Life is good for incoming NBA rookies, but there’s definitely a whole lot to learn and new experiences coming our way. For most of us, fine dining used to mean a trip to our college cafeteria, so things are different these days. From managing this newfound money to hearing about the unfamiliar situations and challenges that we may face, one thing is for sure: there's a lot more that goes into becoming a successful NBA player than just how you compete on the court.
Luckily, the NBA and the NBA Players Association team up every year to host the Rookie Transition Program (RTP), a four-day program aimed at helping young players successfully transition to the pros and prepare us for what’s ahead. This year’s RTP took place in early August at a hotel in Florham Park, New Jersey. Before RTP started, those of us under contract with the NBA’s trading card partner Panini arrived two days early. We spent our time signing memorabilia for up to 10 hours in a day. We also had a great photo shoot for our new trading cards to start the week, which was a lot of fun. It was a very busy few days, packed with speakers and panels featuring all kinds of experts wanting to help us succeed.
The funny thing is that a lot of us talked about how we weren’t that excited about going to RTP before it started. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to do this. I just want to work out and get ready for the season, especially since I already went to college, so what can they tell me that I don’t already know?’ I was very wrong. We learned so much and I feel so much more prepared for my career in the NBA after attending RTP. My friend Anthony Bennett, who happens to be the first overall pick from this year’s draft, told me pretty much the same thing: “Coming into this, I thought it was going to just be a lot of long sessions of people talking at us, but everyone kept telling me to listen, and I really learned a lot.”
There were so many compelling speakers that spoke to us, but I think for me (and a lot of the other rookies too), a few really stood out and resonated with us. The story of NBA veteran Chris Herren was amazing. I’ll tell the short version. Chris was an unbelievable player who made it to the NBA (playing with the Celtics). He was only 24-years-old when he got into drugs and lost everything. The NBA was over for him, he lost his family, almost died, went to jail. Thankfully, he was able to get his life back together in 2008 and today he shares his story in an effort to help others from falling into drug addiction.
Then there was Reggie Shaw, who talked to us about texting and driving. Reggie killed two men while texting and driving on a Utah highway about seven years ago. It was a sad story and makes you think twice about picking up your phone while behind the wheel.
Tony A. Gaskins also spoke to us about his past experiences. Tony is a former college football player who is now a motivational speaker focused on preaching about premarital sex. He emphasized how crucial it is to stop thinking and acting like a grown boy and be a man.
Victor Oladipo, who was the second overall pick, told me that hearing Chris and Reggie’s stories opened his eyes and touched him. He said, “Those guys shared incredible stories. Getting up there and sharing their perspective and their own stories shows a lot of courage and shows how much they care about giving back to the youth and making sure we don’t make the same mistakes they did.”
Otto Porter, a Washington Wizards rookie, took away a simple, yet important, message: “You have to stay focused. The decisions you make now will change your life forever.” That’s certainly the truth.
I also was very interested in the discussions about our finances. My friend Cody Zeller (you know, the 7-foot center drafted by Charlotte) and I were talking about purchases we would make once we got our first checks. I was thinking about buying a nice new car right away, but after attending RTP, I realize I should be smart about making big purchases like that. Cody, who has two brothers already in the NBA giving him advice, feels the same way. When I asked him what his first big purchase was going to be, he said he was saving it all. Well, he’s getting himself some nice furniture and going big on a new TV first, but after that, he’s on a tight budget.
There was a lot of emphasis on our post-playing careers, which was interesting. Cody makes a good point. He said, “If you have a good career, you might be done playing at 30 or 35, but then you still have to plan the rest of your life.” That’s not even a given; it’s if you have a successful career. For me, I’m very interested in sports journalism and broadcasting, so I am continuing to hone my skills by writing pieces like this Maxim article to help prepare me for when my hoops days are over. Of course, I hope the end of my career is a long time away, but you never know. A lot of guys in my draft class seem to have all kinds of interests, so I hope they all start preparing for their futures as well.
Life has already changed so much for us since draft night, and it’s going to change a lot more! Not only did RTP make me feel more at ease about the journey ahead, but it also reminded me why playing in the NBA is such an awesome opportunity. It got us even more excited than we already were to start competing in this league.
Another highlight was getting to know the other NBA rookies in an off-court setting. We’re usually battling each other on the court, so it was nice to share meals and hang out playing ping-pong and video games and stuff. Don’t get me wrong; once we’re on the court, we’re competitors. But in the meantime, we did enjoy each other’s company.
(Photo: Joe Amati)
Let the games begin!
Photos by Joe Amati