Why the NBA Matters Little to Me
It is not unusual for someone to wax poetic regarding the way things used to be. But I don’t care. All I know is that I liked NBA/NCAA basketball nearly equally growing up, and yet the split now is about 1%/99% now. The only NBA interest I have is seeing where my favorite players go. Unfortunately, the days of my favorite players being drafted are few and far between. You see, the NBA no longer cares about my favorite players. My favorite players are the upperclassmen in college that I have gotten to watch for three or four years. Not the one and dones and two and dones (often having just one year of any production). Case in point, Syracuse’s Jerami Grant being drafted ahead of CJ Fair. And then CJ Fair not even being drafted. NBA GM decisions like that make me not care about the NBA. It is what it is.
I get that younger players have more potential sometimes, but that is not always truly the case. Potential to become a superstar is one thing, potential to be just slightly better than guys you are passing up is another. Having watched CJ Fair for four years, there is nothing that Jerami Grant can do than Fair cannot do. Fair never developed into a great shooter, but Grant is far behind that. He would need improvement just to get to Fair’s level. So if Grant improves, he may catch up to Fair or pass him. But he is not Fair yet, that’s for sure. The athleticism is comparable, as both are more than capable of scoring on layups and dunks. And the Grant/Fair comparisons extend to other curious decisions over the past few decades.
The other issue with players like Fair is that their long stay in college allowed fans of the college game to have a true allegiance to that player. As a Syracuse fan, do I like Grant? Of course. But I feel like I watched Fair grow from a boy into a man. I will root for him wherever he goes. As for Grant? I’ll be interested, but I will have trouble caring. Two years was just not enough to become “attached,” for lack of a better word. Meanwhile, Grant’s career may develop on an NBA roster, or it may die on the vine due to lack of playing time. Who wins in that circumstance? Nobody. Everyone loses. Grant may make a few million dollars, but taxes and other expenses make a few million dollars somewhat less “life altering” than it used to be. How does an NBA team benefit from drafting a project whose potential is never met? I don’t get it.
To be sure, I am not mad at the NBA’s absurd talent appraisals alone. That is worthy of its own article. Instead, let’s just talk about the NCAA.
Once upon a time, Larry Bird was drafted by the Boston Celtics. He then returned to Indiana State for a season before joining the NBA. The NCAA did not have a problem with this from an eligibility standpoint. Later, the NCAA changed the rules so that a player that is merely drafted loses eligibility. There is no reason why any underclassmen should lose eligibility simply because a different organization has decided within itself that one entity, rather than another, owns the rights to that player. Every NCAA player should be eligible to be drafted and only lose eligibility upon signing. Signing, in turn, could be deferred until a guaranteed contract is provided. Such a program would allow all NCAA athletes to make an educated decision to give up college basketball for pro hoops.
Of course, it remains perplexing as to why the NCAA continues to adhere to the myth of amateurism. Maryland has just left the ACC for greener (as in dollars) pastures. We have seen plenty of conference/school movement as these entities chase the dollar. The players may be amateurs, but the game certainly is not. And there is absolutely no reason why college basketball requires amateurism. If you found out that every ACC basketball player received $1,000.00 week to play the game… for a 15-player roster, $750,000.00 (compare that to coaches’ salaries)… would it cause you to enjoy the game less?
Suppose an NBA team was allowed to “stash” a draftee in college, like they are currently allowed to do with European players. Would that cause you to dislike the college game? Wouldn’t that be preferable to putting a player in the situation of “having” to declare for the NBA early to maximize potential.
Suppose an NBA team decided to not only “stash” the player, but pay his tuition and provide a stipend. Would that offend your sensibilities and cause you to enjoy the game less? Just a real nice scholarship. I think we could all live with that.
Nothing has to change. The NBA is doing just fine without me and folks who think like me. The NCAA certainly seems to be doing just fine with the major programs cycling players more and more. But it seems like the system could certainly be better for all involved. In the meantime, the NCAA still wins out for my fan support. Despite itself.
What do you think?