College, or the NBA?

Laura Wiebe
Laura Wiebe

Our household’s TIFF experience this year, as I mentioned in my last post, included a screening of the basketball documentary The Carter Effect. I enjoyed the film, but I also felt like a bit of an outsider – because I’m too new to NBA fandom to have appreciated Vince Carter’s career with the Raptors while it was happening. The film invited viewers to join in the reminiscing, addressing them as if they had been there all along, watching Vince Carter’s time in Toronto unfold. If you weren’t there, you were definitely encouraged to wish you had been.

The documentary’s ‘insider address’ meant that a lot of the ground covered was new (and news) to me. Among the powerful moments The Carter Effect brought back to life was Vince’s controversial decision to attend his college graduation the same day as an important Raptors playoff game. The film made it clear that Carter took a lot of flack for this move, and his North Carolina trip was widely blamed for Toronto losing the Eastern Conference finals. See, for example, “Carter criticized after loss.”

My mental gears turned a little watching the footage and commentary around this event. What peaked my interest wasn’t whether Carter made the right or wrong call. I was more intrigued by the way his actions made a public statement about his academic achievement.

I don’t often hear about if and when NBA players graduate from college, and it made me wonder… How many one-and-done (or straight from high school) players end up going back to finish their college degrees? How many four-year college players actually graduate before moving on? How many current and former NBA players go on to graduate degrees or post-graduate diplomas? What do basketball players choose to study? … (In the case of Carter, the answer to the last question is African-American studies.)

I was reminded of these questions Sunday night while watching the Toronto Raptors pre-season game against the Los Angeles Clippers. I don’t recall why or how it came up, but Clippers commentators Ralph Lawler and Bruce Bowen ended up touching on Bowen’s communications degree from Cal State Fullerton, completed a long while after his initial four years in college. Once again, I got thinking about NBA players’ relationship with higher education.

I intend to research this further, to see to what extent I can answer my own questions, and to investigate other questions that come up along the way. It’s not because I think everyone needs to have a university degree or education. I don’t. But colleges are set up to be, or to be seen as, necessary stepping stones to the NBA for the most talented players. The relationship is there. I’m just interested in finding out more about how it plays out.

Check back if you’re intrigued as well. I plan to document my findings here along the way.