So, you just heard your name called in the NBA Draft. You feel a wide range of emotions: You are excited, perhaps even shocked at where you were selected. Then you realize that your life just instantly changed.
That is the reality of athletes drafted into professional sports leagues.
They go from living the college life to potentially becoming the face of a multi-billion-dollar organization overnight. The transition happens quickly and can uproot a player’s life and family.
A given player may have an idea of what to expect. Between their agent, close friends and perhaps even some friends that have experienced it, they have a broad idea of how the process works. But, it is still something they may not fully understand until they experience it firsthand.
The NBA created the Rookie Transition Program (RTP) to give first-year players the skills and information necessary for a smooth transition to the next level. Created in 1986, the mandatory four-day program is made up of a series of presentations developed by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).
“Our effort is to focus on giving them a set of skills and exposure around what to expect as they make this transition,” NBA vice president of player development Jamila Wideman told Rookie Wire.
Wideman also explained:
Those topics range from exposing them to programs that assist with their financial literacy to how this transition will affect their family members. In many ways, it’s them and their families that are making this transition. We also drill them into just how taxing the season can be physically coming from where they are to an 82-game season and the travel that comes with it. It’s part of what it means to become a professional in this league.
The program this year included 84 players and, for the first time, those signed to two-way contracts. The inclusion of two-way players is beneficial because many may end up going back and forth between the NBA and the G League next season.
Throughout this past week, players heard from experts as well as current and former players and on a variety of topics, including:
social media use
other related areas
“It’s no secret that the long days, the classes in each station we go to, it’s a lot of information,” Philadelphia 76ers rookie Matisse Thybulle told Rookie Wire.
I think the thing that has been really valuable for me and the teammates who I have here with me is being able to see so many different perspectives. They bring in people that have been through it. They bring in people on the business side. They have ex-players that have seen the whole picture. It has been really informative and eye-opening.
The RTP is the longest-running and most extensive athlete support system in all of the professional sports. As Wideman pointed out, it’s an effort to introduce this new class of rookies to the comprehensive resources and support that are available as they enter the league.
As an 18-year veteran, Ray Allen had one of the most successful careers in NBA history. The Hall of Famer has often said his career was the result of hard work and a commitment to the game like no other.
The two-time NBA champion helped kick off the RTP on Monday by encouraging the players to take advantage of future opportunities, both on and off the court. In its truest form, Allen embodied what should be expected of a professional player and, therefore, was a perfect guest for the event.
“To have Ray Allen open RTP and speak about the level of responsibility that they have to have in order to take care of themselves on the court and off the court really set the tone for the entire week,” NBA senior director of player development Alexys Feaster told Rookie Wire.
To see someone like him talk about how he took so seriously from the beginning to never have a sip of alcohol, to take care of his body, to run and exercise, to be the first one in the gym and the last one to leave and to hear a Hall of Famer talk about that, I think guys were very surprised that throughout his entire career that was his behavior.
Having experts speak about various issues players may face can be helpful during the program but having former and current players speak about the process they’ve experienced firsthand is ultimately what resonates in the room.
“It’s amazing that Ray Allen was here and guys that come back and speak,” Boston Celtics rookie Grant Williams told Rookie Wire.
It’s incredible to have those guys because you look up to them and you have been watching them. The fact that they’re coming back and giving their time that they don’t have to speak with us and also give us the opportunity to not only get better as players but as people, it’s incredible. The NBA lifestyle is different than any lifestyle that we’ll ever live. Being prepared for that lifestyle and being prepared for the mental side of things is the biggest thing they talk about.
Listening to former players speak can give those rookies an opportunity to hear the behind-the-scenes stories that may not be public knowledge. That can further prepare them to be alert for unexpected issues that may arise in the future.
In recent memory, the NBA has been at the forefront of providing mental health awareness to its players and encouraging them to seek help if they need it. Players such as Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan are among the growing number of players who have spoken publicly regarding the issue.
Players speaking out on their own personal issues can spark wider discussions on mental health and normalize the topic in the public eye to allow others to not feel afraid to seek help.
