Eligibility for the NBA draft

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The NBA draft is an annual event in which the 30 franchises in the National Basketball Association select new players for their teams. Eligibility rules for prospective players have changed several times during the history of the league. No player may sign with the NBA until he has been eligible for at least one draft.[1]

Early history[edit]

In the earliest days of the NBA, three players entered the NBA without having played in college (although one of them did not enter the league until he was 39 years old). However, the league eventually established a rule that "a player could not make himself available" for the draft until four years after his high school graduation.[2]

Haywood v. NBA[edit]

The first major challenge to the NBA's eligibility rules came from Spencer Haywood. He graduated from high school in 1967, at a time when college freshmen were not allowed to play varsity sports for NCAA member schools. He played one year at a Colorado junior college, followed by a season at the University of Detroit. After the 1968-69 season, he left college for the NBA's rival at the time, the ABA, which had no rule restricting college underclassmen from entering the league, and had a spectacularly successful rookie season with the Denver Rockets (the predecessor to today's Denver Nuggets), being named the ABA's Rookie of the Year and MVP. Near the end of the season, he turned 21; shortly after its end, he repudiated his contract with the Rockets, claiming he had been defrauded. Haywood then signed a contract with the Seattle SuperSonics, which put him and the Sonics on a collision course with the NBA, as he was only three years removed from his high school graduation.

The NBA threatened to disallow the contract and impose sanctions against the Sonics. Haywood responded by filing an antitrust suit against the league, seeking an injunction to prevent the NBA from disallowing the contract or punishing the Sonics. The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a 7–2 decision in Haywood's favor in 1971.

After the decision, the NBA allowed players to leave college early as "hardship cases", which essentially meant that the player had to prove financial hardship. This rule quickly developed into one that was observed in the breach, with Sport magazine writer Jackie Lapin commenting in the 1970s that "Almost anyone who has been any good at the game in the past decade would qualify [as a hardship case] — with the probable exception of Bill Bradley, the banker's son."[3]

Later history[edit]

Within a few years of the Haywood decision, three high schoolers chose to enter the professional ranks without ever enrolling in a college. The first was Moses Malone, who went to the ABA upon his high school graduation in 1974, almost immediately establishing himself as a star of the future. After the ABA-NBA merger in 1976, his career continued on its upward trajectory, ultimately earning him three NBA MVP awards, four appearances on the All-NBA First Team, 12 consecutive NBA All-Star Game appearances, an NBA title, a place among the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, and enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1975, Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby both went to the NBA from high school. Dawkins had a solid 14-year career in the NBA, while Willoughby was no more than a journeyman in eight NBA seasons.

These players were greatly outnumbered by college underclassmen who chose to leave early for the NBA. While underclass draftees are too numerous to list, it can be noted that among the aforementioned 50 Greatest Players, 10 (not including Malone) left college early for the NBA.[4]

After Dawkins and Willoughby, no high school player went directly to the NBA for 20 years, although Lloyd Daniels and Shawn Kemp went to the NBA without having played college basketball (both had enrolled in college, but never played). That would change in 1995 with the arrival of future NBA MVP Kevin Garnett, who was selected fifth overall. The following year, another future MVP in Kobe Bryant and a future All-Star in Jermaine O'Neal were first-round picks out of high school. Most years after that saw at least one, and often more, high-schoolers drafted, most notably Tracy McGrady (1997), Kwame Brown (the first high-schooler to be the #1 overall pick, in 2001), Amar'e Stoudemire (2002), LeBron James (#1 in 2003), and Dwight Howard (#1 in 2004).

