Column: The proper driving age for the NBA

Tim Duncan just may be the most boring man in sports.

If he were a food product, he’d be bread. If he were a book, he’d be the phone directory.

But Duncan gets the job done as evidenced by last night’s Game 7 performance to help the Spurs win their second NBA title in three years.

He’s also a college graduate.

The new six-year NBA labor deal that saved basketball from the fate of hockey increased the age players can join the league at from 18 to 19, which means many of the high school athletes who wish to go straight to the pros will have to spend a year at college.

Haters of this new deal will point to Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudemire and Lebron James as proof that players can excel in the NBA even if they opt out of college ball. All are successful athletes with the ability to dominate a game.

But they have not succeeded in the NBA.

Success is measured by championships. Sorry Charles Barkley. The only player out of those five to win an NBA championship is Kobe Bryant. And those three NBA championships weren’t because of him, but because of college grad Shaquille O’Neal, who was the most dominant player the NBA has ever seen during those three years.

The other four have never even won a conference championship.

Take a glance at the two teams in the NBA championship this year, the Spurs and the Pistons. All of the players on both teams either went to college or played in Europe before coming to the NBA.

The youngest player on either team—Darko Milicic, who just celebrated his 18th birthday—has been going steady with the bench the past two seasons.

The “experts” will tell anybody who’ll listen that college doesn’t help talented athletes. Many say that college is detrimental to high school athletes because they could be learning NBA skills during that time.

But that’s not the case. Team basketball is about a lot more than a player’s ability to jump and shoot. It’s about leadership, performing under pressure, dealing with adversity and being someone like Duncan who helps those around him or her become a better basketball player.

These things are learned to an extent at the high school level, but they are polished in college or the European leagues. Nothing in high school basketball is anything like the crowds and the pressure associated with college basketball and March Madness. Many of these players will face that type of pressure for the first time at the professional level.

The high school players simply aren’t ready to lead an NBA team to a championship.

Bryant ended up going to court through most of the 2004 playoffs. McGrady has been a notoriously bad teammate when things aren’t going his way. Garnett crumbles when playing for a championship despite having a talented team around him the past few years. James couldn’t even lead his team to the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference this year.

Changes needed to be made, and the league came though. I applaud the NBA for increasing the age limit. It will only improve the product being put out on the floor.


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