Parental Advisory: NBA, NCAA Don’t Belong In The Child-Rearing Business

By: 04.11.12
Shabazz Muhammad

Shabazz Muhammad (photo. Hoophall Classic)

As soon as U.S. legislators get around to declaring the first Thursday and Friday of March Madness federal holidays, I have two more suggestions for basketball’s national calendar: Let’s move Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to April 11 and April 29.

Split them up however you want. The point is that these two dates – National Signing Day for high school hoopsters headed to college (April 11), and the early-entry deadline for college underclassmen considering the NBA Draft (April 29) – bring out the parental instincts in even the childless among basketball fans and media.

You won’t find more examples of unqualified adults who were never asked accepting the roles of parent, mentor and guidance counselor to young men and women they’ve never met. Two days that should be reserved for real families celebrating the accomplishments of their sons and daughters are too often ruined by unrelenting second-guesses and unprovoked lectures.

Of course, this is the American Way. We’ve grown into a nation of condescending parents who self-certify ourselves experts in every field. We’re so quick to tell people how to live – especially people who have some notoriety – it flies in direct contradiction to the individuality and freedom of choice we claim to defend so fiercely.

That told-you-so mentality drives us to tell high schoolers that they’re choosing the wrong college, and to tell college athletes that they’re going pro too early or too late. And that’s when we’re not telling pro athletes how to conduct their free-agency business; telling coaches how to manage the game and the locker room; telling GM’s how to build championship teams; telling owners how to spend their money; telling refs how to see real-life events in super slow-mo; telling the truly talented athletes how to be great at something most of us weren’t even good at beyond middle-school recess; and telling generally everybody in sports how to be a good spouse, parent, teammate and human being.

The worst examples still involve the amateurs, because it’s not like we can stand behind the flimsy justification for pro athletes that paying a miniscule fraction into the machine that pays their salary gives us carte blanche to talk about them as bad as we want to.

Frustrating as it is to watch, though, I’ve grown used to fans and media believing they know exactly what’s best for every point guard and small forward in the country. What bothers me now is the NBA and NCAA’s parent-like rules and bylaws that take the “adult” out of “young adult,” and how these organizations get away with treating grown-ups like children.

I find it curious that at the same time America has branded Ozzie Guillen a political traitor because he admires a few qualities of communist icon Fidel Castro, we gleefully pour our capitalist money into the billion-dollar dictatorships that are the NBA and NCAA.

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I find it curious that at the same time we annually express our collective disgust with Augusta National Golf Club for its discriminatory policies toward women, protests aren’t nearly as strong against the NBA’s discriminatory policies toward young people.

Don’t be seduced into believing one is okay and one is not. IBM CEO Virginia Rommety, the woman at the center of this year’s Augusta controversy, has been no more a victim of bias than Shabazz Muhammad, the top high school basketball player in the U.S. who is barred from the NBA because he’s only 18 years old.

Muhammad cannot control when he was born, just like Rommety cannot control how she was born.
Rommety worked to develop her skills and rise in the business world to a position where she meets every qualification for Augusta membership but one – she’s a woman. Muhammad has worked to develop his skills and rise in the basketball world to a position where he meets every qualification for an NBA roster spot but one – he’s an 18-year-old. The only difference is that while Muhammad can eventually become NBA-eligible at 19, Rommety can’t change her genetics.

Other than that, is one abuse of power worse than the other?

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I would argue that, on its principles, the NBA’s age-restrictive ethos are even more insulting to those it oppresses than Augusta’s vagina-restrictive ethos.

At Augusta, at least they’re up-front: We’re a boys club. You’re a girl. We don’t want you here. It’s the kind of honest, Southern prejudice you might expect to find in an east Georgia suburb. The NBA on the other hand employs more of the white-collar, systematic, smile-in-your-face-shank-you-in-your-liver discrimination you’d find up North. The league doesn’t want 18-year-olds, and commissioner David Stern recently admitted he doesn’t want 19-year-olds either, he just hasn’t gotten the rule altered yet. But rather than blunt truth, the league dresses it up as a matter of development and concern for the athlete. The NBA condescendingly approaches the adults it keeps out like a parent would a child: We know what’s best for you, kid.

The NCAA operates under a similar mindset, and like the NBA, the rule itself isn’t as insulting as the implications behind it.

On some levels, I see why the NCAA is set up the way it is. Paying its student-athletes, as so many have suggested, would open the door even wider for game-fixers and point-shavers and crooked boosters who would like nothing more than to “own” themselves a shot-blocker. But the rules that were put in place to safeguard the game often demean the players. The NCAA makes it appear as if college athletes need an association of super-nannies in order to avoid making bad decisions.

Somewhere along the way, the NCAA forgot that it needs to let its young adults do what every other young adult should do in college – exercise a bit of independence – rather than protecting athletes from the evils of part-time jobs and small-claims loans that traditional students have somehow survived over the centuries.

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Today, two high-profile basketball players will officially enter this culture of overprotection. Muhammad, a 6-7 senior wing at Bishop Gorman H.S. in Las Vegas, and Nerlens Noel, a 6-10 senior center at The Tilton School in New Hampshire, are the two biggest names left in high school basketball who haven’t decided on a college. Both are expected to announce their choices on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s spring signing period.

The two 18-year-olds could, if the rules were different, play in the NBA right now. They’re certainly good enough – if not good enough to be instant stars at the pro level, at least good enough to beat out some veteran benchwarmer for a gig. And seeing as there are no academic or degree requirements for the NBA, they’re certainly intelligent enough. They’re just too young, at least according to the league. Just like Virginia Rommety was too female to get her automatic invite to Augusta; just like Tiger Woods was too Black for that same honor once upon a time.

And yes, there is a racial element to this. How can there not be?

Tennis, baseball, hockey, golf and stock-car racing – all historically White sports – accept pros younger than 19 on the highest level. And yet none of those sports have an endless supply of derisive columns being written about its most famous busts that flamed out because they went pro too early, or smarmy TV segments predicting which of the newest batch of young pros will be busts in the future. Those sports don’t seem to attract the same village of wannabe parents who suddenly know how to best raise a child.

But basketball – Black America’s pastime, the sport for which the top pro league is more than 80 percent Black – just happens to breed millions of volunteer career counselors and just happens to operate under these mom-and-pop rules. That cannot be a coincidence.

At 18 years old, is Shabazz Muhammad ready for the NBA? At 22, is Mississippi State forward Renardo Sidney ready? At 32, is former Oklahoma star Hollis Price ready? Neither has yet to play a minute in the league. But all have one thing in common: They are at least ready to decide for themselves if they’re ready. They should at least be given the opportunity to make a mistake and learn from it.

Sometimes parents just don’t understand.

What do you think of the parental tactics of the NCAA and NBA?

Follow Austin on Twitter at @AustinBurton206.

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