It would take a far longer piece that I am going to write here, but just a couple of things that have been in the sports news the last couple of days have required (to me) that I speak my piece.
On Saturday I participated in a Philadelphia area sports talk show on radio. One of the topics was the lowly Philadelphia 76ers who have now lost their last 20 games. They are bad, but what is worse some are accusing them of “tanking” games to improve their draft prospects. Everytime I hear that work “tanking” I am bothered by the way it is used.
As one who was doing television play by play for the Houston Rockets in the seasons in which they wound up with first picks in the NBA draft and came out with Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon respectively I have been sensitive to the subject. You see, I don’t discount that team management of the Rockets (twice) or 76ers or even the Houston Astros in the last days of the Drayton McLain regime didn’t do everything necessary to win, but don’t ever accuse the players on the court or field of “tanking”. That would be the equivalent of throwing games like the 1919 Chicago Black Sox. The players on the Rockets, 76ers and Astros are totally innocent. Every one of those players who was on the court or field played as hard as they could. They didn’t “tank” anything.
No, the blame, if it is deserved at all, has to go to the team management from ownership down to the coaches. Which players are traded away and which players actually see action are what can make a team better–or worse. That is a decision made above the player’s level. All they can do is play as hard as they can when the get a chance.
Professional athletes want to have as long and as lucrative career as they can. They have to compete on as high a level as they can to make that happen. And they do. The don’t “tank.”
NBA DRAFT ELIGIBILITY SHOULD COPY BASEBALL
The Commissioner of the Big 12 Conference made a suggestion that it would be nice if the NBA listened. He felt the league should eliminate the often criticized “one and done” rule which requires all potential players just out of high school to attend college at least one year before being eligible to be drafted. All the rule really has done has helped the NBA use college basketball as a minor league training ground for a season, but has not helped the colleges much at all and made that year of “schooling” a farce.
It has cut down on the number of high school seniors who over-value themselves only to find themselves in the basketball vagabond life after they fail to make an NBA team and are now without amateur eligibility. However, the number of future NBA players who put up with one year of college by registering for the fewest and easiest classes their first semester, then rarely, if ever, even attend class the second shows the weakness in the current rule.
If the NBA did what MLB has done for years in regard to amateur athletes things would be much better.
Allow the NBA to draft anyone who has finished high school. Players would no longer have to declare their intention and give up their amateur status. If the draft position is not as high as the player would like he would have the option to go to college. He could play in Europe or anywhere except in the NBA or the NBA controlled D-League.
If the player elects to attend college he would be committed to stay until he had completed his junior season or turned 21. That is most of the college baseball/MLB rule. The player could also stick around for his senior season if he doesn’t like where he was drafted. Again, being drafted would have no bearing on his amateur status if he had not signed a contract.
With baseball players are allowed to start at a junior college and be drafted after each year. I they don’t sign they can transfer to a four year college. After one year they are normally 21 and can be drafted again. They also have the option of staying.
In other words a player who goes through all four years of post-high school could be drafted as many as five times. He has options and so do the schools.
The NBA wins in this because they get more developed players. The colleges win because they will be able to retain and develop real student-athletes and not faux student-real athletes. If the junior colleges option were also included those schools might have some more talented players in their gyms, but most of the special talents who are not ready to sign out of high school may opt for the higher level of competition in the NCAA’s top division.
This plan or at least something similar should be introduced by the NBA. Players would still have the “right to work” but the college game would be protected and populated with players who will be around a while developing their basketball, life and academic skills as colleges were established to teach.