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Published: Thursday, 5/29/2003

Youth is not wasted on these young

I still don't know what to think about 18-year-old high-school basketball icon LeBron James signing a $90 million contract to represent Nike, the same athletic shoe company that paid 13-year-old soccer phenom Freddy Adu $1 million to relinquish his high school and college eligibility.

And don't get me started on 13-year-old golf prodigy Michelle Wie, who has accepted sponsors' exemptions to play in two professional men's events this year - to say nothing of the Farr Classic at Highland Meadows in August - and whose lofty goals include joining the PGA Tour and becoming the first female to play in the Masters.

Instead of complaining how kids don't understand their place in today's society, maybe it's time to stop looking at life through rose-colored bifocals.

I bring up James, Adu and Wie because they're poster children for the new millenium of athletic geniuses who go against everything I was brought up to trust and believe in.

Products of a fast-food generation, their impatience with wanting to get everything done right now - the sooner, the better - bothers me. I wonder why life's such a rush for them.

Patience, hard work and talent, not necessarily in that order, are the foundation upon which this country was supposedly built.

Well, guess what, the rules are changing as we speak. Black is white, and upside-down is rightside-up through the looking glass.

If you're a Baby Boomer, you feel my pain, my stubborn resistance to change. But just because something doesn't taste good doesn't always mean it isn't good for you.

I don't have to like the fact that James, Adu and Wie are too young to appreciate the value of fame.

I only have to respect their physical gifts, along with an ability to market themselves to a worldwide audience.

James signed with Nike a month before the NBA draft. He's financially set for life before playing a second in the pros.

Who needs college, right?

Expected to be taken with the first pick, James could fall flat on his face as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Or he could soar like a supernova and become the greatest shoe salesman since Thom McCann.

Adu will bypass high school and college so he can be paid for dominating a sport he's been playing for free.

Adu, who moved to the United States from Ghana in 1997, has the makings of another Pele or Ronaldo - a breathtaking talent who could be the one to finally make people in this country care about the World Cup.

Wie, who consistently drives the ball 300 yards, has a sick golf game. Three years ago the Hawaii native played in the qualifying round for the PGA's Sony Open and shot 84. This year, playing the same event, she shot 73.

Wie played in three events on the women's tour last year and became the youngest player to crack the top 10 in an LPGA major, with a ninth-place finish. The only thing holding her back from turning pro is her age.

Bottom line: James, Adu and Wie are only as young as they feel. I used to disagree with that logic. Now I'm not so sure.



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