Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Hear Jermaine Out

Jermaine O'Neal hasn't made much of an impact on the court over the last month due to a shoulder injury, though he did cause quite a stir yesterday when some misled comments of his were published in the Indy Star.

Don't be quick to judge Jermaine O'Neal's comments published yesterday concerning racism being an element in the NBA's proposal to raise the age limit to 20. According to an article posted in the Indy Star yesterday, O'Neal was quoted as saying,

"In the last two or three years, the rookie of the year has been a high school player. There were seven high school players in the All-Star Game, so why we even talking an age limit? As a black guy, you kind of think race is the reason why it's (the 20 year-old age limit) coming up. You don't hear about it in baseball or hockey. To say you have to be 20, 21, to get in the league, it's unconstitutional. If I can go to the U.S. Army and fight the war at 18, why can't you play basketball for 48 minutes and then go home?"

Now everyone jumped on O'Neal yesterday for bringing the race card into the discussion without really understanding the context of the situation, which O'Neal explained last night during an interview with ESPN on NBA Nation. And rather than me explaining what he said last night, I'm just going to let you read for yourself and be the judge.

Jermaine O'Neal: "The questions that was asked to me was is it because you guys is black. One thing about people and people don't understand and I appreciate every athlete and every league understands that when an interview goes down, people are going to write and say what they want to write and say because that's what they can do with a pen. The question was asked to me in a totally different way and I said, "Well, looks like that", whether it is or it is not, I don't know. I really don't know. But I'm dealing with the bare facts of people that is 18, 19, 20 are making the transition and doing it at a successful rate. I'm not calling anybody racist. I'm not doing that by any means. I'm not in any place to say that."

"I know that the facts is that 13,14 15 year olds are able to decide whether they want to go play a pro sport, but it's no issue. This has been going on for 20, 30 years in other sports, but it's still no issue. And those sports are predominantly white sports.That's what all I'm saying. When he compared it between those other sports and basketball that was the comparison between the sports that have predominantly white players and another sport in basketball that has predominantly black players. But it didn't come out like that. Today it came out that I was playing the race card. I'm not playing the race card. I'm talking about the facts. I'm talking about these kids having the opportunity to excel at life. You can choose to do all sorts of things. Like I said about the war, these kids are going to the war at 18. Going to the war! We're talking about basketball! We're talking about basketball. People are trying to live a dream first of all and also take care of their families. It's easy for people to analyze stuff sitting on a panel, but they don't know where these kids is coming from. I'm speaking from experience and half the people that speaking about it, haven't lived that life. You see what I'm saying? So for people to understand what I'm talking about, they got to really underst--, look into it. We talking about something that is really happening in a good way. The NBA is doing very well and the prime faces for the NBA are high school players. So what is the debate about?"

In what was the best interview I have seen all season (even better than the Thomposon Timeout with Kevin Garnett), Jermaine O'Neal and the ESPN crew discussed for about 25 minutes why there should not be an age limit and whether anyone thinks race is at all a factor behind the NBA's decision to implement such a rule. Jermaine O'Neal was thoughtful, poignant, and unabrasive in his comments, and for an NBA superstar to come out and speak his mind about such a debatable issue, especially one who directly relates to the matter at hand, I can only applaud the guy. Heck, Ric Bucher and Marc Stein, the two white writers on the show, completely shied away from making any sort of judgmental remarks towards Jermaine because A- He totally put things into perspective for any white, or black or whatever race writer that hasn't been in his situation as a fiscally-challenged teenage basketball phenom, yet has been critical and narrow-minded in their arguments concerning the age limit debate. And B- Both completely respect Jermaine O'Neal and were essentially in agreement with what he had to say. Marc Stein actually said, " I hope the fallout from this for Jermaine touching on racism, doesn't stop him from talking. I love listening to him. Every time I get a chance to talk to him, he's always passionate about whatever the subject is and I just wonder, now people are going to focus on the race instead of the fact that here's a guy in the middle of this unbelievably trying season. He's dealing with a potentially season-ending injury. He's stepping up and trying to be a leader, a spokesman for a big cause. We don't see players do that very often in the NBA." Kudos to Jermaine O'Neal for having the courage to speak out about an issue he feels passionate about.

