A lot of really weird stuff has happened in the world of sports this summer, but when it comes down to it, all of the weirdness can be attributed to one thing: growing up too fast. Kobe Bryant was arrested on rape charges in June. My theory? Guilty or not guilty, Kobe grew up too fast. He was forced to grow up that fast. I’m not going to launch into some tirade about being a “victim of the system” or a “product of society,” and I’m not saying he didn’t know the difference, but let’s take a look at some numbers.

Tomorrow is his birthday; he’ll be 25. He was 17 when he was drafted and he played his first game at the tender age of 18 years, 2 months, 11 days. When he did so, he fulfilled a prophesy that had been touted for years: that he was the “next Michael Jordan.” That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid (and that’s what he was). Some of you are 18 now. I too, was 18 once. At that age, you want to have fun. Maybe Kobe just couldn’t handle the pressure.

Perhaps stranger and more troubling than Kobe’s trials and travails are those of young LeBron James. Hailed as the “next Kobe Bryant” ever since he entered high school, James made his first (and second, and third . and 99th) million before belonging to an NBA team. He was driving a Hummer even before that. It seems like it’s all a bit much for a high school kid, and it might – just might – mess up his perspective a little bit.

It seems like everybody in the sports world is in a hurry to grow up and be the “next big thing.” A few weeks ago, Disney’s Wide World of Sports played host to the Amateur Athletic League Tournament. The prime star of the tournament was 6-foot-5 O.J. Mayo. I wanted to go down to the complex and interview Mayo, but his agent cancelled the press conference; apparently it was past his bedtime. Mayo will be a freshman this year . in high school. He signed his first autograph at the age of 11, and he’s 16 now. Needless to say, Mayo has already been hyped as the “next big thing.” That next big thing in this case, however, is the “next LeBron James.” So before James has even played a game, nay almost before he was drafted, sports fans and fanatics already have his replacement lined up and waiting in the wings.

Ohio State running back Maurice Clarrett has himself convinced that he’s good enough to go pro after just one year of college. Admittedly, he may just be good enough already; admittedly, a full year of college is more than LeBron or Kobe or any of the other members of the “next big thing” club have had. No matter how good you are, at that age, you’re still not grown up enough; especially if things have been handed to you all your life (for instance, a Hummer).

So Kobe was the next Jordan, LeBron was the next Kobe, and Mayo is the next LeBron. When Dick Vitale coined the term “diaper dandies,” he had no idea that one day he may actually be covering a game where players were wearing diapers. The ages of professional players are dropping every year. At this rate, it won’t be long until kids will be learning cursive just so they can sign their first shoe endorsement.

Where does that leave us? You’re here at Georgetown, you’re not going to be joining the ranks of any professional sports leagues any time soon. Your parents probably didn’t sue your Little League coach in an attempt to get you more playing time (yes, that’s the latest trend), but maybe that’s for the best. They’ve given you a great deal of opportunities, even if they haven’t given you a Hummer (then again, you’re at Georgetown, so maybe they have). Enjoy the opportunities you’ve been given, and most of all, enjoy your youth.

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