Stauskas, Randle, Embid, Wiggins. Nik, Julius, Joel, Andrew. If you know the player personally, and odds are you don’t, only then do you have a right to share your input in his decision. Now, I’m not saying debate is out of place– in fact, I derive this rant from a previously opposing point of view. For years, I was the naive fan: selfish, unyielding, and ignorant. Understanding a new perspective is difficult, and emotion often consumes our mind and clouds our opinion. Today’s basketball scene is synonymous with money and fame. Movie, media, and music moguls frequent the sidelines of NBA games and even locker rooms (I’m looking at you, Drake). With their presence now afflicting the college game, a dangerous dynamic has been created. With increasingly young and successful rosters (Michigan ’91-’93 to Kentucky ’12,’14, Kansas ’14, Arizona ’14 –the list goes on and on) combining with the atmosphere of money and fame, it is no surprise some college basketball fans are upset over the changes ensuing in their sport. But, lines have been crossed, and often without a smidgen of perspective. Often times, these uber-talented young players come from underprivileged circumstances. Not always, but often.
Jalen Rose, famed NBA player and leader of the Fab Five, had some interesting comments in the ESPN Fab Five documentary. Discussing taking illegal booster benefits, he noted that he and others as high schoolers in inner-city Detroit were not worried about potential NCAA discipline, but rather just putting a meal on the table every night.
The logic can be applied on a microcosmic scale to players declaring for the NBA draft before graduation. NCAA player do not receive benefits. Is education a benefit? Yes. Is it an immediate benefit? No. The debate on whether amateur athletes should receive non-tuition based benefits is for another day, but I emphasize the phrase immediate benefits. It’s ridiculous not to categorize education as a benefit, but I contend that it is a benefit in the long-term. In other words, going to class and writing essays won’t directly put food on the table. And putting this in the context of Jalen Rose’s perspective and a grandiose percentage of early entrants, the 3-year $16.7 million contract of Anthony Bennett, the 2013 NBA first overall pick, or the 2-year $9.74 million contract of Victor Oladipo, the second overall pick, would put a whole lot of food on the table every night. So, these athletes have a decision to make. They can declare for the draft and take care of their family for years to come, or they can return to their school and take a risk on improving their draft stocks.
Eric Dunning’s “The Dynamics of Modern Sport: Notes on Achievement-Striving and the Social Significance of Sport” details the phenomenon of sport’s importance to our society. Dunning notes how top-level sports have evolved from a “marginal, lowly valued institution into one that is central and much more highly valued” (Dunning 205), an institution that he calls of “quasi-religious significance” (Dunning 205) in today’s global sport culture. Not only does Dunning outline the value placed on sports, but he goes one step further saying how “social pressure on sportsmen and women…is a further source of the destruction of the play-element of sport” (Dunning 223). Dunning points out a trend that is exhibited in my example of Jalen Rose and other amateur athletes. Society and sport enthusiasts have place such a great importance on the sport itself, that the athlete loses his or her significance as an individual. In other words, we as a society are often looking past what is better for the individual, and instead at what that athlete can do for the teams we root for and—selfishly—ourselves.
Let’s get one thing clear: Amateur athletes aren’t selfish for taking the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families; Some fans are selfish
for criticizing (sometimes vehemently attacking behind the safety of their keyboards) athletes for declaring for the NBA draft solely on the basis of wanting their team to win. Forty years from now, maybe you won’t remember how Nik or Julius or Joel or Andrew won the NCAA championship for your alma mater or favorite team; But, forty years from now that multi-million-dollar NBA contract will have provided for their family and their children’s education. And that is a heck of a lot more important that our couch-to-TV- oriented hopes for our team to be victorious.