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On a purely selfish level, I wish Greg Oden had bypassed college, declared immediately for the NBA draft, then threw the entire faculty of the Harvard School of Law at the league and its newly minted rules on draft eligibility.
On a purely selfish level, I wish he had challenged the league on a rule that is misguided, unnecessary and, if not downright illegal, then certainly unjust.
In a league where more than half of the top 10 players are young men who stepped directly from high school to the NBA, how can there be any sound argument for raising the bar on draft eligibility?
Tell me that LeBron James really could have used one year at Ohio State, or maybe one season of improvement with a development-league team.
Well, LeBron is the exception.
No. Wrong. Completely wrong.
Let's look at the league's most transcendent players, beyond James: Amare Stoudemire. Tracy McGrady. Kobe Bryant. Kevin Garnett. Jermaine O'Neal. Rashard Lewis. Dwight Howard. And it won't be long before Clippers guard Shaun Livingston and Boston's Al Jefferson join that group.
Even if you want to make the case that some of those players didn't shine until their second or third year, the fact is, those guys did develop into NBA stars by learning their trade in NBA practices with NBA coaches and NBA teammates.
When commissioner David Stern and Players Association boss Billy Hunter presented their new accord during the Finals, Stern insisted that the rules change would stand the test of any legal challenge. He pointed to the NFL, which held off Maurice Clarett's bid to enter the league early.
There's a very big difference in the two cases, though. It's called precedent. Stern is a lawyer and he has lots of lawyers at his disposal, but for every one of them, you can find an equal number of litigators who will tell you this is begging for a court challenge.
Before the new rule became part of the new agreement, Peter Roby, director of Northeastern's Center for the Study of Sport In Society, said it would be unenforceable.
"(The NBA has) 30-plus years of precedent going against them," Roby told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "There are enough examples of players under the age of 20 who have handled (early entry) and there are enough players over the age of 20 who have not handled it."
When Jermaine O'Neal said a few months back that this was a matter of race, it was easy to understand how he might view this through a racial prism. Nobody screams about young hockey players leaving home at 16. Nobody moans that Maria Sharapova, the Wimbledon cover girl, has just turned 18 and might not be NBA eligible. (Remember, the rule is not 18 or 19, but one year after your high school class graduates).
And I agree that it's about color.
But the color, more often than not, is green.
It's not just about having to pay the Darko Milicics of the world millions to sit on the bench. It's about pushing players' earning power back a year, which will mean millions in savings down the line. I just thank heavens I'm not represented by the Players Association. I'd be getting paid by the Pulitzer.
If there was ample evidence that scores of young men were being misinformed and pushed into bad decisions -- as college hoops blowhard Dick Vitale erroneously screams every draft -- the NBA could claim the moral high ground, casting itself as some kind of benevolent force for good.
Except the evidence doesn't exist. In fact, all the evidence shows that high school kids do better than their college-age counterparts. There's a reason 11 of the first 19 players chosen in last year's draft were teens. It's because they can play.
Sure, there are the cautionary tales of young men such as Korleone Young and Taj McDavid, kids who made poor choices. But how about Chris Marcus, the 7-footer from Western Kentucky who stayed in school, blew out his knee and is now living with his parents and working in a food store?
And don't tell me that age equals maturity. Two words: Ron Artest.
For the sake of argument, let's just say that the NBA is standing on solid legal ground with this change in the rules.
Still, doesn't it feel wrong? Doesn't it feel patently anti-American, placing an artificial starting date on greatness? If a kid is a prodigy -- in basketball, in chess, whatever -- why limit their options?
Which brings me back, in a roundabout fashion, to Oden.
His decision is sound and admirable and shows a lot about his life's priorities and the strength of his support system. This will not sit well with the IU and Purdue folks -- for Mike Davis now, it's Final Four or bust -- but for Oden, it makes all the sense in the world. Sometimes, the only real way to mature is to get away from home.
This is what he wanted to do.
What, though, if this is what he had to do?
What if he had to go waste a year at Ohio State, then blew out a knee and ruined his career?
Would the Players Association have paid him millions the next 10 years? How about the NBA? Would they have made up for the lost millions in shoe contracts?