Shoals Unlimited: John Wall Situation Points Out Ambiguity of the NBA's Age Rule


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↵Let me put aside my mask of objective journalism for a minute and confess. Confess that I've been swept up in the John Wall whirlwind in a way I've come to expect only from Kobe in the playoffs, or Durant in college. First, he was light years ahead of every player at last weekend's Hoop Summit, stunning even in defeat. Then, the increasingly byzantine, and delayed, decision about a school. And then, for 24 hours, Wall had the entire hoops world holding its breath when it came out that he might have a valid case for going pro this summer. ↵

↵Some measure of sanity returned to my life today, when Wall indicated that he has no plans to take on the age limit. We'll never know for sure what prompted Wall's announcement. Did he receive some back channel information from a team, or the league brass? Was he warned of a court battle defeat? Does the kid just really want that one-and-done experience? ↵

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↵However, all the drama surrounding John Wall, as well as the otherworldliness of his game, obscure the real moral of the story. Wall's challenge to the age limit wouldn't have been as revolutionary as say, Brandon Jennings's European vacation. Wall might have seemed like a potential crusader against the age limit, or a superstar-in-training lobbying for the chance to play at the highest level (like when LeBron threatened to try and go pro as a junior). He simply had the possibility to exploit an ambiguity, a loophole so obvious that I can't believe it's been sitting there this long. Wall's case would have been that he's playing by the rules, not overthrowing them. That is, unless the NBA feels like clarifying exactly what the point of the age limit is. ↵

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↵John Wall is a fifth-year senior; ergo, when the draft rolls around, he'll be one year removed from when his high school class graduated. That he didn't graduate with them makes it tricky to say exactly which class -- 2008 or 2009 -- is "his class." However, Larry Fitzgerald was allowed to enter the NFL draft as a sophomore because he'd spent a year at a military academy getting his grades up. Maybe there's a distinction to be drawn between Fitzgerald, who heroically moved to a different institution for the express purpose of improving his academics, and Wall, who just didn't graduate last year. And of course, jumping to the pros from high school is much bigger deal than leaving college a year early. But the whole notion of "his class" is never as clear-cut as it seems, what with kids skipping or repeating grades at various points, starting school early or late, or simply being really old or young for their class. In short, it's almost like there's a conflict between literal age, academic progress, or some more nebulous form of "maturity." ↵

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↵If you go by the criteria -- age and time elapsed -- it appears there's no good reason to keep John Wall out of the NBA. The rule states a player must be at least 19 during the calendar year of the draft (check) and that one NBA season has passed since the player's graduation from high school -- or, if the player did not graduate from high school, since the player would have graduated. There's no rule that draft entrants need to have a high school degree, or as with Jennings, do anything in particular with that pre-pro season if they don't feel like attending college. Again, to return to Fitzgerald: Both he and Wall took more courses with a goal in mind. Both wanted better grades. If the real purpose of the age limit is to ensure a high school education and a season of NCAA ball (and education), well, it should say so. Perversely, it seems like Wall might have a better case if he never graduates, since then he was just killing time in high school, not fighting to determine "his class." ↵

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↵Or is the point simply that, in an overly paternalistic manner, the NBA wants to make sure it drafts "grown-up" rookies. Last summer, Michael Beasley ruffled feathers by reminding people that, even after a season of Big 12 ball, he was still unrepentantly young at heart. If the rule isn't explicitly about attending college, graduating high school, or anything other than pure age, than the concept of "grown-up" -- and the rule itself -- becomes exceptionally relative. ↵

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↵One thing's for sure: If the NBA wanted to keep John Wall from happening, it could've written the rule differently. That it didn't is either inexcusably sloppy or implies that, for whatever reason, it would prefer to not get specific about exactly why the rule is necessary. This may have been a safeguard against some future legal challenge. The irony, then, is that Wall might have had a chance at waltzing right in as the exception that proves, even reinforces, the rule. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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