The NBA might regret enforcing an age limit

David Stern's proposal of an age limit for the NBA draft is akin to swatting a fly with a baseball bat. The collateral damage is hardly worth it.

Updated: April 14, 2005, 6:04 PM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN Insider
Picture this: It's minutes before tip-off. With a packed crowd, the arena is buzzing. The PA announcer picks up the mike to introduce the lineups and says, "Señores y señoras, empezado para Real Madrid, numero veinte y tres: LeBron James."

Now try that in Italian. Or Greek. Maybe even Russian.

That scenario isn't as farfetched as some might think. If David Stern gets his way and the NBA institutes a minimum age of 20, the next basketball prodigy will have a strong lure to earn big bucks in a different league. So while the current LeBron James is safely ensconced in Cleveland, the next Chosen One might spend two years making waves across the Atlantic.

Stern's reasoning for the age minimum is twofold. First, there's an undercurrent among the hoop cognoscenti that teenage entrants to the NBA are ruining basketball because they arrive unprepared. Second, Stern wouldn't mind at all if the NCAA gave incoming players two years of free publicity before they arrived in the pros.

However, he risks some powerful unintended consequences. It's nice to think that James would have obligingly gone to the NCAA for two years while he waited to turn pro, but it might also be naive. European teams certainly would have flashed millions to lure such a player, even if they knew he'd only be a two-year rental.

Additionally, it's easy to imagine a few recent under-20 studs taking the money and running if they were in this situation. For instance, Kobe Bryant speaks fluent Italian – would he have been opposed to earning dough in Milan for two years while he waited to turn 20? And with his Puerto Rican lineage, Carmelo Anthony might have welcomed a year cashing big checks and soaking up the sun in Spain … especially with another Syracuse winter as his alternative.

Considering the risk of such an embarrassment, it bears asking whether the benefits outweigh the costs. In other words, are teenage draft entrants really hurting the NBA? And if so, how much damage are they doing?

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