Trends in Sports

TRENDS IN SPORTS: NBA to Copy LL World Series with Junior NBA Championships

I was reading this past week about a brand new concept that’s being introduced by the NBA – a concept that will have a direct impact on kids who play basketball and who aspire to play at a higher level. The idea is aimed to develop a similar kind of national and international playoffs and world championship – just like they do each August in Williamsport – but with basketball kids who are 13 and 14 years old.

And like LL, the NBA would televise these games, and of course, they would show case these kids as rising stars in the game of basketball.

In discussing this idea on WFAN this radio, I received all sorts of responses from basketball coaches and fans. The responses, I would say, were mixed to the NBA tournament.

But first, let me post verbatim from the NBA’s press release of a few days ago (I added the boldfacing):

“In showcasing the world’s top young talent, the Jr. NBA World Championship will be centered on four core values – teamwork, respect, determination and community – that will set a new standard in youth basketball development.  In collaboration with USA Basketball and FIBA, the competition will promote standards of safe play as well as the proper training and licensing of coaches to enhance the experience for everyone involved.

The Jr. NBA World Championship will align with the NBA and USA Basketball Youth Guidelines, which promote health and wellness in several ways including recommending age-appropriate limits on the number of games that youth should play.  All coaches participating in the Jr. NBA World Championship will also be required to be trained and licensed by USA Basketball (U.S.-based coaches) or FIBA (international coaches).

Youth at the Jr. NBA World Championship will not only compete on the court but will also receive off-court life skills education and participate in NBA Cares community service projects.”

I came away with a few takeaways from this announcement. Clearly the NBA is eager to take control of the pipeline of the best young players in the world. That has traditionally been the domain of AAU basketball in this country. What this new move by the NBA and how it will affect AAU is unclear. As several of the callers pointed out today, the AAU season goes from March through June, so at least on paper, this shouldn’t have an impact. Plus, the elite AAU teams are comprised of HS upperclassmen, not kids in 8th or 9th grade.

And the press announcement made it clear that only coaches who have been trained and licensed by USA Basketball will be allowed to coach in the tournament. Again, it’s unclear how this would affect AAU programs.

Another question that arose is how teams for the tournament will qualify. That is, will it be travel basketball teams or regional teams? Or just LL, will there be only local town teams that are allowed to participate?


One caller asked whether the kids and their teams who qualify would be somehow compensated for their advancement. After all, the NBA will make money from corporate sponsors and from TV sponsors. But just like LL baseball players, what do the kids (and their families) receive except for a lifetime of memories? As the caller said, “Memories are very nice….but why not add some some of financial stipend that can be used for the kid’s college education?”

That would be a very, very nice touch. LL has not offered that yet, but perhaps the NBA will be more enlightened.

Some sports parenting pundits have worried about the extra pressures that having young teenagers play on national TV is unnecessary pressure. But I don’t share that concern. Kids today relish the opportunity to strut their stuff on TV (to wit, look at the LL World Series), and I haven’t heard or read of any undue issues with that.

Plus if the coaches are truly well taught by USA Basketball on the elements of team play, discipline, defense, and so on, then I think that’s another major plus for these talented kids. As I have noted in the past, AAU coaches can vary widely in their ability to teach the whole game; too often, AAU has devolved into being nothing more than a personal showcase for kids to shoot and score.

So for right now, I’m cautiously optimistic about the NBA Jr. World Championship. I’m eager to find out more about the details, and if it works, then who knows? Maybe there will be world championships for other team sports, such as ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, field hockey, and volleyball?