Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O’Neal’s recent comments in which he considers race to be a factor in the NBA’s plan to raise the draft age limit to 20 have triggered heated debates on the constitutionality of the issue. “To say you have to be 20, 21 to get in the league, it’s unconstitutional,” O’Neal said in a recent statement.
N.B.A. commissioner David Stern has asked for a two-year raise in the drafting age limit, which is currently set at 18, and would like to see the 20-year-old age limit put in place in the next NBA labor agreement in the coming season. The commissioner assured that the plan to defer the draft eligibility will be backed by the National Basketball Development League as an incentive for young players to go to college and gain playing experience at the same time. “A development league would ultimately be a place where youngsters could profit more from playing rather than be sitting on the bench,” Stern said in an interview with the New York Times.
O’Neal, who was drafted out of high school by the Portland Trailblazers, supports the idea of a development league; however, he said that age should not be considered in the drafting process. “What is it that college teaches you?” O’Neal said. “College don’t really teach you to be a great NBA player on and off the court. College teaches you about college. What can better teach you about dealing with the NBA than the NBA? There are a lot of Duke products who don’t do well in the NBA We got to be fair.”
Television analyst Kenny Smith agrees with O’Neal. “To me it is unconstitutional to take someone’s opportunity to make a livelihood,” the former Houston Rockets’ player said in an interview with Charles Barkley on “Inside the NBA”. Barkley vehemently contested Smith’s argument and said that there is a need for age limits in the NBA because many young players are “not ready to play in the NBA.”
Howard University graduate Mark Obenna looks at the issue from a different perspective. “It would be great if the age-limit would motivate young players to go to college but the reality is that college is often not even an option for less fortunate black high school players,” the 26-year-old said. “It is difficult for young blacks from poor families to get into college from public schools that don’t offer enough preparation for college. For them the NBA is a way out of the ghetto.”