The NBA recently introduced a new set of initiatives and rules mandatory for all 30 teams. Among those rules, teams must have one to two mental health professionals available to their players and a licensed psychiatrist to assist when needed.
“Quite frankly, the bravery of our player voices has led in this space and in many ways, they’re continuing to lead in this space,” Wideman said.
In our efforts, with respect to the initiative, are to acknowledge and respect that and make sure that we’re creating programs and resources that help our teams continue to create an environment and a culture where players who are in need of help can reach out where we try to begin conversations around mental health and wellness that reduce the stigma that exists, not only within our athlete culture but within our culture of celebrity.
The players have taken notice, too. They appreciate how the NBA has gone above and beyond to help take care of their players outside of basketball and make them feel like part of a family.
The NBA has developed into a global brand by reaching more parts of the world than ever before. The game is growing both domestically and internationally and players are beginning to understand the importance of that dynamic.
Players such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul have all leveraged the NBA brand to help grow their own personal brands. As they have shown, there is a substantial amount of money that can be earned outside of basketball.
As a new crop of rookies prepares for their upcoming seasons, the league encourages those players that they can still grow their brand throughout the year while also helping grow the NBA as a business, too.
“We wanted to educate the players on the NBA as not just a sports league but as an innovative and ever-changing global business,” assistant vice president of team business operations Raven Jemison told Rookie Wire.
As they understand what that means as a whole then we can dive into a little bit more into what their role is in growing the business and playing a more active role in the business. We also shared a few examples of how players have benefited in engaging in the business side of the NBA.
If you think what LeBron and have been able to do at the height of their careers in business, it’s inspiring. We wanted to get that message across that, even though you’re a rookie, you can still schedule time with your head of marketing or your head of sponsorship and make sure you’re sharing your goals as far as what you want to accomplish as a businessman.
Players found the business aspect of the RTP especially informative. They see how those before them have succeeded off the court and understand that it is increasingly beneficial to take advantage of the opportunities in front of them.
“My brand and the NBA’s is kind of one and the same,” Thybulle said. “What I do to help improve my brand is also going to help the NBA. In the same sense, what I do to hurt my brand is going to hurt the NBA. Taking that into consideration, and also what that means for endorsements and other things off the court the opportunity you bring from just being a basketball player having success is what you do to make yourself as valuable as possible, how you want to be perceived and all of those things. It all comes full circle.”
Jemison believes it will become a trend for players to continue to help grow their brands off the court. As James, Durant and Paul have seemingly set the bar for endorsements, more players will continue to get involved as they better understand their partnership with the NBA.
The side of professional sports that most often is glamorized is the financial component. Players entering any men’s professional sport are on the fast track to becoming instant millionaires. With that comes a responsibility for which they are unlikely to be prepared.
The NBA gives players the resources to help them manage their money and grow their wealth. At this year’s RTP, current players C.J. McCollum, Pat Connaughton and Derrick Walton Jr. offered advice about making financially sound decisions and saving and investing their money, something that resonated with Thybulle.
I think in general over the last few days is just gaining a perspective. We come in as college kids that aren’t used to having a lot of money but this is just taking it to a different level. Just gaining that perspective of what to expect and what the reality is. What you see a lot of times isn’t what really is going on.
Part of that reality is understanding how to avoid financial pitfalls. Over the years, players have fallen victim to poor investment decisions while others have struggled to handle family members with open hands. The RTP gives players tips on how to handle those situations.
“With my role over the past five years within player development, part of my job has been to add an extra layer of support to these guys throughout their entire journey,” Feaster said.
I work with their families, even kind of role-playing and dialogue and how to say no to people and how to say no to people that you love a lot and not have guilt around them.
These guys are young and you want to do all you can for everyone but really they want to know how do you interact that people think that you have more money than what the world thinks. I think that has been a huge key component of what they’re interested in.
With so many players falling into unwanted circumstances, the NBA has gone to extreme measures to warn players of what can happen. The league certainly cannot ensure those instances are avoided entirely, but they want to put players in a position to succeed.
“You always hear stories about how NBA players go broke,” Williams said. “The way it looks right now, it really doesn’t seem like anyone should with the way they have all of the resources available and how much time they’ve spent caring about their athletes.”