After the US Civil War, many Southern states enacted laws to disenfranchise newly freed blacks from exercising their right to vote. According to a US Department of Justice primer on voting, these laws sought to evade the 15th Amendment and limit the voice of black people in the political process.
Among these laws was a “literacy test”. This test, used in states such as Alabama, ensured “uneducated” blacks could not vote in the general election. These tests continued for nearly 100 years before the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Forty years later, another literacy test was enacted. Fortunately, the premise behind this test is being attacked only three years into its existence.
In 2005, the NBA enacted a rule stating potential entries into the NBA draft had to be 19 years old or one year removed from their high school graduation. Under this rule, it was inferred that prospective draft picks would apply and be accepted to one of the hundreds of colleges throughout the US. There these NBA hopefuls would ply their trade until they turned 19. This, of course, has been the route taken by Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, and numerous others.
But what if a high school graduate lacked the academics to be accepted into college? What if he failed his entrance exams? Of course, the inferred answer was that even the most marginal student would be accepted to at least one college. As long as he met someone’s minimum standard.
What I never heard asked in all the discussion about the NBA’s rule was, “What does one year of college have to do with playing basketball at the professional level?”.
The answer, of course, is nothing.
Now Brandon Jennings, an 18-year old prep star from Virginia, is considering spending his necessary post-high school year playing professional basketball in Europe before hopefully declaring for the 2009 NBA draft. Jennings is the first American high school player to discuss the European option and, in my opinion, should not be the last.
So with the first viable threat its existence, let us ask again: what is the true meaning behind the NBA’s 19 and older rule? Is it seriously an attempt to improve the NBA skill level by having players play a year in a college system? Is it a way to give a bump to the NCAA so that they may profit on the hype of one-and-done college freshmen? Or worse yet, is it a way to purposefully deny those lacking in academic ability the opportunity to play in the NBA? Is it a disguised attempt to “clean up” the league by closing the door to prospects who hail from a disadvantaged educational systems and who might see basketball as their only way out of their current socio-economic environment?
Hopefully Brandon Jennings follows through with his idea of playing in Europe. Hopefully he makes good overseas and is drafted high in the 2009 draft. Hopefully he is not the last to question the NBA’s literacy test.