by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

NEWS ITEM: Kobe Bryant, a 17-year-old high school basketball player, announced last week that he would skip college and immediately enter the NBA draft. He follows 19-year-old Kevin Garnett, who did the same thing last year. Many worry that the pattern will continue, and that college may one day be seen as a meaningless step in a pro sports career. “How much younger can it get?” one coach wondered . . .

LOS ANGELES, May 5, 2014 — Six-year-old Joey (Slamma) Jamma called a press conference to announce that he was skipping elementary school and jumping straight to the NBA draft.

“I’m doing this for my family,” Jamma said, “I gave it a lot of thought, and talked with all my stuffed animals. But in the end, it had to be my decision. This is what’s best — for me, and for my GI Joe.”

Jamma is a 5-foot basketball star at Our Lady of the Rims School in suburban Los Angeles. In his kindergarten season, he averaged 40 points and 20 rebounds — impressive numbers for any age.

“It’s a little misleading,” whispered a teacher who asked not be identified. “I mean, most of the other kids were napping.”

Still, NBA teams were impressed.

“The kid has star quality,” said Hawkeye Jones, a scout for the Boston Celtics. “He reminds me of Scooter Hayes, who came out when he was 8, or Pee Wee Myers, who came out when he was 9.

“A kid like Slamma has so much potential. Imagine when he hits his growth spurt! I don’t see how any team can afford to pass him up — especially with the new salary cap.”

The new cap limits salaries of “underclassmen” to $2 million a season, plus

cookies. It was the lure of both that, in the end, was irresistible to Jamma.

“I love Chips Ahoy,” he said, smiling. “And now I can have all I want.

“Also, I want to buy a new home for my mommy. We’ve been living in the same stinkin’ place all my life.”

When a reporter pointed out that Jamma has only been alive for six years, and that his house is a 7-year-old Spanish contemporary on a three-acre lot, the young player smirked.

“The media blow everything out of proportion,” he said. He looked at his mother, who nodded approvingly. The agents

The news of Jamma’s decision hit hard in certain corners. Knute Knutdson, coach of the elementary school where Jamma would have attended, was especially disappointed.

“I thought we had him,” Knutdson said. “He visited our school, had a good time, played in the fire engine and everything. I’m really sorry he won’t be joining our program. Recess would have been great.”

Critics say that six years old is too young to play professional basketball. But agents and civil rights lawyers disagree. They insist that kids like Jamma have the same rights as everyone else, and it is wrong to deny a talent like Jamma a chance to make a living.

“What if he goes to elementary school and gets injured — maybe falls off a swing set or something?” said David Falk, who will represent Jamma in the upcoming draft. “Who does he go to then? Huh?

“This way, he gets security for his family. Joey can always go back to school when he’s finished playing. There’s plenty of time for school.”

When a reporter suggested that a grown man going back to elementary school might be a little embarrassing, Falk smirked.

“The media blow everything out of proportion,” he said. The big swoosh

Ever since the 1990s, the average age of NBA players has been going down, and most players today come straight out of junior high. Once upon a time, college basketball was considered an important step, and some felt it at least encouraged young players to get a high school diploma.

Today, college basketball is pickup games with weak talent. Crowds average around 500 people, and the contests are not even televised. “If you have to play college ball,” said one NBA insider, “you stink.”

Jamma needn’t worry about that. He is expected to be a top pick in the upcoming draft — despite his youth. When asked where he’d like to play, he said, “Any place that has a McDonald’s.”

Jamma already has been signed by the William Morris Agency, and will appear in his own Nike spot next week. The shoe company admitted it was taking a little longer to make the ad “because Joey’s foot keeps growing.”

Still, Jamma’s future seems secure. He insisted that he only made the decision after praying “to God, and Barney the dinosaur.” Both, he said, gave him the thumbs-up.

As the press conference ended, most reporters left to file their stories. But several NBA scouts hung around, hoping to follow the budding star home.

Why was that important, one scout was asked?

“Joey’s got a baby brother,” he whispered, “and the kid can play.”


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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