One and dumb: Thoughts on NBA eligibility from The Jersey Shore

My great-grandma is 95 years old. She still mows the lawn,

remarried after losing her husband of 69 years and sends me a

five-dollar bill every year on my birthday.

Sometimes I wonder if she knows about Snooki. To a woman born

in 1915, the thought of a young woman who openly celebrates

vulgarity and welcomes cameras documenting her sexual exploits is

probably overwhelming.

I figure 99-year-old John Wooden experiences those same

feelings when he watches basketball these days. His mentor and

coach at Purdue, Ward “Piggy” Lambert, refused to

participate in tournaments held at Madison Square Garden because

“he felt Madison Square Garden’s commercialization

invited temptation and trouble for college athletes…”

That was in 1927.

Back in November, I got the chance to sit down with legendary

Purdue coach, Gene Keady. Even though I was pretty sure I knew what

his answer would be, I decided to ask his take on NBA eligibility

rules. No shocker there. Much like Coach Wooden, Keady wasn’t

a fan.

Just as feminists and women’s rights activists are

often caught in between the desire for empowerment and, well,

Snooki, the basketball community struggles to find a balance

between tradition and progression.

Tradition says go to college, get a job during the offseason,

stay four years, graduate and, ideally, marry your high school

sweetheart soon after. John Wooden was an English teacher, after

all. Try picturing Rick Pitino teach Hamlet. Well, maybe he has

some insight there…

Anyway, the point is that (in case no one else has noticed)

things have changed. My dad has coached high school basketball in

downtown Phoenix for thirty years. Although he’s not much of

a complainer, I’ve noticed that his job as a coach has gotten

more difficult over time. Before you even step on the floor,

you’re listening to fourteen year olds talk about going to

the League. How do they know? Well, because their

“trainer” told them so, of course. Add to that the

struggles that come with being the only male authority in most of

their lives, and you have some problems.

How do you convince a kid to make personal sacrifices for the

good of the team when in his mind, he’s on a fast track to

making millions if he looks out for number one. “Pass? Why

pass? That’s costing me money, man.”

As much as it’s in my nature to say that young men

should be required to go to college and learn somethin’

before they enter the NBA, the old dogma doesn’t work

anymore. Requiring a waiting period of one year after expected high

school graduation (no, they aren’t required to earn a high

school diploma) is just as silly.

Problem 1

To many, college is about making more money. We continue to

tell high school students that the ultimate purpose of college is

not just to be educated, but to be educated so that you can make

more money than someone who is uneducated. Education is a means to

an end.

If natural abilities and talents allow you to be financially

successful without four years of traditional education, why walk

down that road when you can fly?

Problem 2

The “character training” argument is fading fast.

The rapper turned preacher, Mase, said it best when he said

“Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” College coaches

are paid millions of dollars a year to win basketball games.

That’s a few million too many to make character training the

focus of most programs. In fact, many programs have turned to

character disguising instead. “Don’t put your pictures

on Facebook. Make your Twitter profile private. What happens in the

locker room, stays in the locker room.”

One coach’s press conference discussing extortion from

an extramarital affair in a local restaurant and money paid for

“health insurance” after an untimely and inconvenient

pregnancy and you can hear mothers asking “…and

I’m supposed to send my boy here to become a man?”

Don’t worry though mom,


is a Choice.

Problem 3

What do Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and Lebron

James have in common? Not college. Why would you want to do things

differently than the guy whose jersey you’re wearing?

Our society tells young men that they are a success when they

attain power and wealth. Don’t plan on hearing the media talk

about the unsuccessful Tiger Woods. The sad truth is that many men

would still jump at the chance to trade lives with him.

Natural ability trumps education in most fields. Ask Rush

Limbaugh, who only has a high school diploma. Simon Cowell? No

college degree. But what about the CEO’s, right? Former Fox

Broadcasting Company’s CEO and Chairman Barry Diller never

went to college. And hey, worst case scenario, who needs a degree

to have your own reality TV show?

Though Kentucky’s freshman phenom, John Wall,

understood the NBA’s eligibility rule, it didn’t deter

him from making his purpose in college clear. When asked about his

impending college choice, Wall simply stated, “I need a coach

to push me to make sure I get to the next level as soon as


At least he’s honest.

Does anyone really believe that one year on a college campus

is going to help the NBA with its image? The one and done guys in

college step foot on campus as celebrities. If anything, this year

only confirms the fact that they are entitled and worthy of special


Bottom line. If the NBA is really serious about the maturity

and preparedness of its employees/investments, they’ll act

like most other lucrative professions do.

Want to be an accountant? Gotta pass a test. Attorney? Test.

Doctor? Test. Prove that you understand the responsibility that

comes with your paycheck. Prove that you respect the game and its

fans, and understand the magnitude of the brand you represent.

Prove it.

You don’t pass? Maybe four years of college will help.

My dad’s go to response whenever I don’t

understand why someone does something unethical is “Sam,

follow the money.” The older I get, the more I see how real

that is. The NBA isn’t willing to lose four years of young

money so that players can develop off the court. Even one is

pushing it.

By requiring a one-year waiting period, they give the

illusion of caring about the education of their players, and still

throw the NCAA a bone by providing them one year of the John Wall


NBA guys have a players union to look out for their best

interests. NCAA guys have their moms.

In a recent conversation with an NBA scout I was convinced

that basketball is changing.

Hi, Mom. Meet Snooki.

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