As a 17-year-old in 2005, while his Lawrence North High School classmates were deciding whom to ask to prom and where to go with their freshly minted driver’s licenses, Greg Oden weighed a different kind of decision — one that was outside the realm of possibility for his Indianapolis peers, and nearly everyone else in the world.
Should the teenage basketball phenom go to college as one of his class’ most highly recruited big men? Or, upon graduation, would he leap straight to the NBA, where the 7-foot, 250-pound center was already drawing comparisons to four-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal?
It’s a choice countless young people every year dreamed of, but only a rare few faced. And yet, so many spectators seemed to have the “right answer,” happily back-seat driving along each superstar’s route to the basket.
The opportunity to make millions in the NBA at the ripe age of 18 might seem like a no-brainer. But Oden had been open to reporters about his interest in college. The NBA wasn’t going anywhere, and perhaps the college experience would prepare him for the next level. He saw value in both options.
But before his senior season even started, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association essentially made Oden’s decision for him. The league and its players union announced a new rule that prevented players from entering the NBA draft straight out of high school. Moving forward, draft entrants needed to be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft and one year removed from the graduation date of their high school class before entering the league.
Oden enrolled at Ohio State and went on to lead the Buckeyes to a runner-up finish in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Another basketball prodigy, Kevin Durant, joined the Texas Longhorns and won multiple national player of the year awards that same year. After remarkable freshman debuts, both Oden and Durant left for the NBA, where they were drafted first and second, respectively, in 2007 and signed multimillion-dollar contracts.
With that, the one-and-done era was born.
More than a decade later, the age minimum set by the NBA to benefit its game has influenced the college game, too. Leaders in the NBA are now grappling with a decision of their own: Does something need to be done about one-and-done?
Is basketball — both the college and pro games — better off without the 19-year-old age requirement for the NBA draft?
Even for one of the sport’s most polarizing issues, the considerations are nuanced for those closest to the questions.
The NBA age minimum has been controversial since its inception, with critics arguing that elite 18-year-old basketball players should have the freedom to choose between making millions as a pro or attending school as a student-athlete. But the stakes rose in September 2017 when the FBI announced it was investigating potentially corruptive practices in college basketball. In response, the NCAA formed an independent Commission on College Basketball, led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and tasked the group with examining critical issues in Division I men’s basketball and proposing solutions.
One of that group’s recommendations was more of a plea to the NBA and the players union: Pull back the age limit to make players eligible after high school. Help us eliminate the one-and-done trend in college basketball.
At a media address last summer, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver hinted that modifications may be in the making. “My personal view is that we’re ready to make that change,” Silver said, before adding: “It won’t come immediately.”
As those discussions continue, basketball fans, players and coaches around the country watch, wait and wonder if a rule that has fueled debates in the basketball community for more than a decade might soon end, and what that might mean for the game’s future.