In Print: Volume 88: Number 1
Tremendous Upside Potential: How a High-School Basketball Player Might Challenge the National Basketball Association’s Eligibility Requirements
By Joseph A. Litman
88 Wash. U. L. Rev. 261 (2010)
In 1995, the Minnesota Timberwolves, a franchise in the National Basketball Association (NBA, or “the League”), selected Kevin Garnett with the fifth pick of the NBA Draft. Garnett was a prodigious basketball player who had just graduated from high school. Still playing in the NBA today, Garnett has won the Most Valuable Player award and the Defensive Player of the Year award, and he has been selected for the NBA All-Star Game thirteen times. Garnett has appeared on one of the All-NBA teams nine times, a yearly honor bestowed upon the best fifteen players in the League by journalists who cover the NBA. He also has won an NBA championship and is all but assured of enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame when he retires.
Garnett is one of several current players who entered the NBA straight from high school, eschewing the traditional path of enrolling in college, developing stronger basketball skills as an amateur, and then seeking to join the League. Though just a plurality, this group counts several prominent stars among its members, and entering the NBA immediately following high-school graduation is no longer a curiosity. Many NBA players who entered the League immediately following high school have earned the highest honors and ascended to preeminence. For example, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, NBA icons, have both won the Most Valuable Player award. Last season, James, Bryant, and another star who came straight from high school, Dwight Howard, were three of the five players selected for the All-NBA First Team. Using these metrics, commonly regarded as the currency required for basketball immortality, so-called “prep-to-pros” players have demonstrated that they not only can compete in the NBA, but also that they can stand among the best players in the League.
A preternaturally gifted high-school basketball player no longer can plan to follow this career model, though. Adopted in advance of the 2006 NBA Draft, the NBA implemented new eligibility rules in 2005. These rules, commonly known as the “age requirement,” stipulate that no player is eligible to participate in the League unless he will be nineteen years old during the calendar year of the draft and at least one NBA season will have been completed since his high-school class graduated.
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