LeBron James never played college basketball. He was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers directly out of high school in 2003.
But under the current eligibility rules, established two years after James went pro, players need to be 19 before they can enter the NBA. For most young players, that usually translates to at least a year playing without pay in college.
Even though it didn't affect him directly as a player, James is not a fan of the system. His two sons — LeBron Jr., 13, and Bryce, 10 — are standout basketball players, and James doesn't sound too happy about the idea of them playing for a league he thinks is "corrupt."
"I'm not a fan of the NCAA," James said Tuesday at the Cavaliers' shootout. "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. ...
"The NCAA is corrupt. We know that. Sorry, it's going to make headlines, but it's corrupt."
Yahoo Sports first reported Friday that documents under a court protective order connect more than 25 players and 20 schools to alleged payments that could violate NCAA rules. That news came as the NCAA already was reeling from a bribery and corruption case that resulted in the firing of four major-college assistant coaches since the offseason.
"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."
He stated: "Obviously, I've never been a part of it, so I don't know all the ins and outs about it. I don't know all the rules and regulations about it, but 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 said a possible solution might involve the NBA's developmental G League.
"I know for us as an NBA, we have to shore up our G League, continue to expand our G League," he 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."
Times staff writer Nathan Fenno contributed to this report.