Lakers newsletter: LeBron James points out the NBA’s college basketball problem

Wizards forward Corey Kispert fouls LeBron James during Wednesday's game.
(John McDonnell / Associated Press)

Hey everyone, this is Dan Woike and welcome to The Times’ Lakers newsletter, coming to you on the way back from one of the best Lakers’ road trips in recent memory. The 5-1 late-season trip started with a win in Milwaukee and ended with a dub in Washington, the only blemish coming on an awful shooting night against the Pacers.

The playoff race is tight, every game, every result seemingly around the league having some kind of impact on the Lakers and their positioning in the back portion of the race (despite being 11 games over .500).


We’ll cover all of that daily at The Times, but today, I wanted to bring awareness to a point LeBron James made Wednesday that my sources around the league had been quietly pointing out for the last two weeks.

The college basketball problem

After the Lakers finished off the Wizards to end their six-game trip 5-1, James was in a talkative mood despite being obviously fatigued from the second half of a rough Toronto-to-D.C. back-to-back.

Near the end of his media scrum at his locker, James was asked about the state of the women’s college basketball product when he, knowingly or not, pointed out something that’s been a bit of a concern among NBA executives.

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“I think the popularity comes in with the icons that they have in the women’s game. You look at Angel Reese, you look at JuJu [Watkins], you look at Caitlin Clark, you look at Paige [Bueckers]. You look at the young girl that’s at Iowa State, the freshman there [Audi Crooks]. You look at [Cameron] Brink, I believe her last name is, at Stanford. And that’s just to name a few. And the freshman that’s at Notre Dame [Hannah Hidalgo]. Because they’re not allowed to go to the WNBA — I think they have to stay four years, correct? Three years?

“…Anyways, you’re able to build a real iconic legacy at a program. And that’s what we all love about. That’s what we all love.”

Currently, WNBA rules allow for graduating college seniors or anyone turning 22 during the “calendar year” in which the draft is held. International players must be 20.


The NBA’s rule requires players to turn 19 in the calendar year of the draft.

Multiple league sources have been at least a little bit envious when it comes to the level of stars entering the WNBA this season, especially contrasted with the NBA’s crop of prospects.

Clark’s star-making run over the past few years has made her a fully established star commodity upon her first days in the WNBA — just like Aliyah Boston, Sabrina Ionescu and A’ja Wilson other college stars.

The men’s college product is full of prospects, but light on stars with top-line pro potential.

“If I have a big-ass season after my freshman year of college basketball, I’m going to the league,” James said. “If a girl has a great season — like JuJu. JuJu, she can’t come out. If she could, you think she might. Maybe. But that’s the difference.”

Restrictions to NBA eligibility were largely considered anti-labor and commissioner Adam Silver had long been in favor of opening up the NBA Draft to 18 year olds. But as the NIL landscape helped kill one of the league’s most ambitious projects — the G-League Ignite academy team — it’s become more obvious that there are real financial incentives to keeping players in school.

Guaranteed NBA deals are still more financially lucrative, but the cash is there. According to On3, Clark NIL earnings have been estimated at $3.2 million. For reference, Jalen Hood-Schifino, the Lakers’ first-round pick, earned $3.7 million as a rookie this year.


With the NBA moving a two-night draft, a bigger crop of actual college stars would be incredibly welcome. Instead, there’s a decent chance the top 10 will be pretty light on NCAA Tournament stars (UConn’s Donovan Clingan and Stephon Castle and Tennessee’s Dalton Kinecht have the best shots).

There are some who think both college basketball and the NBA would be better off, at least from a marketing standpoint at minimum, if more established top-line players were entering the league with the public getting to know them after multiple college seasons.

For now, the star power won’t come close to rivaling Clark or Reese. And with the rules unlikely to change any time soon for the NBA, that gap, some sources think, will only grow wider.

Song of the Week

Steve Gunn “Lurker”

The best Led Zeppelin ballad recorded in the last 15 years, Steve Gunn’s guitar-driven style is some of my favorite music to listen to while I travel (that, and strangely enough, Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” record). While the Lakers lurk in the No. 9 spot, I’ve been nodding my head along with this 2013 masterpiece.

In case you missed it

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LeBron James on Bronny James’ future: ‘He has some tough decisions to make’

Why Rajon Rondo is retiring two years after last NBA game: He’s a ‘full-time dad’

Lakers NBA title ring Kobe Bryant gifted to father sells for nearly $1 million

Breaking down the Lakers’ 10 best wins of the season

Until next time...

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