The one-and-done era may be finally coming to an end, and it is about time.
On Thursday, Jeff Zillgitt with USA Today reported that "the NBA has submitted to the National Basketball Players Association a formal proposal that will lower the draft-eligible age to 18 from 19." The age change would not occur until the 2022 draft to give teams time to adjust, but the hope is that the NBA and NBAPA would sign an agreement in the coming months.
The one-and-done rule, which banned player from joining the league until they were 19 years old and one year out of high school, has been under harsh, deserved criticism as of late. The Zion Williamson knee injury serves as a further example of the injustice of the NCAA, where players built a league which topped $1 billion in revenue in 2018 but gives not a cent to those on the court who risk injury.
And there is the simple ridiculousness of watching this college spectacle where coaches recruit high-school superstars to play for them for one year, all while everyone knows that the high-schooler could not care less for his college and sees it as a temporary sojourn before his real stop in the professional leagues.
There is little denying that this rule should be abolished and high schoolers should be able to join the NBA. But it is important to take a step back and understand why the NBA banned high schoolers in 2006 after drafting high schoolers became accepted in 1995. A failure to understand risks repeating this cycle over again, as teams and players may conspire once again to ban high schoolers for their own self-interested reasons.
High Schoolers in the NBA
NBA legend Moses Malone was the first high-schooler to join a professional league in 1974, but drafting high-schoolers did not become accepted until the mid-1990s. The entry of Kevin Garnett into the 1995 NBA Draft and Kobe Bryant in 1996, and their subsequent success, broke that taboo. From 1995 to 2005, 39 players were drafted out of high school. Like college players, some were successful like LeBron and some like Eddy Curry and most infamously Kwame Brown were not.
But as the practice became more popular, multiple groups had grievances against the policy. NBA scouts complained that it was harder to scout high school players given the levels of competition and injury requiring the need for medical supplies. And it is important to note that in the one and done era, there have been high school superstars who struggled in college, saw their draft stock fall a year later, and never came even close to stardom. Perry Jones III and Shabazz Muhammad are prominent examples, with Harrison Barnes as a lesser example since he has built a respectable NBA career.
Meanwhile, the NCAA also complained that with high schoolers jumping straight to the NBA, their talent pool shrunk and NCAA interest waned. NBA journeymen also worried that an influx of 18-year olds would increase competition for limited NBA roster spots, potentially putting themselves out of work. These were the main impetuses behind the decision to ban high schoolers from playing in 2006.
The policy was sold as one which would benefit everyone. The NCAA would benefit from increased talent. The NBA would benefit as executives would be able to scout players in college. And the players?
Well, they got the benefit of a free college education which was totally worth the stories of players being unable to buy food nor the jerseys which were popularized with their labor. So there is that.
Beware the Backlash
None of the above is to suggest that Adam Silver and the NBA are taking the wrong approach. The NBA should absolutely allow players to join the league straight out of high school. But even when such a ban ends, I will hardly be surprised if powerful interests a few years afterwards will begin agitating for another ban on high schoolers.
They will point to those high schoolers who do bust and claim that it is too hard to evaluate high school players, all while ignoring that the same is true in college basketball. They will complain that NCAA talent has declined, even though The Ringer points out that one-and-done teams don't perform well in March Madness compared to those teams with experience. They will complain that there is too much competition for NBA roster spots, even though 39 players spread out over a decade is a drop in a bucket. Shall the NBA ban all foreign players to decrease competition?
The NBA 13 years ago may have presented the ban of high schoolers as a win-win situation, but it is the end of the ban which will actually do so. The result will be a better, more competitive product, the end of the ridiculous spectacle of the one-and-done, and a world where players with talent can able to collect a real paycheck instead of spending a year on the NCAA plantation.