When the NBA instituted its useless "one-and-done" rule for college players in 2006, the uproar that accompanied took moralizing to a whole new level. The rule requires players to attend at least a year of college or to wait a year after the graduation of their high school class before they can earn draft eligibility.
The debate has made for some unlikely bedfellows.
On one side are sweet-minded soldiers for education who dream of a world where everyone receives a college degree, allied with narrow-minded haters who are spiteful of the idea of unworthy kids cashing in on their unique physical gifts.
On the other side are capitalist absolutists who believe no rule should prevent a human being from exercising his earning power in the free market, teamed up with anti-establishment eggheads who want the man to 'stop keeping them down, bro.'
They all have their points, right and wrong. And almost all of them overlook the fundamental problem with the "one-and-done" rule.
Namely, that some players have no reason to play in college, other than this arbitrary rule.
This was the thought that primarily came to mind Monday night, when Duke guard Austin Rivers formally declared for the NBA draft in June. Immediately, the wisdom of Rivers' decision was parsed from multiple angles. Rivers' father, Celtics coach Doc Rivers, was asked several times in recent days whether his son was making the "right" decision.
Doc Rivers, who has learned how to play the media game in 13 years as an NBA player and 13 more as an NBA coach, smartly deflected the trap.
"Listen, he's my son," Doc Rivers said. "I'm happy with his decision."
Even if Rivers was not able to get the Blue Devils past 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament, it was difficult to see how another season or two in the declining Atlantic Coast Conference would help him improve his game. Like many players before and surely many to come after him, Rivers is the type of player who had nothing to gain from playing in college. In fact, it was Duke and the NCAA that gained the most by being able to market a player of Rivers' caliber, if only for a season.
Watching LeBron James and Dwight Howard play as rookies, it was laughable to think that anyone, anywhere, could insist that either player would have benefited from a few first-semester courses in bio science or Eastern philosophy. James belonged to a world where at least a few humans could match his comic book superhero size and athleticism. He had nothing to gain in some suburban-rural outpost where he could trample an innocent kid from Iowa who hoped to impress his coach by trying to take a charge.
It is equally absurd to observe DeMarcus Cousins' attitude or JaVale McGee's antics and think that their year or two in college changed the slightest aspect of their personalities.
At 6-foot-4 and a smidgen over 200 pounds, Rivers was too wiry and too athletic for the majority of his college opponents. He is not guaranteed to succeed in the NBA, but as a professional he will have unlimited access to the best coaches and equipment, as well as the personal wealth to forget about all his other concerns and simply immerse himself in basketball. Best of all, he won't have to pretend he is a "normal" student just so he can keep from running afoul of the NCAA.
College can wait. The NBA won't. Many of the longest NBA careers are finished before the player turns 40 years old, whereas countless workers — present company included — return to school after serving in the workforce. Education has been around for centuries; it won't be gone in 15 years when Rivers starts to think about the next stage of his life.
One and done? More like a one-year delay. Rivers is headed to the NBA, which is where he belonged in the first place.
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