The "one-and-done" rule, which says an athlete must attend at least a year of college to be eligible for the NBA Draft, hasn't always existed. The NBA once allowed high school athletes to declare themselves for the draft if they believed they were ready to go pro.
These players believed they didn't need to waste a few years in university to enter the league.
There have been numerous occasions where the league was taken aback by a kid out of high school who ran circles around some of the experienced college players. The likes of Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett turned out to be legends of the sport, while there are quite a few others who took the gamble and couldn't make a name for themselves on the big stage.
5 players who entered the NBA after high school
It isn't easy for a 17-year-old high school player to excel in a league filled with people older and more experienced than him. So with the NBA draft just a few months away, let's take a look at 5 players who came into the league as high school kids and wowed everyone.
#5 Tracy McGrady
On December 9th, 2004, many of the Houston Rockets fans left the arena early because they thought the game was a foregone conclusion. Little did they know that their shooting guard was about to drop 13 points in the final 33 seconds to accomplish one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history.
That is the legend of Tracy McGrady. A 6'8" guard out of Mount Zion Christian Academy, a high school in North Carolina, declared for the NBA draft in 1997 and got picked 9th overall by the Toronto Raptors.
Tracy McGrady, more commonly known as "T-Mac," is one of the most explosive and high-scoring guards to have played the game. Kobe Bryant once said in an interview that T-Mac is the only player he saw as a fierce match and he and Kevin Durant were the only two he didn't look forward to guarding on the court.
He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017 and finished his career with averages of 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.9 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game. McGrady is a 7-time All-Star, has two scoring titles, 7 All-NBA team selections, and was also the Most Improved Player of the Year in 2001. Unfortunately, we never saw McGrady dominate in the playoffs or reach his full potential given his injury-riddled career, leaving many to wonder what might have been.
#4 Kevin Garnett
One of the best power forwards in the game, Kevin Garnett was selected 5th overall in the 1995 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. A 6'11" beast out of Farragut Academy, a high school in Chicago, Garnett was an instant success in the NBA.
In an illustrious 2-decade career, Garnett made the All-Star team 15 times and had 9 All-NBA team selections. He won the 2004 league MVP with the Timberwolves and has led the league in rebounding 4 times.
Enough cannot be said about Garnett's talents, he was a prolific scorer who could do just about anything from pulling up in the midrange to ferociously dunking on his opponent.
He is also one of the best defenders of All-time. Garnett was the NBA 'Defensive Player of the Year' in 2008 and has 12 NBA All-Defensive Team selections, including 9 All-Defensive First Teams. He was crowned an NBA champion in 2008 with the Boston Celtics and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020.
Kevin Garnett finished his career with averages of 17.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game. Another feather in his cap is an Olympic Gold Medal that he helped USA win in 2000. Garnett set the stage for the likes of Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady as he was the first high schooler to be drafted in nearly 20 years.
#3 Moses Malone
A three-time NBA MVP, the legend of Moses Malone is as good as any. He is known as one of the best centers of all-time and the New York Times, writing in 1974, called him "the first high schooler in modern basketball to go directly to the pros". Malone has inspired a lot of people in the league, he came into the ABA in 1974 as a third-round pick and quickly transformed the perception of him as an inexperienced high schooler. He averaged 18.8 points and 14.6 rebounds in his rookie year with the Utah Stars.
Sixers' Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said that Moses Malone is one of the best things that happened to him. He guided and mentored a young Barkley into the great player we know today. Moses Malone won the Philadelphia 76ers their third-ever NBA title in 1983 along with Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones. He won Finals MVP that series and the 76ers retired his No. 2 jersey in 2019.
Moses Malone had career averages of 20.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 blocks, and 0.8 steals per game. He is one of only three players to win Finals MVP in his first year with a new team, joining Magic Johnson (1980) and Kevin Durant (2017). Malone made 13 All-Star appearances, 8 All-NBA selections, 2 All-Defensive selections, and led the league in rebounding 6 times.
#2 LeBron James
The King himself, LeBron James, was one of the most hyped players to come out of high school. Not only did he live up to the hype surrounding him, he exceeded it beyond anyone's wildest dreams. James is easily one of the greatest players to ever touch a basketball.
His list of accolades is never-ending and he is often brought up in GOAT (Greatest of All-Time) debates all around the world, often getting compared to Michael Jordan. The four-time league MVP and four-time Finals MVP, LeBron James leads the league in playoffs and Finals points. He is third All-Time on the scoring list behind Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and what's amazing is that he still has years left on his resume.
It is widely regarded that he single-handedly led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 at age of 22. He won his first two titles with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013, his third with the Cavaliers in 2016, and his fourth with the LA Lakers in 2020.
He is the only player in NBA history with 35000+ points, 9000+ assists, and 9000+ rebounds. A player with a complete all-round game, James has never averaged below 20 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds per game in his entire career and is quite possibly the only player to have done so over 18 years in the league.
LeBron James has been an All-Star every year of his career except during his rookie season. He has 16 All-NBA selections and 6 All-Defensive Team selections and it is argued that he was robbed of 'Defensive Player of the Year' in 2012 and 2013. He has been to the NBA Finals a whopping 10 times, including 8 consecutive with 2 different teams.
He has also won Sportsperson of the Year award given by Time, AP and Sports Illustrated, among several other publications. LeBron James has inspired an entire generation of people with his work off the court as well, in philanthropy and social justice.
#1 Kobe Bryant
The late Kobe Bean Bryant is quite possibly one of the most influential icons in NBA history. During an illustrious 20-year career, Bryant's game spoke volumes. From future Hall of Famers like Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, to young players like Devin Booker and Jayson Tatum, he has inspired an entire generation of athletes. In 1996, at the age of 17, Kobe Bryant declared for the NBA Draft out of Lower Merion high school in Pennsylvania.
He was highly marketable, had a thirst for greatness, and was probably one of the first few players who also doubled as a teen heart-throb. He made cameos in movies and TV shows, sold video games and sports gear, and also appeared in fast food and shoe commercials, all at the age of 18.
It seemed only fitting that he wore Purple and Gold for the LA Lakers in Hollywood. Also known as the 'Black Mamba', Kobe was loved by millions around the globe and regularly got MVP chants wherever he went, from coffee shops to on-air interviews.
He has the record for the most missed shots in NBA history. Bryant once said "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take", with that mentality to never give up, Kobe Bryant improved his game year after year.
He won 5 NBA titles with the LA Lakers, in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, and 2010. He made 18 All-Star appearances, 15 All-NBA team selections, and 12 All-Defensive team selections. He won the league MVP in 2008, although many argue he was robbed a few times in his career and has 2 scoring titles. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020.
Kobe Bryant's career highlights include an 81 points against the Raptors in 2006 and 62 points against Dallas when the opposition scored 61. He was quite possibly one of the most clutch athletes of his time, had a highlight reel of buzzer-beaters and game-winners, and all-time great playoff performances.
The legend died at the young age of 41 in 2020 and is remembered as one of the greatest players to ever bless an NBA court.