Half right

Jermaine O'Neal has it about half right.

Race certainly is involved in the idea of an age limit for players entering the NBA, as the Indiana Pacers center suggested this week. America gets worked up about prep-to-pros NBA players (and not teens in other sports or entertainment professions) because the professionals in question are predominantly black.

Consider a truly remarkable NBA story, the career of DeSagana Diop. The promising but far from polished 7-footer from Senegal had played just three years of organized basketball when he capitalized on the NBA's obsession with size and jumped from Oak Hill Academy directly to the pros. The Cleveland Cavaliers took him with the eighth pick of the 2001 draft.

Since then, Diop has been the definition of an NBA stiff, averaging a sorry 1.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. For this he has been paid about $10 million.

To recap, a kid from sub-Saharan Africa outsmarted the Cavs and became one of the richest half-percent of all the people on the planet.

How can you not love that story? Only in America.

Of course, many sports fans do not see this as something joyous. Nothing gets people going like the thought of unprepared, undeserving "high school kids" sitting on the end of a NBA bench and collecting millions while not getting an education.

This outrage does not extend to hockey, baseball or tennis players. It does not include pop stars and child actors, who trade grammar school (not college) for careers. No one is worried about the white kids, though Diop is basically the Ashlee Simpson of the NBA.

Instead we hear about basketball prodigies' bad decisions and missed opportunities to obtain an education. Which is nice if you are willing to overlook the fact that only half of all African-American college basketball players earn degrees – a percentage that drops considerably when you only count elite players.

Never mind the fact that 120 credits bestowed by professor Jim Harrick Jr. may get you a piece of paper, but not a real education.

There are people who argue that Diop would have been better off attending college (and being exposed as too slow and too unskilled for the NBA) instead of beating the Cavs out of $10 million. They even do this with a straight face.

I've never heard anyone say Britney Spears would have been better served by spending the last few years singing in the Louisiana State University choir rather than selling 30 million albums.

So yes, race is involved here. But the only color NBA owners care about is green.

Cleveland got jobbed by Diop because he was almost impossible to properly scout in high school, where he was generally guarded by much smaller, less-talented players.

As a result, someone in Cleveland's front office thought he could play. They wasted a heck of a lot of money finding out otherwise.

The theory behind the proposed 20-year-old age limit is that Diop would have gone to college for at least two seasons and scouts would have been able to identify his slow feet and a lack of talent. Cleveland would have spent its money elsewhere.

And that is why the rule is being proposed. It isn't about LeBron, Kobe or keeping young black guys down. It's about protecting owners from Diop, Darko Milicic and Kwame Brown.

The flaw in the NBA's logic – besides being completely un-American and running contrary to a talent infusion that has re-energized the league – is that it ignores the fact that franchises made draft blunders when everybody went to college, too.

Four-year guy Michael Olowokandi was the No. 1 pick overall in 1998, remember. Sam Bowie was famously taken ahead of Michael Jordan. Anyone remember Joe Barry Carroll? Dennis Hopson?

But that's the draft. It's a crapshoot. Even four years of major college ball doesn't assure anything.

Some of the most confusing picks of the last few years haven't been high school seniors, but college ones. Trajan Langdon, Ed O'Bannon and Cherokee Parks all got lottery money. Tayshaun Prince and Josh Howard didn't.

NBA owners think the age limit will help them avoid drafting a high-priced, low-quality player.

That, in itself, isn't racist. But it isn't sound thinking either.