Between now and June 24, the NBA prospects of everyone from Kentucky PG John Wall to Serbian C Boban Marjanovic (above) will be hotly debated and dissected. It’s a fun process — especially when small fractions of signing bonuses are already committed to the planet’s ugliest suits for draft night — but there are bigger questions raised than, say, “can Donatas Montijuana develop as a perimeter shooter?” Ben Polk of A Wolf Among Wolves calls the draft, “(one of) the most uniquely un-free labor practices imaginable in a free-market democracy” (“when it comes to the NBA draft, the dictates of employer need, inter-league parity and the chance movements of ping-pong balls trump freedom of employment every time.”)
Players are essentially consenting to become commodities. They are referred to as œassets and œpieces, and are bought, sold and traded as such. The movements and labors of their bodies are known as œthe product, and their inner lives deemed valuable only in the extent that they can a) foster their teams™ production or b) be packaged into digestible, televisable bits. And if the life of ease and comfort that all that money promises turns out to be a little more elusive than originally imagined (spying Mo Williams™s acrostic œNBA: Never Broke Again tattoo, one can only cross one™s fingers), it™s partially because the league™s investment ends when the player is finally physically unable to perform (it could be worse, though“just check out the NFL).
In many ways, the draft is a young fella™s initiation into this rather unpalatable system of exchange. Bodies are examined, categorized and bisected. Actions are dissolved into statistics and compartmentalized into video montages. Psychologies are expertly analyzed based on a precise algorithm of hearsay and casual TV watching.
“We allow them (NBA rookies) to become consumer items in order to feed our dreams of a better tomorrow,” writes Polk, and while it seems very difficult to envision there was once a moment where Bryant Reeves was a consumer item, I assure you, it really happened.