Commentary

NBA should impose 'two-and-done' limit

Stern's expected push to up league's age limit would provide much-needed maturity

Updated: June 23, 2009, 12:04 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The stat was recited repeatedly throughout the NBA Finals, as if it were evidence to conclusively slam the one-and-done rule in college basketball.

Remember?

How many times did you hear that the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic each had two American-born starters who successfully made the jump from high school straight to the real world?

Only one problem with that stat.

No one ever bothered to mention how many members of that quartet were actually NBA-ready when they made the jump. Answer: one out of four at best.

Orlando's Dwight Howard is the only one in that foursome who negotiated the long jump from the preps to the pros with relative smoothness. Rashard Lewis wasn't ready. Andrew Bynum wasn't ready. Not even newly minted NBA Finals MVP Kobe Bryant can make the claim that he was physically and mentally prepared to walk into the Lakers' locker room as a teenager in 1996

That's why NBA commissioner David Stern -- who can't forget the stories of Kwame Brown, Jonathan Bender, Leon Smith, Ndudi Ebi, Gerald Green and other high schoolers that didn't end so happily -- is expected to push for the age limit to be raised to 20 in his next round of talks with the National Basketball Players Association.

It's hard to see Stern winning that negotiating battle in 2011, given how much grief his players' union counterparts have received for agreeing to the one-year-in-school minimum, but it's equally difficult for league officials to accept that this rule is at the root of all of college basketball's recent troubles.

And I'm right there with them. As a certain excitable announcer synonymous with the college game might exclaim: Are you serious?

Please.

Blaming the one-and-done rule for everything is a convenient excuse for college coaches, but doing so supposes that (a) players' leaving school after one season is some sort of new phenomenon and/or (b) college ball's recent scandals at USC (with O.J. Mayo) and Memphis (Derrick Rose) are the first scandals of their kind.

Wrong and wrong.

In the three years since the current age limit was adopted, 27 players left college for the NBA after one season. In the preceding three years, 15 players made the same jump. Drastic increase? Only if you consider four additional one-and-dones every year to be drastic. (Ask yourself this as well: Would all 27 of those guys -- including the likes of Mike Conley, Daequan Cook and Kosta Koufos -- have gone straight into the draft from high school if they had had that option? Highly doubtful.)

As for the scandal part … hilarious. The proliferation of illegal cash transactions, various other types of violations to tempt recruits and corrupt coaches -- if I understand the argument correctly -- all stem from the one-and-done rule? History says otherwise. Loudly.

These sorts of scandals have only plagued college basketball forever. Change the age limit back to 18 … then brace yourself to hear about a new wave of scandals.

So I'm with Stern, Phil Jackson and countless other NBA old heads on this one. Make it a two-and-done minimum. Force kids to stay in school for at least two years before they can go pro.

The Other View: Age Limit Must Go

The one-and-done rule causes more harm than good. Lance Stephenson is just one of the many who can attest to that. Pat Forde.

It would be infinitely better for the college game to have two years of certainty with every recruit and would likewise send players to the big leagues when they're in a better place developmentally to handle it. Kobe and Rashard and Bynum undoubtedly learned the nuances of the pro game at a faster rate by getting to the NBA so quickly, but spending two years on a campus somewhere is almost always going to be a handy bonus when it comes to stepping into adulthood.

I know this is where some of you will scream about how unconstitutional it is to tell an 18-year-old kid that he can't earn a living if he so chooses, but businesses everywhere impose these kinds of restrictions. Just one example: I was fortunate enough to land my first paid newspaper position as a 16-year-old, but it was a (very modest) part-time gig. No newspaper in the country would have hired me full-time without a college degree, even though I had built up six years of supposed seasoning by the time I walked away from the hallowed halls of Cal State Fullerton.

The example Stern loves to give is that it doesn't matter if you "know" how to drive a car at 13 or 14. You can't score an actual driver's license until you're 16. Age limits and other prerequisites, however unfair they might seem, are enforced all over the place at every stage of our lives.

In this case, no one ever talks about the kids who are saved from making a huge mistake because they're too young to declare for the draft … or the fact that no one is forcing one-and-dones to go to college. They can go overseas for a year as Brandon Jennings did if they don't want to add classwork to their basketball education. Or they can play in the D-League for a year.

In this case, furthermore, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is exactly right. It makes no sense to force kids to stay in school for only one year -- which turns colleges, in Coach K's words, into extended-stay hotels -- but don't get sucked into the notion that this is a mess created by the NBA. We repeat: Stern wanted two-and-done all along and had to settle for one-and-done because he couldn't push it any farther.

Responding to the charges of unfairness and specifically the outlandish (and rather supremely insensitive) claim from Tennessee congressman Steve Cohen that the NBA's minimum age of 19 is a "vestige of slavery," Stern said during the Finals: "What the congressman didn't understand -- and we'll be happy to share our view with him -- [is] this is not about the NCAA. This is not an enforcement of some social program. This is a business decision by the NBA, which is [that] we like to see our players in competition after high school. I don't know why our [nation's] founders decided that age 25 was good for Congress, but I guess they thought that was about maturity. And for us, it's different. It's a kind of basketball maturity."

It's a level of maturity that -- based on what we've repeatedly seen since Kevin Garnett became the first player in 20 years to jump from high school directly to the NBA in 1995 -- even the most gifted young hoopsters on the planet frequently don't have when they're 18 or 19.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics