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Friday, Aug. 15, 2003

SPORTS SCOPE

Kobe case sheds bad light on kids in NBA


Sometimes in life it is best to wait before passing judgment.

Jack Gallagher

It has been nearly six weeks now since Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was accused of committing sexual assault on a female college student at a posh resort in Colorado.

I wanted to let some time pass and see how the case unfolded before giving my opinion.

The shock of the allegations against this NBA superstar, with a previously clean image, rocked the NBA to its core. With more and more high school players choosing to pass up college and trying to go straight to the pros, it was the last thing NBA commissioner David Stern needed.

The truth be told, Stern would like to see all of the players in the NBA go to college for four years before entering the league.

Maturity and experience are two of the virtues that usually come with a college education.

Maturity for how to act in social situations and experience in dealing with the challenges of attending school while trying to balance an athletic career.

Bryant never had a chance to acquire these virtues, because he skipped college and went straight to the NBA at age 18.

Bryant had another strike against him too. His father -- Joe 'Jelly Bean' Bryant -- played in the NBA.

Now, normally, you wouldn't think that would be a disadvantage, and it isn't for someone who wants to play in the NBA. But for growing up in a real-life situation, being the kid of an NBA player isn't ideal.

Why you say?

Because life in the NBA isn't reality, my friends.

I had the good fortune to be an executive in the NBA for five years during the league's halcyon days in the 1980s and can tell you that those guys are about as far removed from reality as possible.

That doesn't make them bad people, it just separates them from what the rest of us mere mortals are doing.

Back then, at least, we used to fly on commercial airplanes along with regular folks. Now, all of the NBA teams have their own planes, or charter them, further isolating the players from regular members of society.

Let's face it, from the time NBA players are in high school, or now junior high school, they are pampered and given a free pass by just about everybody. Coaches, teachers, parents, friends and just about every other group, look the other way too often.

Then we wonder why, when they make mistakes as human beings, they have gone wrong?

It all seems a bit hypocritical, doesn't it?

Now you can say, "Well, not all of the players who went straight from high school to the NBA, or left college early, have gotten into trouble."

That is true. However, it also true that many of them have.

Take Allen Iverson for example. He played only two seasons at Georgetown University before turning pro and had already served time in jail before he even got to college.

He never had a chance to get his act together, and still keeps finding himself in these situations which lead to trouble.

Conversely, Tim Duncan and David Robinson both completed four years of college before joining the NBA, and they act like it.

Only time will tell which category the league's latest phenom, high schooler LeBron James -- who was the No. 1 pick in the June draft -- will fall into.

As with any professional sports team or entertainment act, temptations of various sorts are always present and available -- especially on the road.

One of my all-time favorite lines from my days in the NBA, was when one member of our traveling party said to me about another: "He thinks once he gets his boarding pass, his marriage license is invalid."

But times have changed.

In the old days, you didn't hear about these types of incidents. That is because players didn't have to force women to comply with their wishes. They were wise enough to know who was willing and who wasn't.

Today the players have no patience. I can see it both on and off the court. Every thing has to happen 'now.'

I keep thinking about the late Wilt Chamberlain. The greatest player the NBA has ever seen once boasted that he had slept with 20,000 women in his life.

When he made this claim back in the early 1990s, it was met with incredulity.

Those that I have talked to, who knew Wilt, said it probably wasn't far off.

Wilt played three years at the University of Kansas, then spent a year traveling the world with the Harlem Globetrotters, before joining the NBA in 1959.

He was an educated and worldly man before he ever arrived in the pros.

He knew the difference between right and wrong, the difference between 'yes' and 'no.' Although it sounds like Wilt usually heard the former.

Despite his many conquests, Wilt -- who died in 1999 at age 63 having never married -- was never once accused of an allegation of the type Bryant is facing.

This strengthens my theory that the NBA used to be a league comprised of real men playing a man's game, but now, too often, is full of immature kids who don't know how to act like adults.



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