Bill Walton: NBA should be 21 and over league

The Axe Files, featuring David Axelrod, is a podcast distributed by CNN and produced at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. The author works at the institute.

Washington (CNN)The NBA should ban players under the age of 21, according to former All-Star center and basketball announcer Bill Walton.

"If I were in charge of the NBA, if I had [NBA Commissioner] Adam Silver's job, rule number one would be you have to be 21 to play in the NBA," Walton told David Axelrod on "The Axe Files," a podcast produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. "You want to work in finance, you want to work in marketing, you want to work in sales, you want to work in tickets, you want to work in maintenance or event production, you can be whatever age you want. But if you want to play -- on the court, in the game, and travel around the world on a constant basis and every night live as an adult -- you better be 21 years old."
The current NBA minimum draft age is 19 and Silver has called for raising it to 20.
Walton said he "loved" his own experience in college under legendary coach John Wooden at UCLA.
    "In the big time money-making sports like football and basketball, the young players think it's all about stuff -- they think it's about material accumulation and physical gratification," he said. "They don't understand this remarkable opportunity that they have to go and be a part of something special, to change their life forever, to train their mind, to learn how to be a part of a great team, to search for, find, and learn from master teachers, to go and expose themselves to these phenomenal professors and great students alongside them...to build a network, a life, and a future for themselves."
    Walton, whose playing and announcing careers were both derailed by injuries, said his back pain nearly drove him to suicide in 2008.
    "I spent half my adult life in the hospital. I spent so much time in my life just lying there waiting and then at the end, I just gave up because it was just too hard. It was just too much pain and there was no hope and there was no path forward," he said. "Then this doctor, Steve Garfin, he steps up and says, 'I've got an idea, I've got a plan and I'm willing to take the chance.' And I had to take the chance. I had no choice. My only other choice was suicide."
    "When you're in that space, more people commit suicide from back pain than from any other malady. It's just overwhelming. It destroys every aspect of your life. It destroys every aspect of all the people around you. And here's this situation where I had nothing, but then I had this surgery and I'm all better. I take no medication. I have no pain. I go full speed ahead now. I've never been busier. I've never been happier. I haven't been this healthy since I was 13 years old. In all these years I never thought that I'd be free of pain, I never thought that I'd be happy in love, and I have both of those today. I am the luckiest guy on earth."
    To hear the whole conversation with Walton, which also touched on his childhood in southern California, his love of the Grateful Dead, and much more, click on http://podcast.cnn.com. To get "The Axe Files" podcast every week, subscribe at http://itunes.com/theaxefiles.