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2002 Youth serves NBA very well

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" The recently held Annual NBA All-Star Weekend is always awash with a smorgasbord of parties, concerts and all-star events.

In fact, there were too many.  Of course the NBA All-Star events "slam dunk, skills, three-point and all-star contest" were encapsulating.

The limousine driven stars (from the big screen and hip-hop music worlds) and the massive party scenes are all things that will stay with the revelers forever.

However, what will stay with me is NBA Commissioner Dave Stern's continued retort against high school players playing in his league.

There is even talk the NBA may try to incorporate an age limit into the upcoming collective bargaining agreement.

"To me it is an important point,"  Stern told a group of reporters in Denver. "For individual player issues, community issues and business issues, I support raising the age limit."

It seems hypocritical to ESPN analyst Greg Anthony and me, too.

"I think that it’s what’s popular in society," expressed Anthony without reservation.  "In my mind, I don’t want to say it’s a racist position, but you have young people in other sports like golf, tennis and gymnastics that are not predominately Black athletes and they go out and play effectively and there is no outcry."

Anthony continued:  "The bottom line is that America is about opportunity and if you have the ability you should be afforded the opportunity to perform. I always say if you have a problem with it, don’t draft them. Just because a player declares for the draft does not mean they have to get drafted. If the league doesn’t want them in the NBA don’t draft them.”

Anthony even took o­n the collective bargaining agreement .  "Legally they have no grounds to stand o­n," he said,  it’s a non-issue. It’s good rhetoric to come from the league, but for me I have no problem with high school players. Who are we to keep Lebron James from exhibiting his God given talent."

The NBA merchandising  and world-wide audience is at record highs and the 2005 NBA All-Star Game had seven of its 24 players, James, Jermaine O’Neal, Kobe Bryant,  Kevin Garnett, Rashard Lewis, Tracey McGrady and Amare Stoudemire, come directly from high school. And that number does not include the foreign players " there were four " who are identified as early as age 14 and play o­n club teams.

With the success and maturity each of these players have demonstrated against the best players in the league, and, the seer and exuberance each plays the game, makes them fan favorites all over the world.

It seems so un-American that at 18 it’s okay to put a gun in o­ne’s hand, but it’s an outrage to put a professional basketball in that same person’s hand.

"It is unconstitutional," O’Neal told me. "We are talking about basketball! There are people that died in wars at eighteen and nineteen. If you can go shoot a gun for your country, then why can’t you play basketball?

We are not talking about a situation that is failing, just look around at the all-star squad. So why are we talking about putting an age limit o­n the league? High school players are not making people draft them, don’t draft them if o­ne thinks there is not potential there."

Interjected Bryant: "The percentages seem to be in our favor, so I really don’t know. I’m bias when it comes to this subject. I made the jump and I’ve seen my friends make the jump successfully. This is my seventh all-star game, so I did something right, huh?"

Garnett seems to think its perceptions and media that make high school athletes an issue.

"Obviously they would love to market the high flyers and the young guys who are able to make the transition,” said Garnett, the 2003-04 NBA MVP,  “but at the same time for every two or three who make it, you have some that do not make it and their stories gets publicized , that’s the reality part of it.

“I think Dave Stern is taking a cautious approach to high school players.  However, I think it’s a little unfair, because the fans want something new and need something new to keep their interest. I don’t think they should change the rule at all. Because without the opportunity there would be no Garnett’s,  Lebron’s or Amares.”

Stoudemire and James just seem puzzled by the NBA’s position and the media’s negative attention during our interview.

"I don’t know why there is a problem," exclaimed Stoudemire, "I would think with guys coming out of high school and having success like me and Lebron . . . why change the rule?"

Concurred James: "The guys doing well right now, myself, Kobe, Tracey, Jermaine, Amare and Kevin are some of the top guys in the NBA, so I don’t understand the negative press and energy put out there to exclude players like me in the future."

One thing’s for sure, a youngster like Stoudemire, James and slam-dunk champions Josh Smith have the respect of their peers for their attitudes and work ethics.

"I applaud them," said all-star game MVP Allen Iverson.  "It is a good feeling to know that you have guys like Lebron and Amare come into the league and display the maturity they have. I think if a young man is ready, why not give them the chance?"

Bryant noted Stoudemire and James have a different challenge then he did.

"When Kevin made the jump . . . then Tracey made the jump . . . and I did it," explained Bryant, "every year it has become more acceptable " at least among the fans, maybe not in the media because they still write negative.”

“The pressure Lebron  and Amare face is different than what we went through. The pressure we faced was proving people wrong, proving we could do it. For Lebron and Amare it’s pressure trying to live up to expectations; we have already proven it can be done."

Some claim they are concerned about those that will not make it and that’s reason enough not to endorse the younger players.

"Granted you are going to have athletes in basketball that come from high school and do not pan out," said Anthony, "but I can give you hundreds more that went to college for four years and did not make it in the league. And let’s not talk about the thousands of high school players drafted by baseball that never make it to the major leagues.

Not everyone will be Lebron James, but the fact that everyone has the opportunity to be Lebron is what life is all about.”

All the players I interviewed assured me they were not anti-college, they simply believe that this is what America is all about, using o­ne’s God give skills to elevate themselves and family.

Who can honestly argue with the results?

Leland Stein can be heard o­n 107.5 every Sunday from 11 p.m. to midnight. He can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com.

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