-12 education) may still very well fail in the real world. You can say the same for any college graudate, of course, but the risk of failure is particularly acute for those from economically depressed backgrounds.

An intersting contrast to Noah is Kobe Bryant, who went straight from a toney Philadelphia suburb to the NBA. But Kobe is exceptional not only for his talent but for his competitiveness. He didn't want to waste any time competing against inferior talent and was set on getting to the peak of his profession as quickly as possible. Most 17 year-olds aren't so confident (arrogant?).

Blogger ken -- 4/11/2006 7:59 PM  

What about a list of players who contemplate coming out, then go back to school, only to get drafted lower or not at all. Some players that seem like they would have went higher had they left earlier are, Chris Porter from Auburn, Ryan Gomes from Providence, Chris Taft from Pitt etc..

Blogger tommie -- 4/11/2006 8:22 PM  

I wonder if, had Kobe gone to college, he might of acquired some maturity. Some ability to see that his talent and competitiveness, while impressive, might not be the sun of the basketball firmament. Maybe he would have learned to play on a team, that team is spelled t-e-a-m and not k-o-b-e. Maybe he would have learned how to be a decent enough person not to (allegedly) molest a woman in a hotel room and chase away one of the greatest centers of the last quarter-century.

Then again, there are lots of college graduates who remain immature and incapable of adult behavior once they enter the league.

On the issue of poverty and basketball, I would commend Darcy Frey's excellent book, The Last Shot.

Blogger Geoffrey Rapp -- 4/12/2006 5:51 AM  

Odd to think staying in school and continuing a path to education would be a worse way to escape poverty.

What's worse is the theory that most wealth is accumulated by serendipity. A fool and his million dollar NBA contract are often quickly parted.

Blogger WeRDevos -- 4/13/2006 12:54 PM  

I always find this an interesting argument, as most of the people weighing in and making judgements about the young men turning pro NEVER would have had the same opportunity or have lived in the same circumstances. It's all about opportunity cost. The cost faced by these students is something almost no commentator has ever faced.

As a previous posted noted (tommie), it's not always the "best" thing to do, for draft status, etc. Injury is always a possibility and for those whose familes are not as well off, it could change their situation quite dramatically.

College will still be an option, should they choose it. Going pro isn't. While some students will enjoy and relish the extra year, for others it will be a struggle.

If I'd had the opportunity to "go pro" in something, taking millions of dollars as a sophomore, it would have been hard to say no--of course, those opportunities don't exist for female economists.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/13/2006 1:08 PM  

Funny, I have been posting the same thoughts on Noah on A Grant Hill is another great example of this. He could have went pro before his senior year but instead stayed because there was no financial need for him to leave school. He was going to be well off even if he didn't play in the NBA. Same can be said for Noah. NBA fans need to understand that socio-economics is a determing factor of most of the decisions and actions of these players...We should all consider that before judging them

Blogger Nate -- 4/13/2006 1:10 PM  

werdevos posted: "A fool and his million dollar NBA contract are often quickly parted."

Do you have the data which suggests this, or is this just your own opinion?

Anonymous Lance -- 4/13/2006 2:36 PM  

"Odd to think staying in school and continuing a path to education would be a worse way to escape poverty."

Not odd at all.

Say you are a player who's pretty much guaranteed to be a high first round pick. Sure, you can stay and earn a degree, but you can also go back to college after your playing career - just because you're not eligible to play, doesn't mean you're not eligible to attend school.

Also, a college degree is only worth the paper it's printed on. If a kid grew up poor, chances are, he hadn't acquired life skills and safety nets that middle class kids take for granted. Which is to say, although a college degree certainly helps, it's certainly not a one-way ticket from poverty to middle class.

In contrast, a player taken in the first round is guaranteed a couple of million dollars, a 3-to-4-year window to work for the next payday, and if it hasn't worked out at the end of the rookie contract, then you still have a nice chunk of capital to start your next career or go back to school.

If you have a safety net like Noah and Grant Hill, great, they can risk another year of unpaid ball to make themselves more valuable. But if you're Tyrus Thomas and your value will never be higher and you don't have a safety net, it would be reckless and idiotic not to take the money now.

Blogger spinachdip -- 4/14/2006 2:31 PM  

Noah came back because Corey Brewer decided to come back. That's actually pretty common knowledge.

And if anyone knows Corey Brewer's situation then they know that if there's ever been a player in need of money it is him. Yet he stayed, which shows that these kids aren't driven by the green, whether they come from poor families or not. This unique situation goes alot deeper than that. I wouldn't write these guys(Noah, Brewer and Horford) off as early entries for the 2007 draft, just yet.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/10/2007 2:52 PM  

thank you

Anonymous kurtlar -- 2/11/2009 6:04 PM  

Post a Comment