However, the influx of high-schoolers caused considerable controversy. When the NBA and its players union negotiated a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in 2005, NBA Commissioner David Stern publicly called for a higher age limit of 20, stating that he wanted the league's scouts and general managers out of high school gyms and that too many young urban Americans incorrectly saw the NBA as a sure path to fame and financial security.[5] Most of the players were opposed to an age limit;[6] Jermaine O'Neal was perhaps the most strident critic, accusing the NBA of racism.[7] Ultimately, the union reluctantly agreed to an age limit of 19, accepting it in exchange for tweaks to salary cap rules that were favorable to the players' interests.[6]

Current rules[edit]

The current eligibility rules were established under the NBA's 2005 collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which expired in 2011, resulting in a lockout. The new CBA, approved in December 2011, made no changes to the draft rules, but called for the NBA and its players union to form a committee to discuss draft-related issues.[8][9] The basic rules that started in the 2006 draft are:

  • All drafted players must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft.[10] To determine whether a player is eligible for a given year's draft, subtract 19 from the year of the draft. If the player was born during or before that year, he is eligible.
  • Any player who is not an "international player", as defined in the CBA, must be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class.[10]

The "one year out of high school" requirement is in addition to the age requirement. For example, although O. J. Mayo turned 19 in November 2006, six months before his high school graduation, he was not eligible until the 2008 draft, a year after his high school class graduated. Stern stated the rules were business-related and not a "social program", citing the need to see players perform against higher competition before they are evaluated for valuable draft picks.[9]

Automatic eligibility[edit]

Players whose 19th birthday falls during or before the calendar year of the draft, are at least one year removed from the graduation of their high school class, and who do not meet the criteria for "international" players are automatically eligible if they meet any of the following criteria:[11]

  • They have completed 4 years of their college eligibility.
  • If they graduated from high school in the U.S., but did not enroll in a U.S. college or university, four years have passed since their high school class graduated.
  • They have signed a contract with a professional basketball team outside of the NBA, anywhere in the world, and have played under that contract. You also must be released from your contract before you can leave college to go to the NBA


Those who have reached the minimum eligibility age of 19 and meet the criteria for "international" players are automatically eligible if they meet any of the following criteria:

  • They are least 22 during the calendar year of the draft.[12]
  • They have signed a contract with a professional basketball team outside of the NBA within the United States, and have played under that contract.[13]

"Early entry" player[edit]

Players who are not automatically eligible, but wish to be drafted, must declare their eligibility no later than 60 days before the draft.[14] After this date, "early entry" players may attend NBA pre-draft camps and individual team workouts to show off their skills and obtain feedback regarding their draft positions. Under the CBA, a player may withdraw his name from consideration from the draft at any time before the final declaration date, which is 10 days before the draft.[15] However, the NCAA adopted a rule that took effect in August 2009 that requires players at its member institutions to withdraw no later than May 8 to retain their college eligibility; the first draft affected by this rule was the 2010 draft.[16] In 2011, the NCAA further shortened its timeline for players to withdraw and retain eligibility; the deadline now falls one day before the start of the spring signing period for men's basketball, which occurs in April.[17] A player who declares for the draft will lose his college eligibility, even if he is not drafted, if any of the following is true:

  • The player signs with an agent.[18]
  • The player has declared for and withdrawn from a previous draft. Although the NBA collective bargaining agreement allows a player to withdraw twice,[15] the NCAA only allows a player to enter the draft once without losing eligibility.[17]

Definition of "international players"[edit]

The CBA defines "international players" for draft purposes as those who meet all of the following criteria:[19]

  • Permanently reside outside of the U.S. for at least three years before the draft while playing basketball outside of the U.S.
  • Have never enrolled in a U.S. college or university.
  • Did not complete high school in the U.S.

Note that this definition is very different from what the NBA uses in listing "international players" on its team rosters. For that purpose, the league defines an "international player" specifically as one born outside the 50 United States or the District of Columbia.

Reaction of high school players[edit]

In the third annual High School Hoops magazine,[20] the players weighed in on the subject of the new rules regarding draft eligibility. Many of them felt that it was unfair. Kansas State freshman Bill Walker, said (as a junior in high school), "I'm against it. I don't see why you have to be 19 to play a game of basketball when you can be 18 and go to war for our country and die. It's ridiculous." Jerryd Bayless said "It's not fair at all. If a tennis player can go pro at 13, I don't understand why a basketball player can't go pro at 18." A possible number one pick out of high school, had the rule not been put in place, was Greg Oden (though he was still picked first in 2007). When asked about the agreement he said "It's unfair, but it's over with now, so there's no reason to complain." In spite of the claims that the rule is unfair, Wayne Ellington of North Carolina, said that "…I also think it's going to help the league a little bit. Some guys who come in, like from this year's draft, it will help." Brandan Wright said that "It may hurt guys who need money, but it will help people grow and develop."

