Spendthrift Trust: An Alternative to the NBA Age Rule
McAleavey, Susan, St. John's Law Review
Brandon Jennings, one of the top point guards in the draft class of 2008, * had to put his dream of playing in the National Basketball Association ("NBA") aside this past year. The million dollar contract that Jennings had prayed would bring him and his family out of the impoverished and crime infested city of Compton, California2 would have to wait at least one year because of the NBA Age Rule. Through this rule, which requires that a player be at least nineteen years of age and one year removed from when the player graduated or would have graduated from high school,3 the NBA has determined that this 6?", 170-pound athlete,4 who clearly dominated high school basketball, lacked the maturity necessary to compete in the NBA.5 Try telling that to Lebrón James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, or Tracy McGrady, four NBA superstars who, prior to the NBA Age Rule, made the jump into the NBA directly from high school.6 Yet, unlike other high school superstars who felt coerced into attending college,7 Jennings sacrificed his collegiate eligibility to play professionally in Europe where, unlike in the National Collegiate Athletic Association ("NCAA"),8 he can actually receive proceeds from his jersey sales and expects to earn the equivalent of a $500,000 salary.9 Jennings represents the beginning of a possible trend of players leaving the NBA to play in international leagues as a means of escaping the shackles of the NBA Age Rule.
Although intended to protect young athletes from their own inexperience and the pressures of professional sports, the NBA Age Rule fails to achieve this policy goal. Taking effect in the 2006 NBA Draft, the NBA Age Rule raised the minimum age for Draft eligibility from eighteen to nineteen.10 Effectively, the rule bars players from entering the NBA directly out of high school. Consequently, the NBA Age Rule withholds economic opportunity and stunts career development for the nation's most promising high school basketball players. Thus, the NBA Age Rule has become nothing more than a creature of paternalism and cognitive bias based on the unfounded view that high school players' immaturity renders them incapable of surviving in the NBA. Unfortunately, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association ("NBPA") seem quite content to force these athletes down a path that they would rather not take.
This Note argues that the NBA Age Rule has created a problem for which a legal solution exists: the adoption of a spendthrift trust system. The NBA Age Rule fails to achieve the NBA's goal of protecting amateur players. Instead, it merely limits potential and growth for both the NBA and aspiring players. Part I details the history and rationale behind the NBA Age Rule. Part II analyzes the inefficiency of the NBA Age Rule and demonstrates how the NBA Age Rule unfairly denies amateur players the opportunity to play in the NBA. Part III outlines a spendthrift trust system that would permit high school players to enter the NBA Draft directly out of high school and would alleviate the NBA's policy concerns.
I. The NBA Age Rule
A. History of the NBA Age Rule
The NBA was established in 194911 and consists of thirty privately owned basketball teams.12 In 1954, the NBPA formed as a union to exclusively represent the NBA players' interests.13 Working in concert, these two organizations established a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") that governs the terms of player employment and eligibility for each team in the league.14
Early on, these two groups abided by a rule that prevented an athlete from being drafted until four years after he had graduated from high school.15 Spencer Haywood, a nineteenyear-old Olympian from an impoverished background, successfully challenged this rule in the Supreme Court in 197 1.16 There, Haywood had signed a contract with an NBA team after his second year of college - when he was ineligible for the NBA Draft.17 The NBA threatened to disallow the contract, and Haywood brought suit on the grounds that the rule violated the Sherman Act's18 prohibition on contracts or combinations that unreasonably restrain competition. …