Jason Whitlock on Fixing the NBA

KC Star columinst Jason Whitlock offered an interesting theory on how to make the NBA better and that is by reducing the number of early entrants in an effort to make these kids go to college first, allow them to make a name for themselves at that level then go to the NBA:

LeBron James, allegedly, is a big star. He has a huge shoe contract. He’s featured in clever commercials. His face is recognized around the world. So why didn’t people tune in to see him play in the NBA finals?

Because basketball fans in Lawrence and Bloomington, Ind., and Durham, N.C., and all the other little basketball hotbeds don’t care about LeBron James. He didn’t play their game. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan built gigantic college followings and brought those passionate fans with them to the NBA.

I totally agree with that because I know my interest in the NBA rose and fell based on the presence of Michael Jordan(because he went to UNC) and any other UNC player out there. In fact I watched an MJ game on ESPN Classic and would have chosen that over this year’s NBA Finals had it been on at the same time. If you read the message board at Inside Carolina you see the NBA interest centers almost exclusively on the UNC players in the league which means there are fans to be had if they are associated with a college to begin with and not just one year either. I would also argue that from the standpoint of sheer physical maturity and fundamentals that the longer these guys stay in college the better they are in professional basketball. Roy said as much about Brandan Wright but the NBA is in a “draft for potential” cycle which causes mass numbers of players to hit the league after one year in school and very little name recognition. As for the individual players, THF commenter Josh Bowling made a similar point when Wright declared:

Just one more successful Carolina year capped with a final 4 finish, and Brandan being a big part of it could result in “name recognition” and big endorsement deals for him. It is not always “what you can get now”, sometimes patience pays off. In Brandan’s situation, I think it could, significantly!

In the grand scheme of things everyone benefits from these kids staying in school for at least two years. The only ones who do not benefit are those handful who want the money now and any hanger-ons who are looking to cash in off a friend/relatives’ success. If the NBA is the top of the pyramid then what happens when the foundation starts to crumble?

Hat tip: ACC Now

Quick Note: Can I ask one question…why on earth does Whitlock include Durham in his list of college towns?  Yes I know Duke is very good but does Whitlock know that Duke only has 6000 students and that people in Durham are not necessarily huge Duke fans just because the team is there. Basketball fans are far more represented in the population in Chapel Hill because UNC is more a part of the community than Duke is in Durham.  At least that is how I see it.

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6 Responses to Jason Whitlock on Fixing the NBA

  1. w says:

    how many kids has james fathered so far? very mature….

  2. Dan Schwind says:

    Two things: First, I whole-heartedly agree. I noticed that my interest in the NBA significantly declined once everyone started bolting straight from high school, and now, after one year. The only players I remotely keep up with these days are Vince, Antawn, etc.

    Second: To answer your question about Whitlock talking about the fans of Durham, you have to understand the view of North Carolina from the Midwest. I have relatives in Ohio, and they talk the same way, and basically when they say “Durham,” that includes the entire Triangle. For some reason, Durham has the most name-recognition to them, so that represents all three schools. I guess they don’t like to use the phrase “triangle” because it’s not the only “triangle” region in the country.

  3. Whit Heintz says:

    I am a Heels fan from Champaign, IL (that made for an interesting championship game to watch with co-workers), but everyone I know refers to Chapel Hill. They hate Duke here almost as much as I do.

    I also agree with Whitlock about college recognition. I have no interest in the NBA until the finals (limited defense in the regular season). And with no players to root for, I didn’t watch a complete half of basketball during these finals. Did anyone on Cleveland’s roster, other that Gibson to to college?

  4. Dean Forever says:

    Whitlock has a point in regards to name recognition, but we’ve heard this one before. Remember all of the press about the retirement of Michael Jordan after the ’98 season? I remember that the consensus was that the league would ultimately suffer because of a lack of indentifiable (this word was big back in the day) superstars. I do believe that players developing at the collegiate level is paramount for all parties involved. I’ll save that novel for another day.

    In respone to Whitlock’s name-dropping Durham (instead of Chapell Hill), I agree with Dan Schwind. I don’t know why our sports culture has such little reverence for historical context, but I doubt that most young fans who watched UNC cut down the nets in ’05 or spank Duke around last year even know the difference (between Chapell Hill and Durham). This is vintage Whitlock. I’ve yet to read a column of his or blog in which there was not some underlying dig at someone or some fan base. He loves it.
    I think that it would have been more appropriate to say Tobacco Road, but Whitlock enjoys treading that line between accuracy and absurdity. I’m not going to start on the “Duke media bias” because I think that their time in the sun is over, and the media knows it. ESPN and the like helped to create the Duke monster because they need to sensationalize everything to fill the airwaves. So, you get people like Whitlock saying “Durham” because it ignites the fire. Look at it this way, the rise of Duke (in conjunction with the rise of the internet era) actually helps UNC in the end. How? If Coach K’s program had not accomplished what they had, surely the fire and disdain would have been thrown UNC’s way. UNC had already gotten to that point by the late 80s, and would have been thrown to the lions in the early 90s. Duke’s run from 1986-1994 established them as the premiere program during that period. Had it been left at that, then all would have been well. However, it was the coddling, the nursing, the empathy bestowed upon Duke by the media whenever the Blue Devils failed that pissed off every self-respecting college hoops fan. Imagine how Dean would have been second-guessed and/or dissed had UNC undergone a 14-19 (or whatever Duke’s record was in ’94-’95) season in, say 1985-1986? My goodness!
    Anyways, sports journalists (with the exception of honest writers such as Pat Forde of ESPN) have been digustingly slow to respond to Duke’s fall from grace (if they ever were in the “grace” pantheon…and if they were there, they were not the only ones). Duke are not the New York Yankees….the Yanks could lose 90 games a year and still be THE program of envy because they have won 26 championships. Do we look at UCLA in this light? Absolutely not. Whitlock knows this double-standard all to well, and he (like the rest) will revert to it whenever possible. It’s Duke hate that sells-bottom line.

  5. TxTarheel says:

    It’s very easy to think MJ, Bird & Magic – but what about ALL the high level of talent coming into the NBA between 1980 – 1985. HOF’ers & perennial All-Stars, Olympic gold-medal winners, top of their professions & understanding it is about busting it in practice & winning. Bird, Magic, MJ, Ewing, Barkley, Thomas, Malone, Stockton, Mullins, Dominique, Worthy, Perkins, Akeem, Drexler: the list could drag on. . . .Perhaps guys like Oden and Durant can turn the tide, even after one season in college

    Having grown up watching those players excel, today’s NBA fails to hold my interest at all. Golf season starts when UNC hoops is done (a later start is always better)

  6. 52BigGameJames says:

    very good points by all on this thread–a point to ponder–could it possibly be that an entire generation of potential (young) fans lost interest in the NBA game because of the “Kobe self-love” style of play. I too am a fan of great defense, and if you watch a regular season game, the style of play is a complete joke. Isolate 1, who shoots or drives with marginal defense, while the other 4 watch.

    No (or few) grudge matches like “Gang-Green” & “Show-Time”. In short, there simply are no “epic-matches”, individually or collectively. What’s to like?

    As to ex-UNC’ers, Vince Carter is emblematic of this imo, as was Stackhouse until fairly recently.

    Stern fits right in with the “golden-parachuter’s” in this day & age–no accountability for presiding over the unmistakable decline of a good if not great product.

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