Last Thursday was the 2017 NBA Draft. For the first time ever, the first seven players selected were all college freshman, causing a debate that has come to define an entire era of college basketball to resurface. Is the so-called “one and done” rule ruining the game?
The rule, put into effect in 2006, states that in order to be eligible for the NBA draft, players must 1) be 19 years old and 2) be one year removed from their high school graduation. The rule was intended as a business decision— at least that was how it was framed by then-commissioner David Stern. It would allow NBA teams to evaluate prospects at a highly competitive level before investing in them. From the onset, however, many claimed that this was nothing more than a veiled attempt at a “social program.”
The unforeseen consequence, however, was what led to the rule’s controversial nickname. More and more athletes are electing to attend the bare minimum one year of college until achieving eligibility, complying with the letter of the law and then abruptly abandoning school for the pros.
Critics point out that millions of dollars are wasted funding scholarships for athletes who have no intention of graduating. Meanwhile, coaches and athletic directors complain that they are left starting from scratch nearly every summer, with entire teams turning over as another round of “one and done’s” declare for the draft. Fans say college basketball isn’t fun anymore.
But what about the athletes? In a world that reveres college dropouts turned millionaires— think Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs— for their ability to be successful without a traditional academic background, athletes are somehow different. The “one and done” rule forces them to forego fortunes and to risk career ending injuries while attending classes essentially against their will, all because the NBA has decided that they are not responsible enough to make their own career decisions.
This smacks of racial injustice, whether intended in the original rule or not. When tech giants, who are almost always white, drop out of college, society applauds their talents and vision and hard earned millions. When black athletes drop out, it’s a different story. Rather than being seen as supremely talented teens with bright futures, they are labeled as troubled youth who need to stay in school. If they don’t agree, their hand should be forced for their own good.
LeBron James is the perfect example of how wrong this opinion really is. James was drafted before the “one and done” rule was put in place. He decided against college and was drafted as an 18-year-old as the number one pick in the 2003 draft. Since then, in addition to becoming one of basketball’s all-time greats, James has assembled a vast business empire that landed him on Forbes’ 2016 list of 40 Richest Entrepreneurs Under 40.
According to Forbes, James’ salary from the Cleveland Cavaliers makes up a mere fraction of his income. James is also an original investor in Blaze Pizza, named “the second fastest restaurant chain in America,” and owns 11 franchises. He also makes millions in endorsements from Nike, Coca-Cola, Upper Deck, Kia Motor and Beats and runs Hollywood production SpringHill Entertainment and multi-platform media company Uninterrupted. Through his LeBron James Family Foundation, James is one of the most generous philanthropists in sports. Last year, his net worth was estimated at $275 million. For James, like Zuckerberg and Jobs and Bill Gates and Travis Kalanick and others, the decision to skip school worked out just fine.
We should embrace the successes of the LeBron Jameses of the world in the same way we do those of the Mark Zuckerbergs. We should celebrate multiple paths to success and not impose traditional power structures on those from different backgrounds or with different goals and priorities. For these reasons, any proposed changes to the “one and done” rule should eliminate the need to attend college at all rather than requiring more of it. Athletes should be free to pursue their own dreams and forge their own futures.