New Overtime Elite league chips away at traditional college path to NBA

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“To me, options are a good thing…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said over the weekend about a new league proposing to pay high school players. “I think it’s generally good for the community to have optionality, especially when very solid people, which appears to be the case in this league that’s just been announced, are backing it and behind it. That’s one thing we will pay a lot of attention to because those young players are potentially the future of our league. We want to make sure that both on the court and off the court they’re getting the right mentoring and guidance.

“But overall, I think it’s good for the game. It’s more focus on the game. Especially all that’s happening now in digital media, social media, new streaming services, there’s definitely interest in this content.”

That league is the Overtime Elite league, proposed by the Overtime company, a social media powerhouse (particularly high school players and people under 30). You may not be familiar with Overtime, but young players certainly are and know that Overtime helped make stars out of people like Zion Williamson long before he was at Duke or an NBA All-Star starter.

The Overtime Elite league would pay approximately 30 players ages 16-19 salaries starting at $100,000, provide medical and disability insurance, plus give them an education and a $100,000 scholarship should a player decide not to go professional in basketball.

It is the latest direct challenge to the traditional path through college to the NBA.

Already some players — LaMelo Ball being the most notable — have chosen to play overseas before being drafted in the NBA. Then this season the NBA announced its G-League Ignite team, where the league is paying 18-year-old players who want to skip college and compete in the NBA’s minor-league system under the tutelage of former NBA coach Brian Shaw. The G-League Ignite team attracted two potential top-five picks in the next draft in Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga and has gone 8-7 in the G-League bubble.

Silver added that the NBA and players union plan to discuss doing away with the one-and-done rule during the next collective bargaining agreement.

Throw in the lawsuits challenging the NCAA’s antiquated rules on amateurism and it’s clear the landscape is changing. The path for young players to the NBA could be very different a decade from now, and the days of the NCAA profiting off essentially free labor are changing.

The new Overtime Elite league may be the most serious challenge to the AAU/high school/NCAA path to the NBA there has been — and the owners of it want to be, they told Kevin Draper of the New York Times.

“People have been saying things need to change, and we are the ones changing it,” said Dan Porter, the chief executive of Overtime.

The new league would offer high-level competition and coaching, money (this company is well funded through its social media and apparel arms, plus investors), but mostly it provides options for players. Overtime is closer to the European model (for both basketball and soccer), where top players go to team academies at age 14-16 and, hopefully, play their way up to the main squad someday.

However, if they go this route, players would give up their college eligibility. That may not bother a lot of them.

The players that sign up to join Overtime Elite would move to one yet-to-be-chosen city, and the company will hire educators and set up housing. Of course, it also will have a basketball arm headed up by experienced people — Brandon Williams, a former NBA player who was in the front office for the 76ers and Kings, heads basketball operations. Aaron Ryan jumped from the NBA league office to be commissioner for Overtime Elite.

There are plenty of questions about whether this league will come together and succeed — and how fans can watch games (and how many fans will there be?). Plenty of start-up leagues struggle and fail. It’s both expensive and difficult to get one off the ground.

What is clear is that the landscape for young players is shifting. Overtime Elite is part of that change, but even if it doesn’t thrive, something else will. The old model has been disrupted, and soon nothing will be quite the same.