While the National Basketball Association (NBA) is still the undisputed highest level of play and competition of professional basketball, it appears as if the way to enter this league is now evolving. Before 2006, it was not unlikely for a player to be drafted into the NBA straight out of high school, which resulted in 18-year-old graduates to enter the league. This high school draft rule ultimately lead to high caliber athletes such as Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. However, many players did not end up becoming NBA superstars and suffered heavily from their lack of higher education.
Due to the rule change in 2006 preventing the NBA from drafting high school players, a player now must be 19 years old to enter the draft and have spent a minimum of one year out of high school. While many believe that this means a player has to attend college, that is not explicitly stated. This means that players are now able to enter the various other professional basketball leagues around the world and bypass college altogether. While the conventional way to the NBA is still the now-infamous “one and done,” in which players play one year of college and leave to enter the draft, new pathways are opening up for these young athletes.
Players like RJ Hampton and Lamelo Ball — who are both 18 years old — are some of the latest and most high profile cases of professional basketball players overseas. The two have been playing in the Australian National Basketball League (NBL), and have attracted many eyes of basketball fans and NBA scouts alike. While the two are now likely top picks in the 2020 draft, this dream was far from guaranteed just a couple of months ago. For example, when Ball was young, many began to doubt if he would ever make it to the NBA. However, following his success in the NBL, doubt faded away, and now he is regarded as a top-five prospect. Through professional basketball, Ball has been able to reshape his game and prove to the NBA that he can perform at a high level.
Payment to players is another aspect of professional play. While the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) passed a bill in September of this year stating that college players will be able to profit off their name, which will not begin until 2023. In addition to the season salary, players are also open to endorsement deals, which are prohibited in the NCAA. Hampton is not only making more money than all college players, but he has also landed a five-year deal with the Chinese shoe brand Li-Ning, which has signed NBA players. While landing a relatively high profile brand deal is very rare, and by no means guaranteed, it remains a testament to the opportunities that come with players choosing the path of playing professional basketball.
While playing professionally overseas has opened a brand new door of opportunities for young athletes, it is still a dangerous path. Even with its controversy, this route has proven itself to be a legitimate way to bypass college basketball, and this will most likely become a more mainstream approach for many rising stars in the future.