How teenage basketball stars transformed the NBA.
Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Dwight Howard, and LeBron James defined basketball in the post–Michael Jordan era. They entered the NBA straight from high school, and while some of them struggled early on, all went on to become All-Stars, to become unimaginably wealthy, and to help the game recover from doldrums that set in after Jordan’s retirement. Korleone Young, Lenny Cooke, and Tony Key saw the stardom and millions that Garnett, the first of a wave of high school stars to go straight to the NBA in the 1990s (a door that had closed after a handful of players did so in the 1970s), and others made and thought they would also follow the trajectory of fame and fortune. For them, it did not work out. Still others left high school early and never became superstars but had successful careers. In 2005, after tense negotiations with the NBA Players Association, the NBA changed its rules to raise the age limit for players to 19, which ended the deluge but created the phenomenon of “one-and-dones,” players who spend one year playing college basketball and then leave for the NBA. In this compelling, crisply written book, Abrams, a veteran NBA scribe, provides thumbnail sketches of these players and their wide-ranging experiences. He sheds light on the sometimes-seamy world of amateur basketball that preys on potential stars, and he shows how the NBA had to adjust to these young men who oftentimes had elite talent but entered the league as boys trying to find their ways amid men fighting for their careers. The author concludes that on the whole, the era of talented high school players declaring for the draft proved to be good for the league and good for the players, notwithstanding the sometimes-tragic stories of those who fell short.
Abrams weaves a compelling tale about a transformational era in the NBA that also speaks to the sometimes-desperate pursuit of sporting stardom.