Ryan Black commentary: Adam Silver's support of higher NBA age limit good for basketball

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 14, 2014 

If basketball fans haven’t warmed to Adam Silver yet, they need to.


It’s not just because so many were tired of former NBA commissioner David Stern’s heavy-handed ways. It’s due to Silver’s crusade to raise the league’s minimum age limit. Since taking over for Stern in February, Silver has reiterated his stance at every opportunity.

How high is it on his list of priorities?

Can you say “numero uno?”

He said as much during an appearance at the Sloan Conference on sports analytics in Boston two weeks ago. While there, he discussed numerous aspects of the NBA. At one point, he was asked what he would change about the league if he could enact it immediately and without needing the blessing of owners or the player’s union.

Cue the age limit proposal.

“Maybe the 20-year-old is a shorthand," Silver said. "I would just say a better integration of AAU, youth, high school, college basketball and NBA basketball. This is the sport of the 21st century. We have enormous opportunity."

Yes, the NBA already has an age limit — a player has to be 19 and at least one year out of high school before declaring for the draft. If Silver gets his way, another year would be tacked on to both parts of that rule. Anyone who considers themselves a connoisseur of the game should share that sentiment.

All one needs to do is look at the state of college basketball. A quick glance at the latest top 25 rankings is littered with teams with seven and even eight losses. Three of those reside in the top 10 in Duke, Michigan and Kansas. Even with the talented players each of those teams possess, it speaks to the poor quality of the sport as a whole when a trio of top 10 teams have combined for more than 20 losses before conference tournaments have even started.

But if win-loss totals aren’t your thing, just take in a college basketball game.

Witness how painfully disjointed most offenses are on each possession. Especially at high-level programs that have had to replace one-and-done players every year, it’s impossible to expect them to be able to exhibit any sort of rhythm or continuity. It just can’t happen when players make a one-year layover on their way to the NBA.

That’s why Silver’s support is so enlightening — if not a bit surprising. His league is in a healthy place thanks to the many years of Stern’s stewardship and the fact the game only continues to grow in popularity globally.

Compare that with college basketball. Last month, AL.com wrote this season had the lowest average attendance across the SEC since 1986-87. No one will question that in large part this is due to the league’s feebleness, which saw Florida complete its conference slate unblemished and finish six games clear of every other team.

But here’s a thought: Perhaps if players stayed more than one year — hello, Kentucky — teams would be deeper and more experienced. In turn, that leads to a stronger conference, and one would think, better attendance.

From there, those battle-tested players become marketable stars from the moment they arrive in the NBA. Think back over the past few drafts. Aside from can’t-miss talents like Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis, how many “one-and-doners” have actually ended up being as good as advertised?

Kyrie Irving excelled during the exhibition that is the NBA All-Star weekend, but he is struggling to lift Cleveland to a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, even with this year being one of the weakest in history, as just six teams sit above .500. Former John Calipari recruit John Wall is averaging career-bests in points (19.6) and assists (8.7 assists) per game, putting Washington in prime position for home-court advantage in the first round of the postseason.

But it needs to be said: It’s taken Wall four years to finally play at this level consistently.

The same goes for nearly every player who left college after one year.

For every Durant and Davis, there are a dozen who would be better served learning offensive and defensive concepts and leading teams to glory in the NCAA tournament than struggling in the NBA and riding the pine.

Don’t let this become a moral or ethical issue, though.

Playing in the NBA isn’t a right; it’s a privilege.

It doesn’t “deny the ability” for someone to make a living, either. If players want to make money the day after they graduate high school, they can go overseas. Or they can play in the NBA’s Developmental League, where the age limit is 18 and the restriction of being one year out of high school doesn’t exist.

Similarly, a quick resolution to this issue isn’t on the horizon.

The earliest it can be revisited is during the next collective bargaining agreement. That likely won’t take place until after the 2016-17 NBA season, when the CBA’s next opt-out clause comes up.

This is of little solace for those yearning for a higher standard in college basketball. Prepare for three more years of suffering on that front. But take heart: the NBA's new man-in-charge seems intent on pushing a higher age limit through as soon as possible.

Call that the Silver lining.

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