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LeBron James dunks on the NCAA, shrugs at the NBA’s role in the mess

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We have that and more in Tuesday’s NBA newsletter.

2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers Media Day Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBron James added another line to his political resumé this weekend as his HBO show The Shop hosted California Governor Gavin Newsom to talk about and sign into law a bill allowing college athletes in the state to profit off of their likeness. LeBron was joined by Mav Carter, Diana Taurasi, Katelyn Ohashi, Rich Paul, and (most importantly) Ed O’Bannon watching it happen. It’s pretty unreal given the political reticence of a previous generation of NBA star. Here’s the full segment.

Matt Brown breaks down what the bill would actually do and the implications nationally. California legislators wrote the bill to take effect in 2023 precisely to pressure the NCAA to come up with a national solution to the issue of athletes being barred from making money off of endorsements so, like, UCLA and Cal don’t actually drop out of the NCAA to meet state law. The NCAA predictably charged that California is destroying college sports and Title IX. The NCAA can of course fix the issue by finding some common sense rules allowing players nationwide to get paid within certain limits.

What I’m most interested in from an NBA perspective is that LeBron, who never played in college, is so invested in this fight. The age minimum went into effect a few years after LeBron entered the league, and is still on the books. The age minimum is the reason the top American basketball prospects have to futz with the NCAA at all.

LeBron has been the No. 2 in the players’ union for years, and one of his best friends is the No. 1, and the union has not made repealing the age minimum a priority. The NBA and union are working out the unwinding of the age minimum now, and it is set to be complete by the time LeBron’s talented son is eligible to go pro. But it didn’t seem to be due to any pressure from Chris Paul, LeBron, or the players. It actually seems like the NBA finally caved to pressure from the NCAA, which says it hates the one-and-done paradigm for basketball. The players’ union could have agitated for change years ago and helped elite prospects avoid the vampiric NCAA altogether. But it didn’t. Why?

It’s a pretty twisted web, leaving most of us just to look for progress instead of heroes. The NCAA is an easy and deserving punching bag. But the NBA players’ union let the league use the NCAA as a crutch for going on 14 years. They share some blame in the system that exists, even if they do support letting athletes profit.

WNBA Finals, Game 2

Game 2 of the WNBA Finals between the Sun and Mystics lands at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Here’s Matt Ellentuck on how the Washington offense was unbreakable in Game 1.

Is this going to be a series or a coronation? Let’s find out.


Michael Pina on how the Thunder can rebuild without tanking. Being in a loaded conference helps preserve, to some extent, the quality of OKC’s own picks.

Zach Lowe offers up his six most intriguing players of the season to come.

Why people in the WNBA are especially excited about the Celtics’ hire of Kara Lawson.

John Hollinger is back (behind a paywall)! Hollinger was truly, along with Kevin Pelton, a groundbreaking basketball writer for the stats curious. Hollinger and Pelton shaped what analytic basketball coverage has become. Good to have both writing again. (Never leave us, Kevin!)

Potent Ben Golliver column on Kyrie Irving’s grief.

The most productive 1-2 punches ever.

Be excellent to each other.