David Stern wants to raise the NBA age minimum to 20. I’d like to raise the age minimum of someone taking my order at Taco Bell to 25.
(Think about it, folks: How much responsibility do you need to sit at the end of the Clippers bench for three years? You pretty much just have to remember which locker you left your Nikes in. But at a fast-food joint, you’re taking dinner orders, handling money, touching beef and related meat products – I mean, this is my one square meal of the day, so the fact that some pimply teenager with a Clearasil fix is coordinating this culinary effort sort of takes the bite out of my appetite.)
The NBA commissioner’s position might be good business for the NBA – it allows the NCAA marketing machine to create marquee names for the league and keeps owners from signing high-risk youngsters to long-term contracts – but I believe it violates one of the basic tenets of American life:
You do what you want to do whenever you want to do it with whomever you want to do it.
That – and greed – pretty much has defined America since, oh, the mid-1770s or so.
Pacers forward Jermaine O’Neal – who went to the NBA in 1996 straight out of high school – disagreed with Stern’s aim, saying, “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 go home?”
Indeed, at 18, you can vote for president, drive in the fast lane and fight in foreign lands, but if you want to play for pay in the NBA, it’s a moral quandary. Then again, as for O’Neal asking why you can’t just play ball “and go home,” the problem is many NBA players don’t go home after the game; they go to someone else’s home and nine months later, they’re sending one of their posse to Target for Huggies.
The sporting public is fickle on this issue. Fans marvel at Mary Lou Retton as a gold-medal gymnast at 15, Michelle Wie playing the LPGA Tour at 13, Freddy Adu in MLS at 14. But when a high school star wants to play in the NBA, it threatens the very fabric of this nation’s values.
Part of this is the need we have to embrace the mythology of intercollegiate sports. We love celebrating the student-athlete, that great balance of mind and body wandering our idyllic, hilly campuses of higher learning, when, in fact, college basketball and college football have absolutely, positively nothing to do with college.
(Of course, the exception is Duke, because Coach K doesn’t just teach basketball, he teaches life skills – and proper management of revenue from American Express commercials.)
Anyway, we should embrace these prodigies, not encumber them.
After all, Yo-Yo Ma made his cello debut at the age of 5. Pablo Picasso exhibited his first works at 13.
Wolfgang Mozart began composing at 5. Jackie Earle Haley played Kelly in “The Bad News Bears” at 14.
(Personal Note I: Not to brag, but I was watching television at 15 months, knew how to use the clicker by age 2 and could program a Betamax VCR by age 3. In addition, I gave a series of instructional seminars on the mute button as a first-grader.)
(Personal Note II: If David Stern were commissioner of journalism, Couch Slouch might not be here today. Heck, if I couldn’t pursue newspaper work as an adolescent, I might’ve turned to a life of three-card monte and Metamucil.)
(Personal Note III: I started earning a sports writing paycheck at 16. My first written words as a professional: “Larry Bird might be the best shooter in all of French Lick, but his total basketball game is so lacking, it appears he’s either on the road to nowhere or on the road to Burger King.”)
The bottom line? There should be no age minimums or mandatory retirement ages. If you can do the job, you should get the job, though, to be frank, I believe Charo is getting a little long in the tooth.
Ask The Slouch
Q. Who do you blame more for the Fenway Park incident – the Red Sox fan or Gary Sheffield? (Rick Avery; De Kalb, Ill.)
A. We are a nation in cultural decline, largely traceable to the day Johnny Depp trashed a $1,200-a-night New York City hotel room in 1994.
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