College and the NBA

By Zac Piesse

The NBA has had a long an illustrious relationship with education, with a large percentage of athletes having attended a Tertiary education institution. American and Canadian NBA Athlete’s have been forced to attend a College or University before moving  onto the most elite level of basketball in the world. This is because the NBA now deem it inappropriate for 17/18 year olds to come straight out of high school into the deep end of professional sport. The top ten picks of the NBA draft are often glittered with prospects who have only stayed at college for one year. This is mainly because these top prospects have been touted as top players in high school, and have continued their rise to stardom, attending for only one year as a freshmen at any college within the United States. Schools like Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas City in recent years have constantly had a plethora of young talent at their disposal, but a large portion of these players stay for one year, then move on to the NBA. Of these players, do they continue their education following being drafted by an NBA franchise? Or is that the end of their education, from some of the top academic institutions in the world.

Despite leaving college a quarter, half or sometimes even three quarters of the way through their tertiary education, a small percentage of NBA players do go on to complete their education. In 2009, 21% of the NBA had an undergraduate degree, which is astonishing given the amount of effort that has to go into gaining a university degree. In that same year, 10% of the league opted to return to university to continue their degree(s) rather than begin pre season with the rest of their franchise.
Shaquille O’Neal is probably the most notable NBA star who has continued his education after playing for LSU for three years from 1989-1992. He completed his bachelor’s degree in 2000, even missing a Lakers home game to attend his graduation. O’Neal was quoted as saying, “Now I can go get a real job.” He also furthered his education through the University of Phoenix receiving a Masters of Business Administration, and “Shaq” also attended Barry University where he completed his Doctorate in Education. O’Neal is probably the most notable NBA star who is known for having multiple degrees, not many people know that the G.O.A.T. Michael Jordan also completed his university degree. Jordan only studied for three years at the University of North Carolina, but a year after electing to go to NBA, Jordan returned to UNC to complete his degree in Geography alongside his NBA commitments.
The importance of education, and “life after basketball” is constantly being reiterated to NBA athletes, and as time progresses more and more athletes are beginning to become more educated. Tim Duncan has a degree in psychology. One of his University Professor’s is quoted saying, “Tim was one of my more intellectual students. Other than his height, I couldn’t tell him apart from any other student at Wake Forest.” Damian Lillard is another star who only recently in May, graduated from Weber State, in which he earned a Professional Sales Degree from Weber’s Applied Science and Technology faculty. Vince Carter, is known for his high-flying dunks, but who knew that he also has a degree in African-American studies from MJ’s university, North Carolina. Carter graduated in 2001, on the day of game seven of the conference semi finals against Philadelphia, playing for the Raptors. Carter took the game-tying shot with seconds remaining, and missed. Critics believed that Carter may have missed that shot because of the miles he had done travelling from Toronto to North Carolina, which just proves how committed Carter was about graduating, and the importance that he placed on education.
Looking to the future, the relationship between colleges and the NBA could continue to change. League commissioner Adam Silver, wants to raise the age of being able to declare for the draft to 20. This would mean one of two things for the league and college’s relationship. It could lead to more players heading overseas to earn money for two years before heading to the NBA, in a similar fashion to trailblazer Brandon Jennings (trailblazer in his action, not team), and in recent drafts, Emmanuel Mudiay, and a small number of other NBA players. It could also lead to more NBA athletes choosing to continue their degree because they are staying at college for a longer period of time. The world is becoming more reliant on university degrees and educational certificates in general, and the importance that the NBA is placing on “life after basketball” and the influence that many athletes can have on younger people.
I believe that raising the age of being able to elect to go to the NBA will definitely be a good thing for the league. At the moment, some of the younger rookies who are entering the league are still yet to grow into their bodies, and don’t quite have the maturity that is needed to thrive in professional sport. Many individuals enter the league as child prodigies, and have the physical capacity to mature into a NBA player, but do not understand what it takes to be an NBA star. I think raising the age would also mean that less NBA draftees would turn into flops (AKA, no.1 draft pick Kwame Brown). If draftees like Greg Oden and Joel Embiid, for example, were to stay in college for another year, franchises like Philadelphia and Portland wouldn’t be in the position they are now, as they would have had a further understanding on these prospects and the high injury risk that they possess. Adam Silver is adamant that the age will be raised, and I do believe that it will affect the league positively.

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