Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Is This Argument Jermaine?

My friend Eric McErlain at the excellent sports site Offwing Opinion discusses Indiana Pacers' center Jermaine O'Neal's potentially inflammatory view that the NBA's proposed minimum draft-entry age limit of 20 for players. O'Neal asserts:

"As a black guy, you kind of think [race is] the reason why it's coming up.
"You don't hear about it in baseball or hockey. To say you have to be 20, 21 to get in the league, it's unconstitutional. If I can go to the U.S. Army and fight the war at 18 why can't you play basketball for 48 minutes?" O'Neal said.

Eric agrees to a point -- the rather arbitrary nature of the suggested move. However, as two of his readers note, regardless of how much Commissioner David Stern and NBA owners want this instituted, they wouldn't have a chance in the world if it wasn't something that the NBA players union also supports. And the players themselves -- depsite the influx of European players -- is still upwards of 75 percent black. Are those players being racist tryint to keep some other black kids out? Hardly.

Something to keep in mind is that, of the four (three-point-five, including hockey) major North American sports, the National Basketball Association has the fewest players teams (twelve on each roster, versus 23 in hockey, 28 in baseball and 45 in football). That's a very small pool with a lot of fish wanting to get into it.

Thus it is in both the union's and the league's best interest to keep high-school age players out. Such a situation means lower costs for the owners and enhanced job security for veteran players. Heck, if they could get away with it, they'd probably try to keep more college graduates out (keep in mind that the proposed rule change would force most basketball players to go to college for at least two years).

Jermaine O'Neal is one of an increasing number of players who realized that they were ready for professional basketball while they were leaving high school. Those numbers include Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Amaire Stoudamire, Sebastian Telfair, etc. etc. No wonder current players would want to keep the numbers down.

Which raises an interesting question, the answer to which I will happily defer to lawyers and other experts of professional sports law: At some point, if a minimum-age rule was instituted, would one or more HS students sue the NBA and the players association, charging that the collective bargaining agreement amounts to an illegal restraint of trade. In essence, the argument would be that the CBA creates a de facto cartel conspiring to keep individuals from pursuing their livelihood.

How ironic would it be that the players union could end up being broken, not by the league (as the NHL is attempting to do), but by other, younger players who see their interests wildly divergent from the veteran-dominated union? Any up-and-coming HS student would have a good case by just pointing to the aforementioned James, Bryant, Garnett, et. al. as examples of being able to succeed under the age of 20.

Again, I defer to Eric and his legions of sports-niks for their observations on what might happen in such a scenario.

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