On the specific topic of Oden entering the draft, Jack Keefer, Oden's high school coach at Lawrence North, Indiana, said, "I really think he thought he was going to college. He seems to be more at ease with himself right now. I think the stress came with worrying about the NBA."[21]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Article X: PLAYER ELIGIBILITY AND NBA DRAFT". nbpa.com. 2005. Section 1a. Archived from the original on February 11, 2013. 
  2. ^ One later player, Reggie Harding, would be drafted in [[1962 NBA Draft|]] despite never enrolling in a college and being less than four years out of high school. However, he did not enter the league until 1963, after he had turned 21.
  3. ^ Friedman, David. "Chocolate Thunder and Short Shorts: The NBA in the 1970s (excerpt)". Basketball in America: From the Playgrounds to Jordan's Game and Beyond. 
  4. ^ Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Julius Erving, George Gervin, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Isiah Thomas, and James Worthy.
  5. ^ Sheridan, Chris, Associated Press (2005-05-12). "Hunter still opposed to raising NBA age limit". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-11-14. 
  6. ^ a b Aschburner, Steve (2008-04-07). "Inside the NBA: NBA, NCAA are both wrong in debate about age limit". SportsIllustrated.com. Retrieved 2008-11-14. 
  7. ^ "Stern wants NBA age limit raised to 20". ESPN.com. 2005-04-13. Retrieved 2008-11-14. 
  8. ^ Zillgit, Jeff (December 7, 2011). "Hunter's memo to players details NBA CBA". USA Today. Retrieved December 12, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "David Stern wants change to age rule". ESPN.com. Associated Press. April 12, 2012. Archived from the original on April 4, 2012. 
  10. ^ a b "Article X, Section 1(b)(i)". 2005 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. National Basketball Players Association. Archived from the original on February 27, 2008. Retrieved April 17, 2008. 
  11. ^ "Article X, Section 1(b)(ii)". 2005 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. National Basketball Players Association. Archived from the original on February 27, 2008. Retrieved April 17, 2008. 
  12. ^ "Article X, Section 1(b)(ii)(G)(1)". 2005 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. National Basketball Players Association. Archived from the original on February 27, 2008. Retrieved April 17, 2008. 
  13. ^ "Article X, Section 1(b)(ii)(G)(2)". 2005 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. National Basketball Players Association. Archived from the original on February 27, 2008. Retrieved April 17, 2008. 
  14. ^ "Article X, Section 1(b)(ii)(F)". 2005 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. National Basketball Players Association. Archived from the original on October 12, 2008. 
  15. ^ a b "Article X, Section 8(c)". 2005 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. National Basketball Players Association. Archived from the original on October 12, 2008. 
  16. ^ Brennan, Eamonn (April 29, 2011). "The new NBA draft deadline is ridiculous". ESPN.com. Retrieved April 10, 2013. 
  17. ^ a b "Bylaw 12.2.4.2.1.1 Exception—Basketball—Four-Year College Student-Athlete, Men's Basketball" (PDF). 2010–11 NCAA Division I Manual. NCAA. p. 72. Retrieved February 2, 2011. 
  18. ^ "Bylaw 12.3.1 Use of Agents" (PDF). 2010–11 NCAA Division I Manual. NCAA. p. 73. Retrieved February 2, 2011. 
  19. ^ "Article X, Section 1(c)". 2005 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. National Basketball Players Association. Archived from the original on February 27, 2008. Retrieved April 17, 2008. 
  20. ^ Bodenburg, Rob, Ryan Canner-O'mealy, Jon Mahoney, and Ben Sylvan. "Scouting the Nation." High School Hoops 2005: 16-17.
  21. ^ Mahoney, Jon. "Next Question?" High School Hoops 2005: 38-39.