Recently, the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) developmental league commonly referred to as the “G-League” announced salary raises, giving G-League teams the ability to offer contracts worth up to $125,000 for a season. This move is targeted to attracting high school basketball stars who normally would be “one and done” players in college. But, would players want to go and play in the G-League over starring at the collegiate level? And, why is this seen as a potential solution to the “one and done” structure in college when the NBA could in theory get rid of the one year between high school and the NBA requirement for players hoping to join the NBA? Let’s take a deeper look at some of the legal and practical issues at play regarding entrance into the NBA.
First, let’s take a look at the issue at hand. This one and done issue is simply tied to the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). For those that don’t know, the CBA is an agreement between the NBA, which is comprised of the 30 NBA team owners with the NBA Commissioner currently Adam Silver serving as the point figure representing those 30 owners, and the National Basketball Player’s Association (NBPA), which is comprised of all NBA eligible players, a key distinction that will present itself later on so key note of it. In 2005, the NBA and NBPA came to a new CBA that included a change to the NBA eligibility requirement. Prior to 2005, players who completed high school and were 18 years old were eligible for the NBA draft. While there were a multitude of successful high schoolers going to the NBA and turning into stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett, unsuccessful stories were also apparent. With more and more high school players declaring for the NBA draft, NBA team owners wanted to raise the eligibility age level and requirements for players so that owners weren’t wasting their money and assets on players that didn’t develop into the players they hoped. The NBA owners, represented by then Commissioner David Stern, proposed to raise the eligibility age to 20 years old. The NBPA refused and eventually the two sides agreed to raising the eligibility age to a 19-year-old requirement to join the NBA. This has required high school players to attend college for a year, play in another professional league whether that is somewhere else in America (perhaps the G-League) or other leagues around the world, or sit out an entire year. The problem with this whole process is that it doesn’t bring the people who are affected by that decision to the bargaining table because the NBPA doesn’t represent high school players who are affected.
One of the few instances where a player contested the age requirement to enter a league was Maurice Clarett. Clarett contested the National Football League’s (NFL) eligibility requirement of entering the league after 3 years of being removed from high school and being 21 years old. Initially, Clarett won the trial case but the appellate court reversed his case on the grounds of the CBA between the NFL and the NFLPA saying the jurisdiction was not in the court system but fell within the National Labor Relations Board’s jurisdiction. After years of fighting the NFL, Clarett got drafted though on the same eligibility timeline he would have been drafted anyway, essentially losing the fight because he couldn’t return back to college once he signed with an agent in hopes of declaring for the NFL.
The G-League teams are mostly in non-major cities like New York and are more geared towards a regional audience in a lesser-known city. Because of this and less publicity than college basketball, the G-League raising their salaries for top-level players is pretty meaningless, as I don’t foresee this move many making much of a difference in the top high school talent’s mind. The G-League is also a bit of a lonely place for the top high school players as the organizations aren’t as invested in those players as some colleges could be. The players would also be playing with people that are trying to reach the same point as them, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see those high school players playing in the G-League not getting the amount of time and usage that they would get in college. For these reasons, the G-League salary raise isn’t going to make much of a difference.
There have been talks between the NBA and the NBPA to lower the age requirement again and go back to the 18-year-old age requirement. In the meantime, the NBA, however, has raised the G-League salary levels to hopefully attract the 18 year old that would rather make money playing basketball in America than spending a year in college. In some leagues like the NFL, I can understand the age requirement because that league is much more physically demanding and difficult for high school players to go directly to the NFL than other leagues. There is, however, ample evidence suggesting that the difference between some of the top high school players and the NBA is not as great as the NFL. For this reason, the NBA should allow players to come straight out of high school and be eligible for the NBA draft. If players do not go straight out of high school to the NBA draft, then they should be required to spend two years in college or another league before being eligible again for the NBA draft, this rule is similar to the structure in Major League Baseball (MLB). Together, this method pleases both sides of the CBA in a much better way as the NBA owners can get a much better evaluation on guys who don’t declare directly from high school while getting the most talented high school players in the NBA and the NBPA keeps the interest of its players best at heart because it allows the top players to come into the league while protecting veteran players from being replaced by rookies.