The NBA Lockout is terrible on just about all levels for the game of basketball.
The NBA, which is coming off its most compelling season since Michael Jordan was playing, won’t be able to capitalize on its recent momentum. NBA players need to figure out what they’ll be doing this fall, with some contemplating jumps to play overseas. Fans may miss out on seeing some of the most competitive basketball and young stars the league has ever seen.
But there is a silver lining to the threat of a prolonged work stoppage. Rather than sit idle, some players are using their time off to do something productive: work toward their college degree.
Fairly or unfairly, many have argued about the merits of the one-and-done rule, with players leaving college early for the NBA. Oftentimes, the assurance of a large salary is too much to overlook for players that may not come from wealthy backgrounds.
But unfortunately, leaving school early and going on to a productive career might mean never getting a college degree. This week, Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears reported that many players are working to change that:
“UCLA’s American Popular Culture class now has four out-of-work NBA players – Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, New Orleans Hornets forward Trevor Ariza and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Baron Davis – among its students.”
Westbrook, Love and Ariza all left school early to play in the NBA. Going back to school allows them to enhance their skills for a post-NBA career and to be average college kids — something they never got to truly experience.
No one can accuse the players of being distracted from their day jobs because there is no season right now.
Ten years ago, Vince Carter went to his college graduation at the University of North Carolina, and then appeared in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. At the time, he was lambasted as being a distraction.
But Carter, like these current players, was actually just trying to be the student that he didn’t have an opportunity to be when he was in school. He was one of many college basketball players who don’t get time to enjoy being student-athletes. They’re often too busy working on the basketball court to win championships for big-business and bottom-line athletic programs.
In 2001, Dan Patrick wrote about Carter’s decision to attend graduation:
“It seems to me that this whole trumped-up controversy sends an oddly mixed message, especially on the day the NBA draft order was announced. We always wring our hands over the kids who leave college early, as Vince Carter himself once did. We criticize them for having the wrong priorities and for devaluing the appeal of a college degree to impressionable youths.”
This offseason is proof that players do understand the value of a college degree, and it’s not just the young players who are taking advantage.
Veteran Baron Davis is going back to school this summer too, and plans to enroll in the fall if the lockout continues. It took Baron a while to truly understand the importance of a college degree.
He tried to go back seven years ago but left citing that he had trouble focusing. This summer, however, Davis said he’s fully committed to being a student.
“With all I’ve been through this year, losing my grandmother, I felt like I need to start taking paths to better myself at this point in my life,” Davis said. “Get back in a college atmosphere. Even if there is a lockout, I look at what opportunity do I have to get something accomplished that I want to accomplish in my life, you know?”
Kentucky is known as a one-and-done factory, where players use the school as a quick pit stop on the way to the league. But last month, coach John Calipari tweeted that current NBA players and former Kentucky guards Rajon Rondo, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe will enroll in the fall if there’s a prolonged lockout, proving that the value of a college degree isn’t lost on them.
All of these players deciding to go back to school is great for them, and is a greater message to young NBA fans. The players left college and went to the NBA early because it made sense from a skill and/or financial standpoint. But now that they may have extra time, they’re wisely going to utilize it to become more qualified for a career after their retirement.
We probably won’t see the NBA’s top superstars showcasing their talents on the court for a long time. But at least some of them are using that time to showcase much more important talents inside the classroom.