Let Them Play
By Louis Pechman
An eighteen year old can fight in a war, operate a helicopter, purchase a shotgun,and vote for the President, but he can’t play in the National Basketball Association.Since 2006, the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the NBA Player’sAssociation provides that a player cannot be drafted to play for an NBA team until he isnineteen and has either finished at least one year of college, or one year has passed sincehis high school graduation. From the perspective of this employment law attorney, theNBA’s age requirement is unlawful discrimination, plain and simple.Surprisingly lost in the discussion about whether age limits are appropriate forthe NBA draft is the fact that many state laws prohibit employment discriminationagainst individuals who are eighteen or over. As playing in the NBA is employment --albeit a dream job -- eighteen year olds are deprived of their potential employment andare thus victims of age discrimination. In New York, for example, the New York StateHuman Rights Law prohibits employers from refusing to hire or employ an “individualeighteen years of age or older… because of such individual’s age.” The NBA, and itsplayers’ union, are subject to compliance with all New York employment laws, as wellas other state laws which prohibit discrimination based on age.Given that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant entered the draft straight out of highschool, at age eighteen, it would be difficult for the NBA to justify its age requirementas a bona fide occupational qualification. The NBA apparently contends that it set theage nineteen limit so that players have the opportunity to mature and further hone theirskills. Lebron and Kobe sink that theory, however, as their performances as eighteenyear olds in the league were masterful. There are compelling policy arguments both forand against the age and college requirements, but as an employment law issue, these
is a partner at Berke-Weiss & Pechman LLP, a Manhattan law firm which concentratesin employment law. He can be contacted at email@example.com.