NBA Offers Elite Teens $125,000 and an Alternative to College

(Bloomberg) -- The NBA’s developmental league is raising the salaries available to elite high school basketball players, a move that could challenge the NCAA’s near monopoly on top youth talent.

The G League announced Thursday a new type of contract that would put young players on a professional path right out of high school. The deal would award players $125,000 for the five-month season, more than triple the current minimum pay for newcomers to the league.

The offer could be enough to persuade talented high school seniors to skip over college enroute to the NBA Draft and marks a new assault on the “one-and-done” practice in the NCAA, where college coaches vie for the country’s best high school seniors knowing they’re unlikely to stay more than a year.

In April, a task force charged with fixing college basketball asked the NBA and its players union to change rules that say a player must be 19 years old and 12 months removed from his graduating high school class to be eligible to enter the league.

Changing that rule requires approval from the National Basketball Players Association, but this step can be done immediately. Beginning next year, the $125,000 deals will be available to prospects who are 18 years old, not enrolled in college and deemed worthy by a G League program manager. The professional path will include academic opportunities and mentoring, plus a scholarship process for those who want to go to college after they stop playing.

Options Expand

The contract provides another viable option for elite high school basketball players who have designs on an NBA career. Until now, they’ve been able to play for a full salary overseas -- a path notably taken by Brandon Jennings -- but the vast majority of elite high school players commit to playing in college. Under the new G League program, they’ll also be able to hire agents, sign shoe deals and market themselves, options currently unavailable under NCAA rules.

The announcement comes amid increasing skepticism about NCAA rules, particularly as they apply to basketball eligibility. At an ongoing federal corruption trial in New York, Adidas AG executives and consultants have testified to offering tens of thousands of dollars to elite recruits and their families in order to influence which schools they attended.

An odd byproduct of the testimony is a rough estimate of the going rate for top recruits, a range that’s generally well below $125,000. This underground economy, a product of that one-and-done requirement, defrauds the schools, according to the U.S. government.

Founded in 2001, but rebranded in 2017 after a sponsorship from Gatorade, the 27-team G League has become a testing ground of sorts for the NBA to experiment with new business idea. Last season G League games streamed on the popular gaming site Twitch, and some on-court rule changes have debuted the development league. The league also recently raised the minimum salary from $19,000 to $35,000.

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