Enough already: High school stars should be able to go directly to NBA

It was not long ago that the nation was gripped in public debate about a 14-year-old Taylor Swift moving to Nashville to pursue a music career. Remember the concern for the future of the child actors starring in the Harry Potter movies?

Of course not. This did not happen.

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Just like there was no hand-wringing in 2007 when at 18 Patrick Kane became a professional hockey player for the Blackhawks. Just like there was no national discourse in 2011 when the Cubs made Javier Baez a professional baseball player out of a Florida high school.

Indeed, our culture applauds prodigies and rightly encourages their youthful pursuit of their passions.

But not when it comes to basketball.

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Gifted players such as Jahlil Okafor, Jabari Parker and Anthony Davis must wait.

“Come on,” said Nick Irvin, AAU coach of Mac Irvin Fire, which annually fields elite pro-level talent. “Look at tennis players, golfers. They turn pro early too. It’s like, why basketball? Why are you putting the stipulation on them? It’s not right.”

While other leagues have draft rules regarding age, there is far more — frankly too much — control and hypocrisy dictating when basketball players can jump to the NBA.

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The current one-and-done rule is laughable and ineffective. Worse, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is touting a rule that essentially requires players to complete two seasons in college to produce more finished products for the league.

The NFL has the most restrictive policy, with players needing to be out of high school three years to be eligible for the draft. The NFL understandably has this rule to prevent players who are not fully developed from entering the league and getting injured.

But among all sports, basketball players are arguably the most skill-ready to play professionally out of high school. If he’s not ready, don’t draft him.

The National Basketball Players Association will vehemently fight a two-year rule. More players may opt to immediately play professionally overseas out of high school.

The NBA should abolish age requirements and strengthen its developmental league by creating 30 team associations instead of using colleges as its farm system.

The argument isn’t all business though.

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The majority of players drafted are African-American. Many are from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds whose families would benefit in life-changing ways from lucrative contracts.

An air of moral superiority is often offensively and hypocritically inserted into the unnecessary debate: Basketball players need an education. They aren’t ready to handle the financial windfall. They’ll succumb to the fame.

“I think there is a racial implication there,” said Andrew Zimbalist, an economist who worked as an NBPA consultant. “They’re being told, ‘We know what’s best for you. We’re going to paternalistically not allow you to do what you want to do.'”

Duke one-and-doner Okafor, potentially the No. 1 pick this year, should have had the right to immediately turn his gift into his teenage profession. Just like other stars.

sryan@tribpub.com

Twitter @sryantribune

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