The Loud Truth That No One Hears

By Marcus Shockley

European basketball players on bench

If you are a high school basketball players, odds are almost certain that you’re not going to be an NBA player.

There are 30 NBA franchises currently in existence. That means in a world of almost 7 billion people, there are a total of about 360 that will play in the NBA this coming season. Sure, a few guys will get called up from the D-League after some of those 360 players get injured, but the number is pretty close. That’s roughly the same number of people who are struck by lightning – literally – in the United States each year.

Even more so, the average career in the NBA is incredibly short. As of 2010, the average NBA player lasted 6 seasons. That means if a player played four years of college, by the time they are 28, they are most likely done with pro ball unless they hop overseas to scrounge out a few more years.

Yet, there are thousands of high school players who are not just trying to get a college basketball scholarship, but hoping to make it all the way to the pro level. Twitter is awash in players who proudly pronounce that they are chasing the NBA dream on their profiles, and AAU teams are well-stocked with players who all think they have a legitimate shot at getting a call on some future draft night.

Wealthy entrepreneur MJ DeMarco once wrote about what causes this kind of phenomenon, whether it takes the form of athletes trying to land that short-lived big paycheck or the thousands of people who flock to audition for American Idol, despite having almost zero chance of success. It is a culture uneducated in what it takes to achieve long-term success, and lacking that education, has become enamored with “events, over process”. To put it another way: people see someone get a huge paycheck when they are a number one draft pick, but no one sees the years of work, combined with some luck, that went into the player arriving at that payday. It’s the same principle that has created thousands of people who never save a dime but seriously see the lottery as the ticket to their financial future. Even if a player has the natural athletic ability to build towards a professional career, and even if that player works hard every single day to achieve that goal, there is still a strong chance that they won’t ever get that payday. Eli and Payton Manning have a brother, Cooper, who by some accounts was a better athlete than either of them, but was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, ending any chance of a pro or college career.

So why bring this up? Is it to dash young players’ dreams with a hard dose of reality?

Actually, it’s because I see far too much focus for players on getting that ‘event’ win without realizing that there are other options, and even if you are one of the fortunate few who might get that huge payday some day, you absolutely must have a plan for when your career is over. Most players who played pro ball in the 1980s are now broke, or close to it. Soon that will be true for the players of 90s as well. I’ve written about this fact before and related it to lottery winners, most of whom blow their entire lottery winnings in a few short years. As a side note, whenever I have written about this in the past, someone will often write to me and demand that I prove my assertions with hard data (despite the fact that I have previously cited the studies and data), but the truth is, no matter what the evidence, there are always going to be people who don’t get it. Most people are bad with money; suddenly having more money doesn’t magically make you a financial wizard.

The point is, don’t bank on an event that suddenly makes you rich for the rest of your life, and realize that the odds of getting to the NBA or any pro league are incredibly, incredibly high. Think about what you will do once your playing career is over, and consider what you might do if you were no longer involved in sports in any way. That should give some direction to your decisions.

The hardest part about all of this information is that it should be obvious, but people ignore it. Less than 1% of college players – far less – get to the NBA at all. These numbers are not hidden. If you are seriously pursuing a college career as an athlete, you must realize that the first goal is to get a free or reduced-cost education that you can use in the future, NOT to just keep playing ball until you find yourself on some pro team awash in big money.

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