Teenagers in the NBA

by Russ Roberts on June 23, 2004

in Sports

The NBA draft is almost upon us and there will likely be a record number of high schoolers taken. Last year’s first player chosen, Lebron James, was a high-schooler who excelled in the NBA. This year, Dwight Howard, another high schooler will be either the first or second player taken.

A lot of people are uncomfortable with 18 year olds playing in the NBA and dealing with sudden fame and lots and lots of money. A lot of people also bemoan the implications for college basketball.

In the absence of some type of league or government imposed restriction (as we see in the NFL), I don’t see this situation changing. What is interesting is to think about the implications for the future. I would expect private for-profit high schools to emerge that are essentially feeders to the pros in the same way the colleges are now. To some extent, there are such schools now, schools in urban areas that put a lot of resources into basketball. But this phenomenon is going to intensify. I’d expect such schools to spend a lot of time on various character-building experiences in hopes of creating a brandname for both the NBA and prospective students.

The real barrier to this kind of prep school is the challenge of capital market. If talented but poor 15 year olds could easily borrow against future earnings then such schools would flourish. So how do you get around that problem? One way would be for such schools to combine basketball education with financial management skills. These skills could probably be provided in such a way as to enhance the chances of using the school in some sort of advisory capacity once the kid turns pro. That would allow the school to capture some return on investing in fitness and other skills that go way beyond what current high schools offer.

Who would run such schools? Probably former NBAers who combine basketball reputation with some sort of academic or community gloss. Bill Walton or Magic Johnson, what are you waiting for?

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