Rookie Transition Program Helps Players Adjust To NBA Life

by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Rookie Transition Program Helps Players Adjust To NBA Life

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

Email / Twitter

NBA rookies are tasked with adjusting not only to the speed and physicality of the professional game but also to life off the court. Newcomers to the league will face challenges in their personal lives that range from managing finances, media communication and personal conduct in the public eye. With some rookies entering the league at 19, handling the spotlight and newfound fortune can be a lot to tackle.

That’s where the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program steps in. The program is a league-wide mandatory initiative for rookies entering the NBA that helps provide young players with information and resources that enable them to proactively make quality decisions and successfully adapt to the lifestyle and challenges of the NBA.

The program, created in 1986 by the NBA and NBPA, calls itself the most comprehensive of its kind in professional sports. It’s a curriculum that Wolves rookies like Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng will need to complete this offseason.

The three-day event, which will take place on Aug. 6-8 this year in New Jersey, will feature interactive workshops, skits, counsel sessions on issues they will face in the NBA, and guest appearances from current and former NBA players. There is a special emphasis on Character, Ethics and Leadership, the Importance of Positive Images as well as Personal and Social Responsibility.

The setting includes classroom sessions in which players are broken down into groups of 10-15. There is also a web-based application that will ensure players have access to the content throughout the year, and a phone-based application will give players access at their fingertips 24/7.

It’s a program the NBA is proud to impart on its new players, according to Senior Vice President of Player Development Greg Taylor.

“The impetus of the Office of Player Development really was the league’s recognition of ensuring we are doing the best we could to meet the players and resolve the issues they face off the court,” Taylor said. “There has always been the whole fundamental commitment to the player on the court and off the court. It’s really the driver for what we do. The program services have been in place for years.”

Navigating What Lies Ahead

Part of the Rookie Transition Program’s initiatives deals with the people within the player’s personal circle. They often are the biggest influences in how professional athletes spend their time off the court.

“It’s not just about educating the players and making better choices and mastering the evolution of being a pro player, but it’s also about the family and key influences,” Taylor said. “We run a number of family seminars, because we understand families are the best support network. What it means to be a pro, we reinforce with the family members, also.”

For some, the challenges are new. For others, it’s an extension of spotlight they’ve felt for years.

Muhammad, taken by Utah with the 14th overall pick and traded on Draft night to Minnesota, has been in the public eye for years. He was one of the nation’s top high school recruits prior to the 2012-13 season, picking UCLA over several other high profile suitors. Muhammad spent one year in Los Angeles navigating through the second largest media market in the country, and during that season he fielded questions regarding issues both on and off the court.

His college coach, Ben Howland, said he’s always been able to manage through all the tough questions.

“Shabazz has handled it great,” Howland said. “He’s had this expectation on him because of all he’s accomplished since he was very young. He’s handled the limelight and all the media attention, and all the scrutiny very, very well. It’s going to serve him well in the NBA.”

Muhammad said he feels the responsibility, but he understands the key to success.

“Just carrying yourself the right way,” he said. “And making sure you’re nice to everybody, because you’re carrying out your brand and it will really help you out as a basketball player, and not only as a basketball player but as a person as well.”

Learning about what lies ahead is something players can pick up from others as well. Sometimes it only takes a phone call. Former Illinois guard Brandon Paul, who played for the Wolves’ Summer League squad and hopes to find a spot on an NBA roster this year, has been in constant contact with his Illini teammate, Meyers Leonard, over the past year. Leonard just wrapped up his rookie season with the Trail Blazers and has been through the change in lifestyle from college to the NBA.

“I talk to him every week,” Paul said. “He tells me little things I need to know that will help me.”

Paul said he’s also gotten advice from one of his mentors, Dickey Simpkins, who coached Paul’s AAU team and played seven seasons in the NBA for Chicago, Golden State and Atlanta.

“He told me the ins and outs—what to do, what to expect,” Paul said. “I don’t want to take it for granted. I don’t want to make mistakes I’ve seen done before me. I want to continue to build, I want to make sure I’m getting the right amount of rest and working hard in the gym.”

For Lorenzo Brown, the biggest two parts of adjusting to the professional level are handling the free time and making sure his perspective doesn’t change. He aspires to continue being the type of person on and off the court he’s always been—ensuring the fortune and fame doesn’t change who he is.

Going through the Rookie Transition Program, he said he’d take a lot of notes on all the little tips the league goes through on making that smooth transition and handling all the responsibilities that come with being a professional athlete.

“You just have to have the right level of…being a kind person,” Brown said. “A lot of guys come out and they go to the club and do whatever they want and things like that. But at the same time you have to know your limits.”

An Evolving Curriculum

Social media is an incredibly pivotal part of today’s online world, and it’s exceptionally important to the marketing and branding of the NBA in its global initiatives. Facebook and Twitter allow fans from all around the world to chat and comment instantly about happenings surrounding their favorite teams, and with the Wolves gaining momentum as an internationally relevant team through their eclectic roster and growing fan base, social media is an integral part of spreading the league’s messages worldwide.

But there is also room for error in this system. Nearly all young athletes have a Twitter account, and posting even one controversial tweet can raise unwanted negative attention through media outlets and online chatter.

Taylor said social media has become a medium that has critical points of emphasis within the Rookie Transition Program because of its ability to help or hurt your brand. That probably wasn’t the case even five years ago, but today it’s something rookies need to think about. According to a USA Today report, there were approximately 6 million Twitter users at the end of 2008. Today, there are more than 550 million. Facebook has grown from 100 million in 2008 to more than 900 million today.

“We basically develop programs that respond to players’ needs,” Taylor said. “We hone into headline areas where we education the players. This year, it’s professionalism, social media, business and financial management.”

Eleven of the Wolves’ current roster members have Twitter accounts, including rookies Muhammad and Dieng.

The Financial Game

There are eight categories on which the program focuses: the business of basketball, continuing and technology education, drug and alcohol education, financial education, health and safety, legal education, media and image communications and professional ethics.

The main priority might fall into the financial category. Athletes have doors open to them in social settings that others do not, and if there isn’t a means for monitoring spending that first contract could go rather quickly. Cars, homes, nightlife, family and friends all factor into the financial commitments professional athletes enter into while navigating a heightened bankroll and an excess of free time.

Wolves player development coach David Adelman works closely with the team’s rookies during and after practice helping ensure they get the best 1-on-1 direction they can to hone their basketball skills. He also has coached at the high school level, and in working closely with young rookies he said it’s important to understand the sizable difference in lifestyle players experience once their paychecks start coming.

“There’s a lot of money in your bank account, and how are you going to take care of that responsibility as an adult? Just managing your life. I don’t think that is necessarily unique to young NBA players. It’s every young adult,” Adelman said. “It’s just these guys have a lot more zeroes in their bank account all of a sudden.”

That’s where the Rookie Transition Program tries to educate athletes about the pitfalls of being frivolous with their money.

Wolves shooting guard Kevin Martin went through the rookie transition program in 2004-05, and since then his salary has increased over each of the past nine season. He’s played for three different organizations and has been around the NBA lifestyle for nearly a decade.

He said the Rookie Transition Program was helpful—in many ways piggy-backing off the lessons he learned from his parents throughout the years. He said the real-life stories added perspective, and it brought forward a lesson in responsibility and accountability.

“You have to learn to be an adult,” Martin said. “The NBA has a great program about hanging out with the right people and all that. It all factors into one great event for the rookies. Now it’s time to be an adult.”

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