By Matt Olson
The Chicago Bulls won the 1991 NBA Finals over the Portland Trailblazers, the beginning of a “six titles in eight years” reign over professional basketball. Michael Jordan was NBA MVP, Finals MVP, and was the highlight of the All NBA first team, which also included Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, and Magic Johnson.
Every one of these five men had glorious college basketball careers, and Jordan and Johnson combined won 11 championships. The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers still had a rivalry matched by no other in the league.
Fast forward to 2011. The Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Finals (their first ever championship). Dirk Nowitzki won NBA Finals MVP, and Derrick Rose won NBA MVP. The first team all NBA consisted of Rose, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Lebron James, and Kevin Durant, who spent a combined two years in college. The Celtics and Lakers continue their traditions as successful teams, but their rivalry has dwindled to an annual game on Christmas Day.
What does college mean to the NBA and its players? In the days of the fierce rivalries and the greatest players of all time, college was a quintessential part of each player’s career. Players went to receive educations and to develop their skills before joining the league. Not to mention, these players were receiving educations from some of the best institutions in the country (Jordan went to UNC Chapel Hill and Robinson attended the US Naval Academy).
What credentials do players these days have? The only college that seemingly produces good basketball players and has a renowned educational program is Duke, but this university has never even produced an MVP of the league.
This year, the NBA is in jeopardy of losing their season, with Commissioner David Stern already canceling the preseason. Many superstars of today’s game have decided to play overseas, going to countries such as China, Italy, and Spain. The entire game could be changing, much like it did following the reign of Jordan and the Bulls.
How will colleges and players respond to this? Will an education become more of a priority for players who do not know the future of the organization for which they will ultimately work?
The facts are simple: The average NBA player is bankrupt fewer than ten years after they retire, most likely because they are unaware of how much they are spending living their glorious lifestyles.
However, because many of these players never received a college education, their chances at succeeding in other areas of the workforce are slim to none. And, with the imminent cancellation of many NBA games, players need to have a backup plan as to how they will earn their annual salaries if the NBA lockouts for an extended period of time.
While we may never return to the days of Jordan, Pippen, Barkley, and other phenomenal players who spent time in college, it is essential that the NBA, in this new collective bargaining agreement, create a standard that players remain in college until they receive a degree. For without the tools needed to succeed in the workforce, the league is sending the image that only knowing how to play basketball is sufficient.
It isn’t. Commissioner Stern and his staff must find ways to send the message to their younger players that education is the priority. If that message can be sent, perhaps basketball can return to the days when rivalries were rich, and players were just downright unstoppable.