Now while I realize I'm just another white writer who can't relate to the plight of these young inner-city ballers, I have made a conscious effort to consider every angle in the under 20 age limit discussion. The truth of the matter is that there are a ton of kids out there from tough, poor, predominantly black neighborhoods that see basketball as more than just a way of life. To them basketball is everything, but most importanly, it's a chance for them to really succeed in life and provide better opportunities for themselves and their families.

Take Kelenna Azubuike for example, the Kentucky standout who has been advised by everyone to return for his senior year and is projected to be a borderline 2nd round pick this June. Scouts are saying that Azubuike, with another year of seasoning under Tubby Smith, could propel himself into the 1st round next year. We've seen in the last few years that many players will heed the advice given to them and return to school when suggested to them that it will be beneficial to their careers in the long run. But Azubuike has already signed an agent, thus forgoing a chance to return to Kentucky and not only compete for a national title, but also to increase his long-term potential as a prospect. Now it's funny that you hear someone like Dick Vitale speak out about Azubuike's mistake in declaring for the draft, yet you barely hear about the reason as to why the kid is making the jump. His father owes over $344,000 in restitution and fines and will be serving a 4-year jail sentence for committing 41 counts of fraud. Shouldn't we be applauding this kid for taking it upon himself to provide for his family and coming to his father's rescue? Well, perhaps in this specific case we should be condemning his father for putting Kelenna in a situation that may forever hinder his chance to play NBA basketball. But my point is this-- I understand Azubuike is in college, but how does this example differ from a high school player from the streets with no money, no career aspirations outside of basketball, and no hope for his family other than what's hinging on his 42 inch vertical leap and Dell Curryesque range from outside? By implementing an age limit, Jermaine O'Neal is trying to say that the NBA would be taking away this opportunity from kids to not only live out their dreams, but also provide a better life for their loved ones. And if it's been proven time and again that this jump from high school to the NBA is one that can be handled physically, mentally, and emotionally, then why should this opportunity be taken away? I'm not saying I agree with Jermaine and that there should not be an age limit, but you have to admit that the man makes some good points. And to hear what he has to say knowing that he's been in a situation where he would have directly been affected by an age requirement, you really can't help but listen to Jermaine and hope that he gets to sit down with the Commissioner to rap with him about the age limit proposal.


At 4:43 PM, Anonymous Bruno Gans said...

I believe that everyone seems to still be missing the point.
Everyone involved in the NBA (coaches, scouts, players, executives, etc.) are supposed to be the best at what they do. This is the highest level. So what i have to say is:


And they wouldn't if they didn't think they could play! These GMs are not just going "Hmmm...High School? First Round Draft Pick!" They are doing their research in this.
The real problems are the agents that are wooing these kids saying they are guaranteed first round draft picks, when they are maginal college talents at best!
The kids can declare for the draft but not get an agent and if they don't like what happens they can still go to school. Why are they not doing this?
Because slimy agents are telling them lies and ruining their chances at succeeding.

At 4:49 PM, Blogger Anthony Peretore said...

Quick point...
If we set the age limit at say 20, that means we're going to have a two year lay-off until we see these talents, is that really that big of a deal? In two years, everything will be caught up and those "high schoolers" will be in the NBA and playing at a much higher level than they would straight out of 12th grade. I like the idea and while it may hurt the League for a year or so, in the long run its for the best. We seem to always focus on the LeBrons who are phenoms in their first year. But think about Jermaine O'Neal and Kobe, those guys struggled initially, so why not let them play in college and makes the NCAAs that much more exciting? If that was the case the college and pro game would come to together to produce more populairty for both levels. Great article Paul, glad you used that Jermaine picture for the third time on this site.

At 5:21 PM, Blogger Paul Benedict said...

