In July of 2005, the NBA changed its policy of allowing high school basketball stars to enter the NBA draft, making it mandatory that players be one year removed from high school before entering. This move continues to engender debate, especially as each year brings several high school stars who seem physically ready for the rigors of professional basketball.
Supporters of the new rule find it commendable for a couple of reasons. First, as the list of former NBA stars filing for bankruptcy continues to mount, the rule forces high school players—except for Brandon Jennings, who played pro basketball in Italy for a year after high school—to consider post-secondary education, a step that, theoretically, should lead them down the path of financial self-restraint. Moreover, a year playing college basketball should foster players’ fundamentals, since college ball is more system-oriented than the NBA. Too many high school stars made woeful transitions to the NBA because they sorely lacked the necessary fundamentals that form the bedrock of any successful player’s game. Consider Sebastian Telfair, who was highly touted during his high school days in New York; he could have used a year in college to hone his skills and become a better decision-maker.
Detractors of the new rule, though, have plenty of valid arguments to fire back with. Though forcing talented high school stars into getting an education makes sense in theory, the rule has made a mockery of amateur collegiate sports in America. Talented basketball players have come to campuses on full scholarships with the intention of leaving after one season. Not only does this strategy undermine the sanctity of a college education, it takes full scholarships away from less talented players who cannot otherwise afford to attend a top-tier school in the United States. Since it has led to handfuls of one-and-done freshmen, the rule has further unsettled and blurred the line separating professional and amateur sports, a line that has always been impervious to various improprieties in American collegiate sports.
Detractors also argue that the rule is unfair to high school players who possess the necessary physical attributes to make a successful transition from high school to the NBA. Why prevent a high school star from playing, if said star can help an NBA team win games? This argument resonates with impartial fans, given the fact that some of the league’s best players in the past twenty seasons made the jump from high school to the NBA.
While the debate continues, this list looks at the top 10 highest-earning high school draftees in NBA history. For the most part, the following ten players successfully leapt from high school to the NBA. Each player’s career earnings have been listed.
10 Al Harrington - Career Earnings: $86,514,819
Although Al Harrington put up forgettable numbers in his first few years in the NBA, he eventually blossomed into a solid number-two scorer. His best season came in 2008-2009, when he averaged 20.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for the New York Knicks. Harrington has averaged 13.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game over his fifteen-year career, and he currently plays for the Washington Wizards, though a knee injury has sidelined him for the majority of this season.
9 Tyson Chandler - Career Earnings: $120,482,385
Chandler is one of the NBA’s best defensive centers, and the New York Knicks pay him handsomely because of his defensive prowess. Growing pains accompanied his entry into the league from high school, but he has sharpened his skills to become a highly valued center in a league that has a dearth of good centers. An injury has affected his performance this year, but if the Knicks make the playoffs, he will be vital to their advancement.
8 Dwight Howard - Career Earnings: $123,289,952
Dwight Howard may have fallen in some fans’ estimation when he jilted Los Angeles for Houston this offseason, but his new team looks poised to make a deep run in the playoffs. The tandem of Howard and James Harden gives Houston its most formidable starting lineup since its championship seasons in the 90s. This season, Howard is averaging 18.8 points and 12.4 points per game, shooting over 50% from the floor.
7 Lebron James - Career Earnings: $129,155,913
Lebron James had already graced the cover of Slam Magazine and signed a $90 million shoe deal before he played his first game in the NBA. Of course, everyone knows how Lebron’s leap (was it more like a step for him?) from high school to the NBA turned out. This season, Lebron is doing his typical thing, putting up MVP-caliber numbers and chasing immortality. He is averaging 26.3 points, 6.5 assists, and 6.9 rebounds per game. Would it not have been fun, though, to see him play in a Final Four?
6 Amar’e Stoudemire - Career Earnings: $142,287,721
In the early portion of his career, Amar’e Stoudemire was part of the NBA’s most electrifying offense in Phoenix. Benefitting from playing with Steve Nash, Amar’e gave his fans something to drop their jaws over each and every night. Unfortunately, lower-body issues have recently undermined his success, and he looks to be on the decline. He will need to restructure his ludicrously expensive contract if he wants to avoid the ill-repute of being a cipher who eats up cap space and forces his team downhill.
5 Rashard Lewis - Career Earnings: $155,332,815
Unfortunately for Rashard Lewis, he will not be remembered for his on-court play, but for the contract he signed with the Orlando Magic, a wasteful contract that should not have been offered to him in the first place. Unsurprisingly, he had his best season the year before signing with Orlando, as he averaged 22.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He currently plays for the Miami Heat, and has averaged 15 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in his career.
4 Tracy McGrady - Career Earnings: $162,978,278
After leaving Toronto for Orlando, Tracy McGrady became one of the NBA’s elite scorers. He carried his success from Orlando to Houston, but injuries took their toll, and he finished his career by bouncing from team to team. Although he might be defined by his lack of playoff success, fans will remember his devastating scoring ability. Over his career, he averaged 19.6 points per game.
3 Jermaine O’Neal - Career Earnings: $168,794,021
As an Indiana Pacer, Jermaine O’Neal was a formidable scorer, averaging over 20 points per game and making six straight All-Star games during those years. Over the course of his career, O’Neal has averaged 13.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. He currently plays for the Golden State Warriors, but injuries have limited his play this season. Given his repetitive trouble with injuries, it is admirable that he has lasted this long in the league.
2 Kobe Bryant - Career Earnings: $279,738,062
Kobe Bryant is one of the most decorated basketball players of all-time. The fifteen-time All-Star has won the league’s MVP Award and five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. It is obvious that he desperately wants a sixth championship, but even if he returns to form from his current injury, the Lakers do not seem to have championship-caliber talent to surround him with. Black Mamba has averaged 25.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in his career.
1 Kevin Garnett - Career Earnings: $315,372,398
Garnett is the player who made the jump from high school to the NBA fashionable, so it is only fitting that he tops this list. After tough seasons in Minnesota, where he repeatedly came up short in the playoffs, Garnett relished his opportunity to play with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen when he was traded to the Boston Celtics. The three stars led the Celtics to a championship in 2008. Having won a championship to go along with his list of personal achievements, Garnett has nothing to prove. Over his career, he has averaged 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.