NBA to rescue Final Four?

Don't you believe it. The league's likely new age limit will help owners' bottom lines, not college hoops.

Topics: Basketball, College basketball, LeBron James,

Pretty soon we won’t have to settle for this kind of Final Four anymore.

No more watching weak lame-o’s like Carmelo Anthony of Syracuse and T.J. Ford of Texas, boobs like Dwyane Wade of Marquette — and don’t even get me started on those two clods from Kansas, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich! Those guys are seniors! If they could play they’d be in the NBA, right?

It looks like the good people of the NBA are going to be coming to the rescue of college basketball soon by creating a minimum age of 20 for entry into the league. This brings up a question for me as Anthony, Ford and company prepare to lead their teams into action in the NCAA Tournament semifinals Saturday night at the Superdome in New Orleans.

What is it about Craig Kilborn that fills me with loathing?

Wait, that’s not the question. Here’s the question: Why does anyone who doesn’t own an NBA team think this is a good plan?

The idea behind the minimum age is that players turning pro out of high school or after only a year of college is somehow a bad thing.

From an NBA team owner’s perspective, it’s bad because these guys often have big-time talent that’s undeveloped. The odd Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett aside, 18-year-olds aren’t physically developed, emotionally mature or hoopatorially educated enough to excel in the pros. Even Kobe Bryant didn’t become Kobe Are You Freakin’ Kiddin’ Me Bryant till his third year, when he was 20. All he did when he was 19 was score 15 points a game while averaging 26 minutes, which by his current standards was just sort of OK.

Spencer Haywood, whose lawsuit against the NBA three decades ago won players the right to play in the league before their college class graduated, now agrees with the idea of an age limit, “but there are some guys, like LeBron James, who are ready,” he told Rocky Mountain News columnist Chris Tomasson. “I think there should be some sort of panel of experts who would decide what players under 20 should be allowed to play in the NBA.”

There already is a panel of experts who decide what players under 20 should be allowed to play in the NBA. They’re called general managers. Their findings are released to the public every year on draft day.



But their bosses don’t like paying teenagers guaranteed seven-figure first-round-pick money for a couple of years while they grow into their talent, often while sitting on the end of the bench. If the teams didn’t think paying an 18- or 19-year-old to sit on the bench and learn was a good investment, they wouldn’t draft them. They’d pick graduating seniors, who usually offer less talent than the phenoms but more polish, maturity and smarts, at least at first. Obviously the kids are a good investment. The owners would just rather someone else pick up the tab.

So hey, why not some university somewhere? The kid won’t get the same kind of basketball education in college that he’d get in the NBA — long before his rookie season ends, an NBA player has done more playing, practicing and learning than he’d do in two years of college ball — but on the other hand, the TV exposure he’ll get as a college star will make him a more marketable commodity once he hits the pros.

And here’s a bonus: The owners get to look like they support education. These kids need to go to college and get some book-learnin’, they get to say. Of course, most of these kids get no such thing. What they get is the chance to either play for free, enriching others, or become expert in the ways of cheating. As Peter Vecsey of the New York Post cracked:, “No, Siree, Bob; we wouldn’t want our kids to miss the value of the university experience.”

From the fan’s perspective, having young ‘uns in the NBA is supposedly bad because it dilutes the college game. Newspaper columns lamenting the disintegration of college basketball usually start like this: “Imagine the NCAA Tournament that might have been. Kwame Brown at Florida instead of underachieving for the Wizards. Tyson Chandler at Arizona instead of averaging nine points a game for the Bulls. Amare Stoudemire at North Carolina instead of” … uh, hang on a second.

But you get the picture.

Listen carefully: College basketball is just fine. The Tournament is just fine. The Final Four is just fine. Are you worried about the dilution of talent? Foreign-born players tend not to go to American colleges anyway, so take a guess how many American players in the NBA weren’t 20 when the season started. Give up?

Four.

That’s right. Four guys. If college basketball is noticeably damaged not to have Dajuan Wagner playing at Memphis, Jamal Sampson playing at Cal, and Amare Stoudemire and Eddy Curry playing wherever they might have gone, it’s past saving.

And even if college basketball has suffered a dilution of talent — and that dilution is caused by because of the loss of juniors and seniors, who would be unaffected by the new age limit — so what? You don’t watch college basketball for the level of play. If you want to see the best basketball players in the world, watch the NBA, now winding up its 82-game preseason schedule and engaged in answering such exciting questions as whether the lousy Milwaukee Bucks or the lousy Washington Wizards will make the playoffs and lose in the first round to Detroit.

What’s great about college basketball is the atmosphere, the intensity, the excitement. There’s a famous story about Magic Johnson’s first NBA game. The Lakers won a close one and the rookie was ecstatic. He hugged Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who looked at him like he was nuts and told him to relax, it was just one game. In college basketball, there’s almost no such thing as just one game. Pretty much every game means something to somebody. Watch the kids in the NCAA Tournament, even the early rounds. When they win they go bananas and when they lose they cry. When was the last time you saw an NBA player do either of those things? Why should he? It’s just a job.

Kwame Brown would be a hell of a college player, I’m sure, but what makes college basketball, and especially the Tournament, special doesn’t require his presence.

Enjoy the Final Four for what it is, the competition of a lifetime for four squads of kids who, even if they’re not the best possible squads in the best of all possible worlds, are still pretty sublime. Wade, Collison and Hinrich are all upperclassmen, so great players sometimes stay in school of their own accord, without the interference of a minimum-age rule whose real purpose has nothing to do with education or better basketball and everything to do with lining the pockets of NBA owners.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

I’ve already clinched defeat in every pool I’m in, whether those in it with me know they’re in it or not, but I thought I’d give you my Final Four predictions, just in case you don’t have enough to ridicule me about.

I had Texas beating Oklahoma in the semifinal, so I’ll take the Longhorns over Syracuse too. The key will be how much Ford will be able to break down the Orange zone defense with slashing drives. My prediction: a lot.

Now that Kentucky is eliminated, the wise guys who didn’t pick Texas, and even some who did, have jumped on the Kansas bandwagon, especially since it seems to be playing out as one of those meant-to-be scenarios for coach Roy Williams to finally get his national title with the Jayhawks, then take the vacant job at his alma mater, North Carolina.

I’m not buying it. Kansas has more talent, but I’m besotted with Dwyane Wade and his sharpshooting teammates, Travis Diener and Steve Novak. I think they have just enough, and Kansas is just vulnerable enough, for Marquette to pull off the upset. Then they’ll lose to Texas.

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>