View Full Version : NBA Rookies Get Lessons in Life Skills

09-26-2003, 07:00 PM
N.B.A. Rookies Get Lessons in Life Skills

Published: September 26, 2003

ARRYTOWN, N.Y., Sept. 23 - The player, ordered to his feet by the longtime referee Dick Bavetta, stood up like a timid first-grader in an auditorium packed with his schoolmates.

"I noticed you haven't been laughing at my jokes," Bavetta said. "No calls for you this year."

The relieved player, a recent lottery pick, and the 58 other N.B.A. rookies burst out in laughter. With Bavetta working the ballroom as if he were Jay Leno, there was plenty of chortling going on at the Dolce Tarrytown House.


But the National Basketball Association's Rookie Transition Program has been much more than fun and games. The six-day program has provided the rookies a crash course in life skills. Reporters were allowed to observe the program on the condition that the comments and questions raised in the sessions not be attributed to any specific player.

Business issues (financial planning, networking, media training), basketball issues (game rules, relating to referees, coaches' expectations), legal issues (sexual harassment, gambling, felony situations, identity theft) and personal matters (ethics, driving safety, drug and alcohol abuse, nutrition, relationships) have all been discussed in depth.

If anyone entered the program thinking the N.B.A. was just about playing basketball, they quickly found they were mistaken.

"The easiest part of being a rookie is on the court," said the former player Tim McCormick, now a regional representative with the players association. "They'll handle themselves fine on the court. But all of the outside influences that could derail them - that's my primary concern.

"The world of professional sports is a cold, cutthroat business. In high school and college, they were in a warm, nurturing environment where people were looking out for them. It's not like that anymore."

Former star players like Bill Russell, Earl Monroe, Bob Lanier, Spencer Haywood and Earl Lloyd, the league's first African-American player, were brought in to speak with the rookies. Current players spoke as well.

Although it was rarely mentioned by name, the Kobe Bryant case was not far from anyone's mind. Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers star, has been charged with sexually assaulting a woman on June 30 in his suite at a resort lodge in Colorado. Bryant has said that he and the woman had consensual sex.

"In high school, I couldn't get a girl to give me the time of day," Russell said. "Ten years later, I had to carry a baseball bat around to beat them off. You've got to have a life and enjoy yourself, but the one thing you need to think about is that when you're going into a situation, whatever it is, you have to devise an exit strategy. You have to think, 'If I go through with this, how do I get out of it?' "

LeBron James, the first pick of the draft, said he appreciated the advice.

"Everything they're telling us you can use in your everyday life, and it's important," James said on Monday while appearing with the other rookies at P.S. 8 in Manhattan. "They're not just having us here to get us away from our families. They're having us here because people that have been in this league have made bad decisions, and this is going to help us."

In a segment of the program called "Coach's Huddle," Paul Silas, who will coach James in Cleveland, spoke against treating relationships in a casual manner, especially relationships that have resulted in children.

He encouraged players to marry the mothers of their children and said, "If you won't make a commitment to somebody you love, then you won't make a commitment to me."

He had another message for the players. "I said I wasn't going to talk about this, but it really disturbs me," said Silas, an African-American. "I don't like the use of the N-word. You have to understand where we've come from and how it affects this country and how it affects us. To say that others can't use it but we can doesn't make sense.

"You might not have any idea of what it was like in the 40's and 50's, but using that word just doesn't sound good."

On Tuesday, a group of professional actors known as ZINC performed skits that emphasized how players' relationships with women can affect their play.

"I think part of it is trying to make you scared," said Nick Collison, a first-round draft choice of the Seattle SuperSonics. "But it might be too much. These are situations that don't affect just basketball players. They could affect anybody.''

Bavetta had a different message. He took the comic route to make a point about officiating.

"Some people say that rookies don't get calls, that you don't get calls until your second year in the league," Bavetta said. "But that's not true. You start getting calls your third year."


LeBron James had been expected to play point guard for Cleveland this season. But Cavaliers Coach Paul Silas has decided against starting James at the point. "That was the plan," Silas said, "but I don't want to put that kind of pressure on him."