UCLA Bruins forward Jonah Bolden has opted out of his final two years of eligibility at the collegiate ranks to play professionally. The news has come as surprise to many, and the fallout of Bolden’s decision will leave ramifications all over the place — not all of those residing in the land of reality.
The initial reaction by some will be of natural confusion. Why would a non-NBA talent choose to play professional basketball when he can continue to craft his trade, while still getting an education, at UCLA?
This is where one has to remember that his values might not be theirs. To him, maybe a college education isn’t what he wants. Maybe a more immediate professional career — and this one just so happens to be basketball — is far more important to Bolden and his family.
We also have to remind ourselves that we view basketball success in such an odd way.
Mostly, the only people who “succeed” in basketball play in the NBA, but that’s obviously a false narrative. We willfully ignore that many have carved a niche for themselves playing internationally, and for many of those same people that money is more than enough to justify not getting whatever it is we deem as more important.
There could be far more to it than that. Academic issues — both good or bad — can be a reason for this. So, too, is his relationship with UCLA. At the end of the day, the fact of the matter remains the same: He chose something else over playing basketball for Steve Alford, and that’s OK because it was his decision to make, not ours.
Another layer to this story will be about how this will impact the perception of Alford and the UCLA basketball program. Bolden will be viewed as “yet another defection” while all context and nuance will be hurled out the window.
To be clear: It can end up being a story about some negative aspects about Alford, but we have no idea if that is the case. At least not yet. All we know for sure now is that Bolden is leaving a team he was a part-time starter on last season. That he likely figured to play an even bigger role this season for UCLA. And now he is none of those things.
If Bolden valued other things, then very little — if any — of his decision should put a damper on all things UCLA-related. Furthermore, if this was a move made by the forward for areas slightly more complicated (eligibility, etc.), the same thing applies.
Now, if it ends up being some sort of inherently horrible rift with Alford, a thing we would at some point find out about, then a discussion about how much “this hurts” the idea of UCLA hoops can be had. But even then, all the context and nuance needs to be allowed into that type of discourse.
After all, things are nearly never as black and white as we want to make them be.
As for the thing that tangibly matters the greatest to the most amount of people, UCLA fans, this does clearly hurt the team’s chances in the upcoming season. While Bolden wasn’t exactly a box-score stat stuffer, he’s a more than competent big man who added depth and abilities to a team that was looking to make major strides in the 2016-17 campaign. No matter how big or small of a role he was actually going to play to the wayside, losing any player of any stature is never a good thing as far as potential success is concerned.
At the end of the day, at least in terms relative to the grander scheme of things, Bolden’s departure is yet another small blip on the large college basketball radar. His relevance on this season will only rear its head again if UCLA’s woes can be directly tied to his absence.
His decision to play professionally will only matter to us — specifically, the general, non-UCLA basketball fan — if we hear his name down the road as some sort of wild success or extreme cautionary tale.
For this very exact moment, however, Bolden is doing what he believes is best for him. He owes nothing to a university that treats him more like a commodity than as a human — his value to the university is directly tied to the only thing that matters to it when it comes to him as a person, his basketball abilities.
He owed the school as much as the school owed him — which is a polite way of saying neither owed the other anything.
All of that being a really roundabout way of saying what we all already know, but don’t talk about enough — that college basketball is big business, and Bolden made a business decision that lead him to believe leaving UCLA for professional basketball was in his best interests.
Whatever the other, more layered aspects of this topic we find out later will be important, but in will pale in comparison to that last fact.