I cannot imagine the pressure and difficulty that is involved with a decision to leave college and play professional basketball. For this reason, I was very intrigued with Jabari Parker’s article in Sports Illustrated: “My Decision: Why I made the difficult choice to leave Duke for the NBA.” Written by Parker, it’s a great piece and provides perspective on his choice. Parker gave three main reasons for making the jump to the NBA, and a discussion of them highlights how difficult his decision must have been.
His first reason is that the NBA gives him the best opportunity to grow as a basketball player. The logic of this reason is fairly straightforward. First, Parker will be playing against the best talent every night. Playing against better players will force Parker to become a better basketball player. Second, Parker will be able to devote more time to basketball. Currently, he has to balance classes and schoolwork with basketball. In the NBA, school will not be a factor.
On the other hand, by leaving Duke, Parker is missing out on constant tutelage from one of basketball’s greatest coaches, Mike Krzyzewski. It is possible that Parker’s coaches will not be as good as Krzyzewski and, consequently, Parker will not develop in the NBA as he would have in college. That being said, the basketball development resulting from playing in the NBA might outweigh what he would have learned from Krzyzewski.
Parker’s second reason is that the NBA gives him “the best opportunity to grow and develop off the court.” It is a bit more difficult to understand the rationale behind this statement. Parker will certainly face more adult decisions: employment contracts, employment benefits, agents, living on one’s own (rather than a dorm), being a multi-millionaire at age 19, and living outside the “bubble” of college. On the other hand, he is giving up a great deal of potential growth from college. He misses out on the diverse education that he is learning in the classroom (although Parker still intends to graduate). He will not have the interaction with his peers at school. Last, he will not have the life-lessons that Krzyzewski famously imparts to his players.
Parker’s last reason for leaving Duke early is that he wants to maximize his time in the NBA. It is certainly true that professional basketball players can play only to a certain age and that playing at Duke would rob Parker of a few years. Entering professional basketball, however, might not lengthen his career. First, by staying at Duke would better prepare his body for the NBA game and enter the league as a stronger and more physically mature player. Consequently, he would not receive as much wear-and-tear because would not be as physically outmatched by stronger and older players. Second, if Parker stayed at Duke and learned more about how to play the game, perhaps he would develop a style of play (or at least some basketball moves) that could prevent wear and tear on his body and thus lengthen his career. Last, the NBA season is much longer than the college season, so the NBA season may cause wear-and-tear that could shorten a career.
Parker said that money was not a factor in his decision. If one throws money into the calculus, though, the decision to go pro becomes that much more complicated: a first year salary between 2.9 and 4.4 million dollars for a Top Five pick and millions of dollars in endorsements versus the potential financial perils of staying in college such as a career-ending injury, the opportunity cost millions of dollars by staying in college (instead of playing in the NBA), and a potential drop in draft “stock” and rookie salary (either due to his own play or the entrance of better players in the draft). The financial piece will have to be saved for another article. It would be interesting to compare the decisions of NBA players with that of Missy Franklin, a U.S. Olympic swimmer who turned down endorsements so that she could remain an amateur.
Having the decision to play professional basketball or stay in college would certainly be a nice choice to have to make. That being said, the complexities and nuances of the decision are daunting. I wish Jabari Parker the best of luck, and I look forward to watching him in the NBA.
 The need for my strength is one of the reasons why the NFL has an age minimum (although football is a much more physical game).