Updated: Mar 18, 2021
Introduction and Argument
“One-and-done” is a term that has been developing over the last fifteen years, and continues to be redefined in the world of athletics. Although the term traditionally refers to prospective draftees of the National Basketball Association (NBA) who showcase their talents at the collegiate level for a single season before becoming NBA professionals, the recent emergence of more viable options for NBA prospects to reach their goal has allowed this term to take on new meaning. Known to most as the “One-and-Done Rule,” the NBA’s 2006 minimum eligibility rule has created a pipeline for potential NBA players that is being dismantled by the revolutionary mindset of the nation's best high school players .
This NCAA-to-NBA pipeline is one that funnels prospects through the NCAA in a field where formal education is not necessary for long-term success, while also hindering the ability of young black men to have the freedom to capitalize from their skills and abilities. At the same time, this delay in eligibility has created a huge revenue stream for the NCAA and the multi-million dollar corporations involved in the system (what I refer to as the NCAA Growth Machine). This network of money moving throughout the growth machine is made by the exploitation of bodies of young black men who continue to be the only ones left out of the conversation of financial capital due to their amateur status.
The Emergence of the Prep-To-Pro Era
The NBA’s initial decision in 1969 to allow high school athletes to make the leap was reactionary to the American Basketball Association (ABA). At the center of the two competing American professional basketball leagues was a young black man named Spencer Haywood. At the age of twenty and coming off an Olympic championship, Spencer led the NCAA in rebounds and averaged 32 points a game in his Sophomore season at the University of Detroit. The highly touted prospect was ready to sign a contract with the ABA’s Denver Rockets after the 1968-69 season, meanwhile the rule in the NBA at this point in time was that prospects had to be four years removed from high school in order to be draft eligible; on the other hand, the ABA had no such restrictions. The rule did give the NBA an competitive edge because it allowed the NBA to attract more polished players and mature, pro-ready athletes into their league, but Haywood’s talent level was so ahead of everyone else that he could not be passed on. Therefore, when Haywood and the Rockets could not agree on the terms of his contract, the owner of the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics bypassed the NBA’s rule and signed Haywood to a contract. This move led to a lawsuit between Haywood and the NBA, which eventually resulted in the dismantling of the four-year rule. From there, the door was open for the country’s top eighteen year-old prospects
to take advantage of their opportunity much earlier in their careers .
Even with this opportunity, it took some time for the trend of players going straight from high school to the NBA to gain popularity because the precedent that Haywood set in motion was groundbreaking, and most of their peers were not good enough to skip college. Moses Malone was the first player to go from “prep to pro,” but it took nearly twenty-five years for this to become normalized in professional basketball, led by Kevin Garnett in the 1995 NBA Draft. From there, NBA superstars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James soon followed suit to make it a trend .
How did the One-and-Done Rule Come About?
After a decade of experiencing the “prep to pro” era the NBA was due to meet again with the Player’s Association in 2005 to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). It was then decided that the prep to pro era would come to an end with the new draft eligibility requirements outlined in the new CBA. It was ruled that prospects have to be a year removed from high school graduation or turn nineteen years-old during the calendar year of the draft in order to be eligible. This decision, colloquially known as the “One-and-Done” Rule, was implemented to allow players “time to mature” before entering the NBA ; but how much maturation can an eighteen year old kid do in a single year? Rather than pushing youth stars out of the professional game, the NBA could have done more to implement new resources for incoming rookies that would equip them to handle both the physical and professional aspects that come with being an NBA player. They could have mandated certain workshops, training and quotas for players to meet financially by writing them into rookie contracts. The NBA could have also created more opportunities for veteran players to nurture the growth and development of young stars to ensure their success. Rather than take on that challenge to develop players as human beings they decided to offshore that process to the NCAA, who is less equipped to foster the holistic development of those who pay their bills.
Navigating Amateurism in the NCAA Growth Machine
Since the NBA functions as a monopoly in the U.S., the primary option for players who are not draft eligible remains to be the NCAA Division I system. With some of the world’s greatest athletes --majority of whom are black-- now taking their talents to predominantly white institutions the NCAA would be able to exploit their talents for the profits of everyone except for the individuals who are producing the capital. The “One-and-Done” rule does not require prospects to go to college, but they are funneled into playing NCAA basketball by a number of factors. America has the greatest market and resources in the world for basketball players, which means there is no better way for prospects to continue to grow their draft stock than by playing at the next-best level in the country. Also, even though there are great opportunities to play professionally and continue to be scouted overseas most of these prospects are seventeen and eighteen year-old Black kids from poor urban neighborhoods. Therefore, rather than becoming millionaires overnight and dedicating all their time to developing into pro-ready assets they have to take college courses for 2 semesters knowing that they will not be earning a college degree in the immediate future and at the same time obey all the NCAA rules associated with amateurism.
Unlike all other students on a college campus, under the NCAA student-athletes cannot profit from their name, image, and likeness. Therefore, prospective draftees cannot build their brand or market themselves using their platform to profit from their physical assets while playing college hoops. It is insensible that in a capitalist society everyone has the mobility to accumulate capital freely unless they are a student-athlete . And considering that 93% of the one-and-done athletes in the NBA today identify as black or African American , this model by the NCAA largely resembles a modern form of slavery and racism in athletics. Our society views athletics as the most true form of a meritocracy, but it is evident that this is not the case and it is another realm where Black people in America cannot exercise the same social mobility and capital liberty that corporate CEO's can.
