June 28, 2005.
This was the day of the 2005 NBA draft, the day that Amir Johnson was taken in the second round, with the 56th overall pick, by the Detroit Pistons. This may seem relatively irrelevant, it most definitely did at the time, but this pick marked the end of an era in basketball history. Amir Johnson was the last player who would be drafted straight out of highschool.
May 28, 2019.
This day may be looked at as the end of the next era, and the beginning of another. This was the day that RJ Hampton, a 6’5 point guard out of Little Elm High School in Texas, decided to forgo his collegiate eligibility to play professionally in the NBL, or Australia’s equivalent to the NBA. This is a groundbreaking move for many reasons, and if RJ Hampton is successful in this endeavor and starts a trend, it may start a wave in the business of basketball with of seismic proportions, quite possibly changing the game forever.
The time period book ended by Amir Johnson at the front and (potentially) RJ Hampton at the back can be summed up by three simple words: one and done. For those who don’t know, in the context of basketball, a “one and done” is a player who, after high school, spends a year playing at the collegiate level under the guidelines of the NCAA before they declare for the NBA draft. Almost all of the very best players coming out of high school are “one and done’s” because they want to make it to the NBA as soon as possible. Many of the best programs in the nation have made their living off of recruiting these “one and done” players. Since the rule instituted in 2006 that helped create the “one and done” Kentucky has thrived in recruiting these top tier players, marketing themselves as a program that will prepare them for the next level. The likes of Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins, John Wall, and Devin Booker have all went to Kentucky for just one year on their road to future stardom. More recently, this past season, Duke heavily took advantage of the “one and done” system, recruiting RJ Barret, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish who, at the time, were ranked 1,2, and 3 in their class with no expectation of staying in school for more than a year.
RJ Hampton may have just changed this all.
He is the first player in the history of American basketball to pass up a chance to play in the NCAA to go overseas with no strings attached. What I mean by this is that what RJ is doing has in fact happened before, but with an asterisk. Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay each didn’t go to college to play professionally overseas, going to Italy and China instead of Arizona and SMU respectively. But, the thing is, they each had questions swirling about their academic eligibility, so it wasn’t fully their choice as to play overseas. There was a decent chance they would have had to sit out a season or more if they chose the route of the NCAA.
RJ Hampton on the other hand simply decided that a year of playing overseas was the best decision for his career, and there is a lot of evidence to support that. First and foremost, he can get paid a salary, which is more than can be said for an NCAA athlete. There is no public information as to what Hampton’s contract is, but the average NBL player makes $70,000 – $100,000 per season. So, off the bat, RJ will be tens of thousands of dollars richer than he would be in college. Secondly, as a pro overseas, the off the court marketing opportunities will be endless. As the “young American phenom” coming in to the NBL’s upcoming season, he will be the talk of the town and the main storyline of the season, whether he performs on the court or not. As the league’s most popular player, brands will be head over heels for RJ trying to be his partner. American athletes who have gone overseas in the past have had great financial success outside of basketball, becoming cultural icons. Stephon Marbury for example had a statue of himself erected as well as the creation of a Stephon Marbury musical. If RJ Hampton can see even a fraction of this success, more players may follow.
If this does become somewhat of a trend, the resulting outcomes for the business of basketball will change the sport forever. More quality talent playing professionally in other countries, even if for just a year, will increase viewership in nations where basketball isn’t the primary focus. More interest amongst foreign youth in basketball will mean more worldwide talent focusing on basketball, which is great for basketball everywhere and will eventually mean more foreign nationals in the NBA. They can bring the viewership of their home countries with them. Furthermore, fans of the player who made the one year stop in their country who didn’t watch the NBA before may want to follow his career to the next level, drawing even more international attention to the NBA. Lastly and most importantly, it will bring into question the idea of “amateurism” and severely damage the NCAA. A small fraction of the elite talent choosing to play overseas could still result in millions of dollars lost for the NCAA, and may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in college athletes’ fight to get paid.
RJ Hampton is simply an 18 year old who wants a future in the NBA. He decided that the best way to do that is to play in Australia for a year. While he may not know it now, this decision may change the business of basketball forever.