Should the NBA raise the minimum age for playing in the league, or should the age limit stay where it is or even be abolished? You can count Kevin McHale among those advocating for a higher minimum age, but you can count me among those who think the age limit should be abolished entirely.
Starting with the 2006 NBA draft, players must be one year removed from high school and at least 19 years old to qualify for the draft. This was implemented after a number of players jumped directly from high school to the NBA, and while some were wildly successful (LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant) others have not done so well. But is the rule really necessary? I do not think so.
Part of the problem for the college game is that “one and done” has not only damaged the quality of the game by having fewer talented upperclassmen available, it has also damaged the credibility of the college game by turning the NCAA into a glorified minor league for pro basketball. College basketball is no longer for student athletes – it is for players like Greg Oden and Anthony Davis to work without pay for a year until they can enter the NBA.
It makes little sense to force players to risk injury in college for a token season of college basketball so they can drop out of school after their freshman year. Some of those players would have been ready straight out of high school, and some would not. But the answer to the players who are not emotionally ready and do not have NBA-level skills is not an arbitrary age limit – the answer is for NBA general managers to stop making foolish draft choices.
The maturity argument is silly. We have been sending 18 year old men to fight, kill and die in wars for the entire history of this nation. If someone is old enough to fight, kill and die in war, he is old enough to handle the lavish (if stressful and demanding) lifestyle of a modern NBA player. Again, the problem is that general managers are making foolish draft choices, not the arbitrary age limit. Raising the age limit will not turn a bad general manager into a good one.
In fact, I have not seen a single argument for raising the age limit that would not also be addressed by smarter draft choices and more effective mentoring of young and talented but raw basketball talent. It’s safe to say that this experiment has failed and has distorted the market. It should be abolished.