INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — In light of the federal investigation into college basketball recruiting, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James called the NCAA a “corrupt” organization and said the NBA should further develop its minor league system to give young ballplayers a viable alternative.
“I don’t know if there’s any fixing the NCAA. I don’t think there is,” James said Tuesday. “It’s what’s been going on for many, many, many, many years. I don’t know how you can fix it. I don’t see how you can fix it.”
James skipped college to enter the NBA right out of high school in 2003, but he had major Division I schools lining up for his services before he made that decision.
“I can’t even talk about that, man,” James said. “Me and my mom was poor, I’ll tell you that, and they expected me to step foot on a college campus and not to go to the NBA? We weren’t going to be poor for long, I’ll tell you that. That’s a fact.”
James questioned the compensation that some student-athletes receive — a free education — when the institutions they enroll in benefit the most from their athletic performance, not their academic one.
“Obviously, I’ve never been a part of it, so I don’t know all the ins and outs about it,” James said. “I do know what five-star athletes bring to a campus, both in basketball and football. I know how much these college coaches get paid. I know how much these colleges are gaining off these kids. … I’ve always heard the narrative that they get a free education, but you guys are not bringing me on campus to get an education, you guys are bringing me on it to help you get to a Final Four or to a national championship, so it’s just a weird thing.”
James’ two sons, 13-year-old LeBron Jr. and 10-year-old Bryce, are highly touted youth basketball players who are on track to play in college. He said they will have to weigh their options as a family, with NCAA enrollment not a foregone conclusion by any means.
“I’m not a fan of the NCAA,” James said. “I love watching March Madness. I think that’s incredible. I’m not a fan of how the kids don’t benefit from none of this, so it’s kind of a fine line and I’ve got a couple boys that could be headed in that direction, so there’s going to be some decisions that we as a family have to make. But I know, as the NBA, we have to figure out a way that we can shore up our farm league, and if kids feel like they don’t want to be a part of that NCAA program, then we have something here for them to be able to jump back on and not have to worry about going overseas all the time, I guess.
“We have to figure that out, but kids getting paid is nothing new under the sun. You all seen ‘Blue Chips’? It’s a real movie, seriously. … The NCAA is corrupt, we know that. Sorry, it’s going to make headlines, but it’s corrupt.”
James said the NBA can step in by expanding its G League, which was founded in 2001 and now includes 26 teams — each individually affiliated with an NBA franchise — with an expansion to 27 planned for the 2018-19 season.
“We have to shore up our G League, continue to expand our G League,” James said. “… I just looked at it like the farm league, like in baseball. Or you look at pros overseas; some of those guys get signed at 14, but they get put into this farm system where they’re able to grow and be around other professionals for three or four years. Then, when they’re ready, they hit the national team, or when they’re ready, they become a pro. So I think us, we have to kind of really figure that out, how we can do that.
“We’re worried about kids coming into the league early, but they’re not ready, then out of the league because of that,” James continued. “… We have to figure out if a kid feels like, at 16 or 17, he doesn’t feel like the NCAA is for him, or whatever the case may be, [then] we have a system in place where we have a farm league where they can learn and be around the professionals but not actually become a professional at that point in time. Not actually play in the NBA, but learn for a few years. Learn what the NBA life is about, learn how to move and walk and talk and things of that nature. Then in two years, they’re able to … just like guys do overseas.”
James cited Argentine soccer sensation Lionel Messi, who began playing professional soccer at 13 in Barcelona, as a success story that basketball in the United States can emulate.
“I think it’s a cool thing how they do that over there,” James said. “They have a system in place that maybe we can copycat. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
James clapped his hands together as he lauded the G League’s direction. But he also said he plans to talk to NBA commissioner Adam Silver about further plans for expansion the league can potentially make to support teenage basketball players.
“We’ve had so many call-ups in the last 10 years and guys have actually been max guys, champions, people who are inspiring guys because they took that route,” James said. “We’ve also had guys that went overseas and then came back into the G League and been a part of our league. So we’re doing a great job, but we want to continue to get better and better. I do like this, I’ve got a real good idea about this whole farm system thing, but I want to go over it with the commish and some of the people. That’s a longer dialogue.”