Adam Silver talked about it.
And then Chad Ford wrote about it. And Amin Elhassan wrote about it. Jay Bilas and Jeff Goodman wrote about it. Kevin Pelton wrote about it. And David Thorpe wrote about it. Tom Haberstroh wrote about it. And then Chad Ford wrote some more about it. So did Jeff Goodman.
And those are just recent espn.com pieces. (eds note: Many or all of those are “Insider” links that require a subscription to read.)
Last year, Steve Kerr helped get this ball rolling toward an increased age minimum for NBA basketball players. In “The Case for the 20-Year-Old Age Limit in the NBA,” written for Grantland, Kerr… well, made the case for the 20-year-old age limit in the NBA. His basic point is that it makes good business sense for the NBA to increase its age minimum from 19 to 20. He listed six basic reasons: Player maturity, financial costs, player development, marketing, “a sense of team,” and mentoring.
Kerr’s piece, and the entire notion of having an age minimum (let alone raising it) has invited mixed reactions. Those ESPN articles and many others contain some combination of the following opinions about this contentious issue:
* 18 and 19 year old kids are not ready for NBA basketball or the lifestyle it involves. They should go to college, get an education, and continue to grow up. Also, get off my lawn.
* Who is Adam Silver to say what 18 and 19 year olds should do with their lives? If they’re good enough to get drafted by an NBA team, they should have that choice and not be forced to get an education that they don’t even want.
* But they’re not actually good enough to play. Not most of them anyway. They get drafted for their potential.
* NBA scouting would improve with an additional year of performance to analyze.
* No it wouldn’t. Look back at the drafts before Kevin Garnett began the early-entry habit. Sam Bowie and Michael Jordan each played three college seasons. Spoiled with that trove of data, the Portland Trail Blazers selected the former over the latter in the worst draft mistake in league history. And that is not an isolated incident. The draft is a crapshoot and it doesn’t really matter if teams have one, two, or zero college seasons to analyze.
* College basketball is a better place for young players to develop their skills.
* NBA basketball is a better place for young players to develop their skills.
* Increasing the age minimum will be good for the college game, as star players will have to play for two seasons instead of one. And a good college game is ultimately good for the pro game. It increases the marketability of young pros, as more “casual” fans will recognize them from their college days.
* Yeah, it will help the college game, but that’s terrible for the NBA. It’s helping out a competitor for TV ratings and fan interest. How is this a good idea?
What I find most interesting about these arguments is that they are always focused on either the interests of the players, or the interests of the league. They are rarely, if ever, focused on the interests of basketball fans. It seems to be this way in any coverage of sports labor issues. In order to write something about it, you necessarily must be an advocate for one of the parties. The discourse — and this is probably more on Twitter than in published articles — also tends to be ideological. The facts of any particular sports-labor issue take a backseat to the need to choose a side between ownership and the players union. There are parallels to the deep divide between America’s two political parties.
Forgive me then, for my selfishness here. When I think about NBA labor issues in 2014, I tend to place my interests as a fan and paying customer ahead of the interests of the owners and players. And in the case of this age minimum issue, I would like to see Adam Silver get his wish. I want a higher age minimum in my NBA that I pay money to watch. For two main reasons.
First, with an increased NBA age minimum would come more good basketball to watch.
This is pretty much inarguable. In the NBA, an increased age minimum would mean that the worst teams — the ones that just picked at the top of the draft — would be better than they are under the current rules. They would be better because their recently-drafted rookie would be older and more experienced, and therefore more able to help his team win basketball games. There would be less on-the-job training.
Outside of the NBA, an increased age minimum would mean that the best 19 year olds would be dominating inferior competition instead of struggling to keep their heads above water in the pro game. I don’t think I’m alone in finding dominance more entertaining than struggles. You had more fun watching Anthony Davis at Kentucky than you did watching him as a rookie in New Orleans. Same with Texas Kevin Durant versus Supersonics Kevin Durant. (No really, you did.) Imagine how great they would’ve been as a sophomores. It would’ve been [even more] incredible to watch.
I should add that I think increasing the age minimum to 20 would lead to a second marketable professional league in America. That could be the NBA Developmental League, or a new independent league. I wrote about this already. I don’t care if it’s college or pro, but it would be fun to see the best 18 and 19 year olds playing at a lower level than the NBA; a level where they can look like stars.
My second reason for wanting a higher age minimum is that I enjoy watching rookies, and wish that they were better than they are now.
The NBA regular season is way too long, and after a certain point in time we get a little bit bored by watching the same players. Or, as it is more commonly phrased, we begin to “take them for granted.” I mentioned that it’s more fun to write about Shabazz Muhammad than Kevin Love, because I’m just getting to know Shabazz as a player. I know what Love is. (Not Forrest Gump voice.) I also have a pretty clear idea of what LeBron’s game looks like, and mostly just wait to see it tested in the late rounds of the playoffs. When surfing League Pass on a Wednesday night in February, I’d rather watch Anthony Bennett or Victor Oladipo.
The freshness (newness?) quality of rookies is vital to the NBA’s regular season entertainment value. We need new faces, new skill sets, and new personalities to renew our interest in these games. And it’s easier to generate that interest in players that are actually, you know, good at basketball.
Do you remember watching Shaquille O’Neal as a rookie? Or Chris Webber? How about Tim Duncan? They were incredible players that were instantly relevant as competitors. Their rookie experiences were very unlike Kevin Durant’s or Kyrie Irving’s. Or even LeBron James’s. If you’re old enough to remember what experienced rookies look like, you probably agree with my belief that they were more fun to watch than the modern-day one and dones.
So for those two reasons, my opinion is that the league should increase the age minimum to 20.