Anthony- There's something you have to understand and I didn't get into it because it's worthy of a whole separate article. College will not all, from a 20 year age limit. There's 3 basic reasons why the NBA wants to implement an age limit- 1- To increase the level of play; 2- To protect and help restore the image of the league; and 3- Money. The NBA is already expanding to 10 teams in the NBDL I believe for next season. This is no coincidence. The only way the Players Union would ever agree to such an age limitation is if it didn't hurt them financially and in reality, it won't. The age limitation will prevent kids from playing in the NBA, but what's likely to be agreed upon, is that the kids will still be able to play in the NBDL-- and earn the same money! So if you get drafted in the first round, you still make first round money, only now you have to play in the NBDL for a couple seasons. The NBA thinks that this will not only make the NBDL somewhat marketable, but also prepare kids better for playing in the NBA when they're 20. Think about...2 years playing in the NBDL against NBA-suited competition, living a professional lifestyle, playing under NBA rules, and being coached entirely to prepare for the NBA...that is going to give a budding star a much better chance at succeeding in the NBA than going to a college where a player makes no money, might be lost in a system that is nothing like the NBA, and plays against competition that may be talented, but not suited for the NBA (ie Salim Stoudamire, Paul Davis). If the age limit goes through, and the NBDL increases to say, 15 teams within a couple seasons (2 NBA teams split NBDL franchises), college basketball will be totally wiped out. More and more kids will just leave straight from high school, and the NBA draft will likely include a 3rd or maybe 4th round to fill the demand of players wanting to make the jump. It will be baseball all over again. Believe me, the NBA doesn't give a shit about college basketball-- if anything they wouldn't mind fucking them over because not only do they take talent away that could be playing in the NBA, but they also take money, media coverage and viewership away from them. And let's face it-- a good point that Greg Anthony made yesterday-- how many 4-year college guys have failed in the pros compared to high schoolers in the last decade-- seriously, think about it. So how much is going to college really benefitting a prospective NBA player's career? Look-- I'm really not sure where I stand on the issue because it would pain me to see college basketball any worse off than it already is, but at the same time, I already spend way more time with the NBA (hence the NBA site) and prefer the game there, and hey, if it's going to make the NBA better for us diehard NBA fans, then all the better.

I'm not making the NBA out to be the bad guy at all, let's face it, they're a business. And if you want to talk about bad guys, colleges have been making millions and millions for years off their athletes who aren't seeing a dime. The NBA is simply pouncing on an opportunity to monopolize on the sport of basketball and in the end, the game itself will become a thing of beauty on the highest level.

At 1:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not going to sit here and rattle off names of GM's and years worth of draft picks, but let's stop and look at the basics. THE BASICS! You're talking about the money aspect of it all and these kids providing for their families. But think about it, these kids have the opportunity to go to a great school, gain 4 years of education, and allow themselves to improve their game and be coached one-on-one, where in the NBA, these kids are not given much of an opportunity to work on their skills and techniques with their coach. Even Garnett said in his interview, these kids aren't focusing on the basic techniques of the game, like the pass-n-go, the pivit, and the stop and shoot. He said kids nowadays are showing great stuff in their dunks and their 3's, and definitely making the game more exciting to watch, but the basics of the game are getting lost - not to mention the veterans who helped build the league, who are being pushed out by teenagers who think in the 12-13 years they've been playing, think they have what it takes to be in the NBA (not to say some of them don't). But let's face it, they're coming in because of the money and not because of the game - and I believe a problem lies in that. They're just thrown into a major league on tricks they've learned up until the 12th grade, while also trying to learn who they are. They don't even need good grades to enter the draft! At least in college they need to maintain a certain GPA. I know some of these kids need money right away, but money cannot be the reason to throw away what could potentially be an even better career with 4 more years of practice and hey-perhaps a chance at a national championship. So in the end, why has basketball become all about money and media? Isn't there anyone out there anymore that loves the sport itself - naked and complex? And if there is, don't you want to see it played to its fullest potential? It's FULLEST POTENTIAL!

At 8:36 AM, Blogger Anthony Peretore said...

If that's truly the case and Stern's doing this to promote the NBDL then he's a moron. No one will ever watch that, hell no one really watches the NBA right now. If he's going to set an age limit it should be to promote education not to fatten his own wallet. Players gain valuable experience in college playing under guys like Coach K, Boeheim, Calhoun, Weber, Williams, etc. Stern has done a rather sufficient job with the league in recent years past but if this limitation is for self benefit then he needs to second guess his plans.

At 8:39 AM, Blogger Anthony Peretore said...

Oh and Paul, why don't you write a longer response next time. I had to stop for a water and bathroom break, jesus.

PS-This CBA is really going to determine the success of the league in the next few years. 1 out of every 5 sports fans watches the NBA and if they screw up the league in any way, that could drop to 1 in 7, or 1 in 10. Can the NBA survive if that's the case? I help run this site and I've grown disgusted with this league, think about the average fan...


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