Where Are They Now? Mike Bantom

Mike Bantom splits defenders Marques Johnson (8) and Alex English.
(Pacers photo)

Indianapolis Jan. 22, 2003 - Mike Bantom teaches NBA players, but he’s not a coach. He’s more of a guide, or advisor, who prepares them for the taste of stardom. The former Pacers player not only wants to educate them on professional behavior, but teach them the fundamentals of life.

As Senior Vice President of Player Development for the National Basketball Association, Bantom’s role is to work with the league’s players and try to help them maximize their potential on and off the court. His goal is to help ease their transition from being a young, impressionable player into being a more mentally mature one.

“Each year, we get a whole new crop of young players that come into this league that aren’t prepared for all the challenges and obstacles that come with being a pro athlete ... media attention, public attention, the amount of money they are going to make,” Bantom said. “We are the gate-keepers, the people that are going to meet them on the way in.”

Bantom lived the life that he’s trying to prepare NBA players for. He played in the NBA for nine years (1973-1982) and then spent seven years overseas competing internationally in Italy. Bantom began his NBA career as a member of the Phoenix Suns, where he played for five seasons before being traded to Seattle. Then came a brief stint with the Nets.

“But, I really came into my own and discovered myself as a person when I was a member of the Indiana Pacers,” Bantom said.

He came to Indiana during the summer of 1977. The Pacers worked a trade with Buffalo, sending Billy Knight to the Braves for Bantom and Adrian Dantley. Bantom found his niche right away. He was the Pacers’ captain and player representative for the union during his four plus seasons with the team. While playing later with a nucleus of teammates that included George McGinnis, Don Buse, and eventually Knight (after he was re-acquired from Boston in a separate deal), he developed more confidence, a sense of responsibility, and leadership qualities that he would use later on down the road.

“The sport has been a point for everything good that has happened in life,” Bantom said. “I spent the first seven or eight years after my playing career promoting the sport of basketball worldwide. Then, I became aware of efforts the NBA has on its players to provide help and support them. I became interested in it and wanted to help make contribution.”

Bantom and his associates try and help teach players through educational programming, support services, and one-on-one mentoring. He, along with the league, have helped form rookie orientation programs and created an 800 phone number that players can call at anytime and obtain counseling help anonymously.

“Together with the union, the NBA has a player assistance program in place. It’s a part of a drug and alcohol assistance program that both the league and union have put in place for its players, but it goes beyond that,” Bantom said. “We have a counseling network, that has doctors in every NBA city. If there’s anything that’s bothering an NBA player, he can call a doctor in confidentiality and can receive assistance needed. We were known to be a drug-infested league years ago, that’s why we formed this program. We’re trying to change that image.”

His main goal though, is to prepare every player for what they are going to face when they come into league.

“When they enter the league, we want them to understand that their personal development or growth shouldn’t stop,” Bantom said. “There’s no more important thing in this league as the players.”