Yesterday, Duke freshman Kyrie Irving made news for declaring he was hiring an agent and entering the NBA draft. Ordinarily, this type of declaration doesn’t surprise most people. But this year, with the labor strife in the NBA looking like it will at least lead to a shortened season, it seems to be a little odd. Irving, who only played 11 games for the Blue Devils due to injury, is likely to be the #1 overall draft pick this year (Cleveland fans don’t get excited, you still have to deal with the bouncing balls of the draft lottery to see if he’ll come be your new savior). Under normal circumstances this would mean big money and big endorsement deals. This year, it could mean sitting home and watching basketball instead of playing it.
The question becomes should a player leave college and turn pro in the hopes that the NBA will be able to resolve its labor issues and return to normal operations before a new season or stay in school and reap no financial benefits at all. I have to be honest here, with rare exception (Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony jump to mind) I am not a fan of kids skipping school or leaving early to get in the NBA draft. Teams are so worried about being wrong about a Kobe Bryant (13th pick) or a Rajon Rondo (21st pick) that they jump the gun to grab a red flag like Greg Oden or an untested talent like Kwame Brown far too early. This makes for painful basketball for the fans of teams that make the wrong guess. It also means a short career for those that don’t find a niche to fill on a team.
As with most things, it comes down to the money. When you are faced with the opportunity to sign a contract worth several million dollars, it’s difficult to turn it down. Particularly when you realize that money could be life changing for you and your family. But this year, the money is no guarantee. As a matter of fact, once the labor dust settles, there could be far less money available than before. Sure, anything can happen. Irving was injured this year at Duke and he could face the same situation next year losing that #1 possibility (and the money associated with it). The worst case scenario: you sit on ice, unable to interact with your team and coaches while trying to stay in shape on your own. I’m not sure I could in good conscience advise my son to take that gamble.