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E-Letter To The Wall St. Journal And William McGurn Re: Is the NBA "Robbing the Cradle"?

Your op-ed Is the NBA 'Robbing the Cradle'? is excellent. You hit on just about every point that reveals the contradictions and fallacy behind the logic that somehow a minimum age is necessary in order to enter the NBA draft.

We were especially pleased to see that you did not shy away from challenging the position reportedly taken by former Georgetown head coach John Thompson. His basketball accomplishments, positive influence on his athletes and general wisdom notwithstanding, Mr. Thompson’s older Georgetown players who completed college or did not leave school until after they were 20 years of age have been just as likely to fall into the pitfalls of life and the temptations of the NBA lifestyle as any young player. And we certainly don’t agree with the emphasis that Mr. Thompson places on athletes being able to hold onto their money as a definitive byproduct of maturity. More often than not, those players who have lost their money because of conspicuous consumption and the lack of awareness of their financial affairs do so with or without a college degree and when they have entered the NBA younger and older than 20 years of age. Furthermore, financial income or financial acumen is no indication, evidence, or proof of emotional maturity or a superior moral or value system.

And you do well to point out the fact that similar arguments aren’t being raised when the teenagers who are generating millions, some without high school degrees, are White. There is no outcry about the lack of education and emotional maturity of teenage White girls, for example, who devote their pre-teen years, and beyond, to an amateur or professional career in gymnastics, tennis, or ice-skating.

Certainly, we do think that much of the pitfalls of the entertainment and athletic culture are often too much to handle for the average teenager but we really don’t think that it is an age issue. Many of the great stories of
drug abuse, criminal activity, depression, and emotional and mental problems in the lives of professional athletes and others in society occur when individuals are well into their 20s, 30s and 40s. The correlation between age and immoral, irresponsible and illegal activities is nowhere near as strong as those in favor of the NBA draft age-limit seem to believe.

The fact of the matter is that virtually the entire athletic world is a meat market and a cesspool of immorality. The NBA is little different than any other sport, in that regard. No matter how the sport tries to spin it, they only care about athletic performance and financial revenue. It is as simple as that. The drugs, licentious lifestyles, arrogance, vanity and disrespect displayed by many professional basketball players, for even fans, at times, demonstrates this. Furthermore, it is obvious that the NBA’s efforts at counseling, rehabilitation and mentoring are not as strongly supported, as they should be. The league is more motivated by its concern to please its fans (who are mostly White) than it is by the desire to groom, cultivate and improve its athletes (who are mostly Black). And even when the league
counsels a young Black superstar its motive isn’t making that person a better person, its motive is to improve the league’s image among fans, sponsors and television networks. Just look at how the league has dealt with Allen

The NBA-orchestrated “metamorphosis” of Allen Iverson is one of the phoniest things we have ever seen. Iverson has always had a good heart and great potential as a human being but it wasn’t until the league realized that arguably its best player had a “bad-boy” image, that they began the full court public relations press and image consultations, at a high level, with Iverson. Iverson knows that the NBA has only embraced him out of a need for survival rather than a genuine concern for his personal development. Some of the “bad-boy turns good” news stories pushed by the NBA’s PR office about Iverson during the NBA season and playoffs were pathetic and even, insulting.

You are so on point to illustrate the hypocrisy that exists with college basketball coaches and others who not only observe but also profit from the athletic ability of young teenage Black men who don’t get a dime for their efforts. And we have grown tired of those who say that the athletes are getting a free education so they are being compensated. Well, we don’t see the equation there. First of all, there are other students who get scholarships but they are free to devote all of their time to study and
learning and their class workload while the NCAA basketball schedule keeps these young student-athletes on the road, away from state of the art learning resources and physically and mentally exhausted for whole semesters.

In addition if the scholarships are to become the chief indicator that college athletes are in fact privileged or rewarded for their athleticism then we offer that the university and head coaches should not receive compensation or profit generated from sponsors, ticket sales or endorsements in an amount greater than the combined value of the basketball team members’ scholarships. The university should be able to cover its costs and expenses
but there should not be any million dollar sneaker deals for college basketball head coaches if this is all about the scholarships that these players receive, as compensation.

Any basketball coach who has made millions off of athletes who are prohibited from making money themselves, who argues that these athletes should now be prohibited from entering the NBA draft until they have completed at least two years of college or until they reach the age of 20 is demonstrating hypocrisy and exploitation in broad daylight and a form of racism, regardless to what their skin color maybe.

You have written an outstanding opinion piece that demonstrates this sad reality.


Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, July 12, 2001

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