Posted Feb 3 2010 10:18AM
Life in the NBA is different for Michael Beasley the second time around.
For one thing, he understands a little more about where he needs to be on the basketball court. For another, he knows where he can't be off it.
Gone are the nights of the five-figure club and bar tabs on South Beach that gave him a taste of high-rolling celebrity as a rookie. In their place in his second professional season are visits to churches, community centers and any place he can find an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
"I don't do much talking," said the Miami Heat forward. "Mostly I'm there to listen. There are a lot of inspirational stories out there."
Beasley's, of course, is the cautionary tale.
From the time he and teammate Mario Chalmers were caught violating league policy amid the aroma of marijuana in a hotel room at the NBA rookie orientation in September 2008 to the Internet posted photos that landed him in a Houston rehabilitation center in August 2009, Beasley's was a downhill path that threatened to squander so much potential.
Now, less than six months after those photos surfaced, the 6-foot-9 power forward is back on the track that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 Draft
"I'm trying to play the game more aggressively, take more of a killer instinct out there onto the court every night," he said. "But in the other areas, what I'm learning to do is slow down."
The irony is that Beasley is applying the brakes just at the time when many young people are getting ready to officially cut loose. Beasley turned 21 on Jan. 9.
"Yeah, I definitely stopped and thought about it at the time," he said. "I think 21 is a significant age in everybody's life. My life is a little different. I'd already been through a lot before I was 18. So 21 is real important to me. Growing up, I had a lot of friends that didn't make it to 21.
"I still have to give it time to settle in. Honestly, I still think I'm the same person, a good person, on the inside. But I've grown since last year, if not in the short time I've been 21. I'm learning and I'm growing every day."
By learning to be a better person, Beasley is learning to be a better basketball player. His scoring average is up to 16 points per game and he scored at least 20 in seven of the 15 games the Heat played in January before a hyperextended knee forced him to the sidelines for two games.
"Michael had obviously a challenge in the summer," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "In retrospect, he's really matured since then. He realized he's going to have to make some changes in his life personally and also professionally and he really grew from that experience in Houston. Now you see it on the court and off the court. He's more professional, more mature, has better perspective.
"We all know he already has a world of talent. He's young. He's growing. We've always trusted his ability and his talent we're going to take it slow as he improves in this league and in his life.
"Michael understands the most important thing in his career right now is his sobriety. He doesn't want to go back to where he was last summer. He has a goal to make mature decisions on his own. But he's starting to do that now.
"He is in tremendous physical condition. He put on 10 pounds of muscle. He put in the time and you can see the work, the residual of all those hours in the gym."
Outwardly, he's the same personality in the locker room -- fiery, loud and funny.
"What's changed? Well, he's got more facial hair and braids now," said teammate Dwyane Wade. "But seriously, he's learning the game, he's learning the league, he's learning personally and he's learning what it takes to succeed as a professional.
"I actually have a lot of respect for these guys coming into the NBA so young and having so much thrown at them. I don't know if I could have done it. I had to go to college to really learn somewhat about life and I didn't get it all then. You know, it's tough. But as long as he continues to listen to people that he trusts and loves and continues to know that there are guys around here that really believe in him, then he'll be fine."
Beasley said he has not had alcohol or used drugs since Aug. 6, 2009, the day he entered the rehab center in Houston, and is not tempted.
"I've done those things and they're not things that I'm interested in doing again," he said. "Now, it's about my family and my career."
Beasley has moved into a condo across the street from AmericanAirlines Arena to be closer to his job and has taken on a more business-like approach to the game.
"The funny thing about turning 21 is it's supposed to be the age when you're all grown up and ready to go out into the world," Beasley said. "Well, I've been out there already and what I've learned is the things I want and need are close to home."
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here.
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