LeBron James' domination of the Amature Athletic Union (AAU) circuit not only revolutionized the AAU but also changed the way high school players are viewed, recruited, and marketed. The impact of players like James and Carmelo Anthony helped lay the foundation for Kevin Durant to ascend to the no. 2 player in the nation before spending a record-breaking season at the University of Texas.
Although this exposure is welcomed by many, the sensationalizing of teenagers with no financial reimbursement has been heavily criticized. On the latest episode of Durant's The Boardroom, streaming now on ESPN+, KD sat down with his on-court rival as well as James' right-hand man Maverick Carter, to discuss the business of basketball.
While Durant offered an honest and common critique on the NCAA, LeBron took things a step further, when describing the first time he realized that his likeness was being marketed. James discussed how the NCAA as well as other entities were profiting off his skillset before he was an upperclassman in high school.
"Freshman year to my sophomore year they moved our home games to the [University of Akron]... My first game of my sophomore year was at the University of Akron and there like 6,000 people... and they sell season tickets," LeBron said. "Right then and there as a sophomore at 15-years-old I knew that this was a business."
LeBron's former-high school teammate Maverick Carter also reminisced about how the school district and the state of Ohio offered LeBron's games for purchase via pay-per-view for those in the state that couldn't make it to Akron.
"His senior year they actually put the games on pay-per-view," Carter said. "You could watch LeBron James games anywhere in the state if you paid like ten bucks."
The fact that an NCAA university and cable companies were making money off a player that didn't even go to college helped inform the epiphany KD experienced while playing for the Longhorns. During their discussion, Durant admitted that he only went to college because the "one-and-done" rule was placed in effect before he graduated from high school. However in his one year at Texas, KD pieced together one of the best seasons in NCAA history. He averaged 25.8 pts., 11.1 reb., 1.3 ast. en route to becoming the first freshman to be named the Naismith College Player of the Year. Because of his popularity, Durant feels that the NCAA and the University of Texas purposely exploited his likeness for a financial gain that only benefited them.
"I seen a 35 jersey on the rack and I'm just wondering like, why my name's not on the back of it," KD explained. "Everybody knows this is my jersey and it was just kind of confusing at that point because it was this in between period where it was like is this always about ball or they might be making money on the other side of this too. So I didn't know who to turn to, I had no guidance, and I was going to the NBA the next year. So it was like, I just want to play ball."