Pacers’ O’Neal perfect example of why NBA needs an age limit

By on April 20, 2005

Jermaine O’Neal is back in the headlines. This time, not for putting his arm through a fans face on the basketball court, but over the issue of race in the NBA.

O’Neal commented when asked by a Canadian reported that he thought the NBA’s consideration of increasing the age minimum from 18 to 20 years old was racist.

He said that the only players who come into the NBA out of high school are black players and this new rule would hold them back.

O’Neal is right in the fact that black players are the only ones to declare for the NBA Draft with the exception of Robert Swift, a white player, who was drafted in 2004.

Whatever the reason for the league’s increase in minimum age, it is not racist. It is not limiting the number of black players entering the league, nor is it penalizing them in anyway.

The age minimum will do two things. First, it will help to revive college basketball. You would have Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony still in the NCAA ranks not to mention a host of other good young talent.

Second, the minimum will weed out the players who do not belong in the draft. Not every high school kid who declares for the draft is taken. Because they have signed with an agent, they are no longer eligible to play Division-I basketball.

In any event, the new minimum will effect all races. Just because in the past the draft has been filled with black high school athletes does not mean the future will be the same.

The fact is, that Lebron James and Amare Stoudemire are the only high school kids since 1995 to come to the NBA and make an impact during their rookie campaigns.

Many of the NBA stars that are on Sportscenter every night did bypass college and go straight to the NBA. They are today’s stars. At the time they were drafted they either rode the pine or played poorly, not much was expected of them.

Kevin Garnett, who started the whole high school-to-NBA transition, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler and Darius Miles among others, all took at least three years of NBA experience to show any signs of promise. At the time they came around, they would have all been college juniors or seniors and would have been 20 or 21 years old, exactly what the age minimum would be.

O’Neal was taken No. 17 by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1996 draft. At the time, scout Eiro Monitz had many criticisms of him physically. “Offensively, he has ways to go. His jumper isn’t good at the moment, he’ll have trouble scoring on the blocks since he’s not strong enough to pound people into deep post positions (even NBA small forwards can outmuscle him) He’s very weak physically at this stage” Monitz said.

O’Neal wasted away on the Blazer bench for four seasons. He netted 3.8 ppg while only playing 11.2 minutes per game during his time in the ‘Great Northwest.’ He did not make an impact until he went to the much smaller and less physical Eastern Conference, signing with the Indiana Pacers in the summer of 2000.

But for every Garnett, Bryant, McGrady and O’Neal that eventually pans out, you have the Travis Outlaws, Shaun Livingstons, Jonathen Benders and James Langs of the world who are injured and can never play or spend their careers warming the benches.

Despite the fact that the drafting of inexperienced players adds to non-fundamental skills of the league as a whole, they take the spots of veterans, forcing them to either end their careers early or go overseas.

To set the record straight, the increased age limit is not racist. It is to protect the players and integrity of the league. They bring more excitement but their lack of maturity can be a problem. The only thing the NBA is trying to do is save itself.


About Matt Lefebvre