"You'll be able to hire the best long-division guy in America for what you're making. And U.S. history...you can hire Ken Burns to come to your house to tell you about the Civil War. No problem."
I tell Arnold that if he were an exceptional singer, dancer, violinist, movie actor—even a great solver of long division or a great student of history—he would be recognized as a prodigy and accepted in his field simply on merit. Even most other sports would readily accept him. Aren't there dozens of outstanding gymnasts and figure skaters who are very young? Tennis, golf, bowling, whatever. Ability is what is important. How old was Wayne Gretzky when he was first acclaimed a superstar? Baseball has always looked for talented teenagers and put them right to work. Joe Nuxhall, a million years ago, pitched in a big league game for the Cincinnati Reds when he was 15.
Only in basketball and football—sports in which colleges have a large financial interest in what happens to young athletes—is there such an outcry about "getting a degree" and "being ready" for the temptations that await. It's all quite silly. What's the major mission of a college? To prepare a young person to get a job. Why should anyone try to stop a talented individual from taking one of the best jobs available? People were trying to tell Marcus Camby of the University of Massachusetts, who was universally acclaimed the best player in college basketball during the season just past, that he should wait another year before turning pro.
Hello? Wait for what?
"No one ever told Shirley Temple she shouldn't be dancing and singing and making all that money," I tell Arnold.
"Who's Shirley Temple?"
"No one ever told Michael Jackson or Donny Osmond they were too young."
"Who are Michael Jackson and Donny Osmond?"
"You know what I mean."
Life in the NBA, contrary to the grim picture drawn by the naysayers, would seem to be the perfect adolescent existence. Arnold could do all those fun things that Shaquille O'Neal does, making movies and rap CDs and buying every toy imaginable. He could be like Mike! Hang around with cartoon characters. True, there are some murkier possibilities—finding drugs and alcohol and being hit by paternity suits, everything that comes with the danger of making the wrong friends—but aren't those also possibilities at junior highs and high schools in America in the 1990s? Wouldn't you rather have your kid play for, say, the Atlanta Hawks than go to most junior high schools? At least he wouldn't have to walk through a metal detector on his way to practice.