Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Monday, June 23, 2008
The New Republic's Feature Article on Sonny Vaccaro

In this week's The New Republic, Jason Zengerle has a terrific, in-depth (nearly 6,000 words) article on basketball legend Sonny Vacarro and his arguments against the NCAA and the current age eligibility rule for the NBA draft. I was interviewed for the article, which is entitled The Pivot. Here are a few excerpts:

* * *

As a shoe company executive, an all-star game organizer, and a summer camp and tournament operator, the 68-year-old Vaccaro has been one of the most powerful--and controversial--men in basketball for nearly three decades. He is the sport's ultimate insider, the man who brokered the marriage between Michael Jordan and Nike that gave birth to Air Jordan; plucked a 15-year-old Tracy McGrady from basketball obscurity in rural Florida and put him on the path to NBA stardom; and played godfather to myriad successful college basketball coaches, most notably Ben Howland, who reportedly owes his job at UCLA to Vaccaro's lobbying . . . When the NBA holds its annual draft on June 28 in New York City, Vaccaro will be there as the guest of at least three players expected to be taken in the first round. As one of those players, O.J. Mayo, who began keeping Vaccaro's counsel as a ninth-grader, has put it: "Sonny's kind of a man in the back."

* * *
Vaccaro believes the NCAA is fraudulent for two fundamental reasons: The first is that the NCAA is more devoted to business than to education; and the second is that the NCAA makes its money by exploiting the talents of the young men it is supposed to be educating. "They're not good people, the NCAA," Vaccaro told me. "It's a one-sided street; all the money goes to them." Vaccaro is revolted by the hypocrisy that's become engrained in the culture of college athletics--the insistence that the athletes are students, that the coaches are teachers (not "mercenaries" and "hired guns," as he calls them), and that "college sports," as NCAA president Myles Brand has declared, "is not a business." If Vaccaro's life is a testament to anything, it's that college sports is a business. And his new mission is to ensure that the people who contribute most to that business, the athletes, get something in return. "My goal," Vaccaro says, "is to get freedom for these kids."

* * *
In the meantime, Vaccaro is looking for ways to circumvent the "one-and- done" rule. The most promising avenue lies overseas. Two years ago, he was on the verge of brokering a deal for two American high-school stars to play one season for a professional team in Israel, but he scotched the idea because of Israel's conflict with Hezbollah. "The guy from the team was telling me, 'Sonny, the bombs don't come to Jerusalem,' but I couldn't let them go there," Vaccaro recalls. (Both players went to college instead.) Vaccaro is now looking for other young hoops phenoms who'd be interested in playing overseas for the year they'd otherwise be in college before coming back to enter the NBA draft. "I need Jackie Robinson; I need a guy who can stand this," he says. "And I think I'll have one."

* * *

For the rest The Pivot, click here. For other Sports Law Blog coverage of Sonny Vaccaro, including discussion of his recent talks at Harvard Law School and Yale Law School, among other schools, click here.


I've always wondered why American professional sports didn't follow the example of the English soccer teams. these teams recruit players at a young age, train them and educate them. Look at David Beckham. Manchester United signed him at age 12 IIRC

why can't basketball and baseball do the same thing

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/23/2008 7:32 PM  

Post a Comment