In addition to these NCAA financial barriers there are substantial risk factors associated with prospects not being able to immediately take the opportunity to go to the NBA. Unlike any other field, athletics professionals rely on their physical gifts to earn a living. This means that the more these young men play, the more they are susceptible to career ending injury. Even if they do not suffer a career ending injury, any serious injury could mean a loss of millions of dollars for that individual.
For example, Michael Porter Jr. was the number one ranked prospect for the 2018 draft coming out of high school in 2017. Upon playing his one year of college basketball at the University of Missouri he suffered a back injury after only playing six games. This injury, which would eventually require Porter to sit his entire rookie season, negatively affected his draft stock, pushing him down to the fourteenth selection in the 2018 NBA draft. The number one pick in that draft, Deandre Ayton, signed a contract that totaled more than $41 million over 4 years ($8 million in the first year), whereas Porter signed a $15 million contract ($3 million in the first year) as the fourteenth pick. This translates to a loss of $25 million for Michael Porter over the course of the first four seasons of his NBA . Salaries for number one picks in the draft grow rapidly one a year-to-year basis. Since the “One-and-Done rule was instituted, all but one of the #1 picks in the NBA draft have been one-and-done players. The first, Greg Oden in 2007 made $3,885,000 in the first year of his rookie deal, whereas the top pick for this year’s 2020 NBA draft is projected to make $8,567,800 in their rookie season [2,4].
Lastly, one of the most significant issues with such high profile athletes having to play a year of NCAA basketball is because of the scandals that the institutions are responsible for coercing them into. The One-and-Done Era has created a large growth machine of capital and wealth off the backs of student-athletes and continues to operate by the breaking of the NCAA amateur status of student-athletes. There has been an uptick in college scandals throughout the One-and-Done Era because of the amounts of money that are moving through this growth machine that operates through the productivity of student-athletes whose value requires them and their families to be compensated. Multinational corporations and athletics brands have been caught by the FBI for
laundering money through college basketball programs; universities are being put on probation for long periods of time for admission scandals and bribes to their student-athletes. Not only does this hurt the student-athletes, but it is jeopardizing the integrity of some of the most prestigious institutions of higher education. A lot of this controversy in college athletics would dissipate if the athletes were able to go straight to the NBA .
The Evolution of Alternative Pathways to Professionalism
Over the Past decade, the globalization of the game of basketball has opened new opportunities for prospects ready to step into the professional game after showcasing their skills at the high school level. Significantly, in the past three years we have seen some of the nation’s top NBA lottery prospects take their talents to overseas leagues to develop and prepare for the NBA draft. The benefit to the overseas model over NCAA college basketball is that prospects get to play professionally without restrictions on their profitability. They also gain the experience of playing against fully grown adults and developing as professionals all while still being closely scouted by the NBA. Two top five prospects of the upcoming 2020 draft are actively playing for overseas franchises in Australian National Basketball League (NBL). Lamelo Ball has spent the last year playing for the Illawarra Hawks, and is expected to be the #1 overall pick in 2020 .
The newest pathway to the NBA for top prospects has been created by the NBA itself through its developmental league, the G-League. Although the G-League has been an opportunity for graduating high school seniors and college players to step into professionally since it was created in 2008, it has been widely unpopular for top prospects and has primarily served to collect the dripping of those who went undrafted out of college. Although college basketball poses real issues in terms of the rights of its student-athletes it is far more competitive and lively than the NBA G-League, and for a long time their salaries were not enough to attract any box office players. However, in 2019 the league announced the G-League Select Team, which was supposed to award select contracts of $125,000 to 2020 draft eligible high school prospects. No players in the high school graduating class of 2019 accepted the contract, so the league decided to formulate an improved select model that would include: taking part in training and ten to twelve exhibition games against other G League teams, foreign national teams and NBA academies. On the same day that this new model was announced, the number one player in the ESPN 100 Rankings for 2020, Jalen Greene, signed a $500,000 contract with the select team. Weeks later, 4 other top prospects would join Greene . With some of the nation’s top recruits taking this path to the draft, if it works out we may see a disinvestment in the NCAA.
Lastly, the prep basketball circuit has grown as a very competitive field for prospects to dive into before entering the draft. At college prep schools such as IMG and Montverde Academy, Prolific Prep, and Brewster have been able to gather some of the best resources in training and sports medicine to allow student-athletes to have the time to focus on perfecting their craft and removing the academic element from the equation. Unlike normal public schools there are no issues with recruitment at the prep level, so the nation’s best youth athletes team up for their senior seasons with their peers. With all these viable options for student athletes, they are able to shatter the mold of the NCAA-NBA pipeline to have the agency to choose between different avenues to prepare them .
Where Does Change Need to Come From?
This year, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has openly shown his support for getting rid of the rule, but acknowledges that it cannot be done until the current CBA expires in 2023. Although, the rule itself is not the only issue. I do believe there are better ways to address the preparation of NBA prospects that do not include locking them out; but the NCAA has deep systemic issues that need to be addressed. Currently, issues such as name, image and likeness are currently at the forefront of consciousness, but if the NCAA cannot work with the student-athletes to develop a system to fairly and adequately compensate them, then their member institutions should not be allowed to recruit high-profile recruits. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament alone grosses $700 million in revenue for the sponsors, television networks and universities involved, but the players receive nothing in return. NCAA sports cannot operate as a capital producing industry if the laborers producing that capital are considered amateurs.
More Resources on One-and -Done
One & Done: Ben Simmons Documentary
Available on Reddit, Showtime, Amazon Prime, Hulu
The Fab Five: Documentary about Michigan’s 5 Freshmen
Available on ESPN
The Scheme: Christian Dawkins Documentary
Available on HBO
One and Not Done: John Calipari Documentary
Available on ESPN 30 for 30
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