FLORHAM PARK, NJ — There’s a lot more to being an NBA player than just playing offense and defense.
Making it to the league comes with responsibilities, and it comes with a major adjustment. You might not be old enough to drink, but you’ve suddenly got money, fame and a whole bunch of people who want to be your friend.
That can be hard to deal with. And there are plenty of stories out there of guys who couldn’t handle it and developed problems with money, alcohol, drugs or women.
So the NBA has the Rookie Transition Program, three days and three nights of talks to get new players ready for life in the league. The program, created in 1986, addresses all kinds of topics, from diet to groupies, from social media to the problems with starting your own foundation.
It may seem like a drag, because you have to turn your phone off all day and you aren’t allowed visitors. According to USA Today, Wolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad was sent home in the first 24 hours of the program because he brought a female to his hotel room.
But hey, if you didn’t have to go through these three days of classes, you aren’t in the NBA. It’s a small price to pay and it will benefit you in the long run.
“The goal is to support, educate, train the first year players as they make the successful transition into becoming a pro,” said Greg Taylor, the NBA’s senior vice president of player development. “There’s lot of challenges. They’re faced with lots of situations. They have to manage resources and the like. So the purpose of this program is to really be clear, to highlight what we think are classic pitfalls, to provide quality information, and to let them know there’s a support network for them as they make that difficult journey into being successful pros.”
The program has evolved over the years and Taylor, who joined the NBA in February, brings a new perspective from his years with the Foundation for Newark’s Future and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The players will have an iPad app, which will provide notifications and reminders after they leave the RTP. That, along with the office of Community and Player Programs and the Player’s Union, is the support network that Taylor is talking about.
On Tuesday night, the rookies (and a few young vets) got a talk from Chris Herren, the former player whose battle with and recovery from drug addiction was documented in the 30 for 30 film Unguarded. Herren’s talk hit home with Jazz point guard Trey Burke.
“That touched me in a way, because I have uncles and an aunt that had that type of problem,” Burke said. “It goes to show that whatever you face in life, whatever type of adversity you face, it can be overcome.”
Herren’s story is both an important warning and an inspirational tale, but also an extreme case. More immediately applicable is advice on how to manage your money. These guys might be making millions of dollars during their career, but the average NBA career is less than five years long, and they’ll have another 50 years beyond that to support themselves. So they shouldn’t necessarily try to support everyone they know while they’re playing.
“The first thing for me,” said Maurice Harkless, a second-year player who missed last year’s RTP because he was having surgery, “was how many family members and friends come out of nowhere that you haven’t heard from in so long. They just pop up, asking you for things. It’s tough for me to say ‘no’ to people sometimes. I have a hard time letting people down, but you have to. That’s one thing I had to do is learn how to tell people ‘no.'”
Because he’s already been in the league a year, Harkless has a different perspective than most of the other guys in the room. But it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need to pay attention.
“I’ve seen a lot of this stuff happen,” he said. “Seeing guys go through a lot of this stuff, knowing it’s real, you pay attention to all the little details and you take in everything. Now, I know it’s more important than I would have thought [last year] or maybe a lot of these guys think.”
Harkless says he was lucky, though. With the Magic, he had a vet that was looking after him.
“Any time I had a question about anything,” Harkless said, “J.J. [Redick] was there to help me. He always was helping the young guys get through whatever issues they had.”
And Harkless said he was able to save “a lot” of his rookie salary, because Redick gave him the talk last fall.
“The first couple of weeks into the preseason,” Harkless said, “J.J. sat down all the rookies individually and talked to them about finances, how important it is to save, make the right decisions with your money, don’t give anyone power of attorney and stuff like that.”
That bodes well for Clippers rookie Reggie Bullock, who will have Redick as a mentor this season. Other rookies might not be so lucky, but they have these three days to find out what being an NBA player is all about.
“It’s about maximizing your potential, maximizing the opportunity you got,” Burke said. “You definitely have the opportunity to change a lot of people’s lives, with the opportunity that we have to play in the NBA.”