Basketball Boys Behaving Badly: Would College Make a Difference?

Article excerpt

Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Kobe Bryant has been blessed with phenomenal basketball skills, and not a lot of common sense. He may not be guilty of raping the Colorado concierge who has accused him, but the $100 million player is clearly guilty of horrible judgment in having what he describes as "consensual" sex with the woman. Before the case is decided, thousands will weigh in with their opinions. Whatever the outcome, the case is a cautionary tale for those young athletes whose privilege has insulated them from the fact that actions have consequences.

Washington Wizards player Kwame Brown is no Kobe Bryant, either in terms of skills or in terms of circumstances. The 21-year-old is better known for his on- and off-court feuds with coaches, teammates and others than for his basketball prowess. Had Brown gone to college after graduating from high school, this would be his junior year. Instead, he is one of the NBA players that would flunk "plays well with others" if it were a class he had to take.

Cleveland Cavaliers player LeBron James is just 18, the latest high-school holster to leap to the big leagues without so much as a pit stop at somebody's college. James was pulling crowds in, garnering media attention and making headlines before he was the top draft in the last NBA selection process, even though all the headlines weren't good. He was accused of various funny money dealings with sports jerseys and a new Hummer, and though the charges weren't proven, James seems to have, early on, taken on the hubris and sense of entitlement that Bryant and Brown have become so expert at.

Just like three swallows don't make a summer, three data points are flimsy evidence to reach conclusions. Still, Bryant, Brown and James are among the basketball players whose sports acumen propelled them into the NBA without benefit of college. Some say that these young men have about as much interest in higher education as I do in quantum physics, and that it makes sense for them to go for the gold and bypass the books. Others might note that they may have picked up a few ancillary skills in their college years, including maturity and people skills. On the other hand, college attendance does not dictate good sense. After all, the athlete and actor O.J. Simpson presumably matriculated at San Francisco City College and the University of Southern California. Of course, it's a lot more difficult to leapfrog from high school to the football gridiron. Moreover, lessons can always be taught but not learned.

Unfortunately, the scandals and peccadilloes (yes, there is a difference between a rape accusation and a surly personality) that plague Bryant, Brown and James are all too often replicated at the college level. …