This year’s crop of NBA rookies descended upon New Jersey this week for the annual Rookie Transition Program. The program, designed jointly by the league and NBA Player’s Association, looks to educate players on the off-the-court rigors of being an NBA player, dishing advice on image, nutrition, sleep, financial advice, charity and media training.
To give you a peek at what NBA rookies are going through, here are eight things learned at the annual symposium.
• Charity work is a staple of the NBA. The league prides itself on humanitarian work in the community through its NBA Cares program. Since 2005, players have provided over three million hours of community service. But not all rookies were aware giving back is actually a requirement of being in the league.
"Don't we get fined?" joked Pistons rookie guard Spencer Dinwiddie. "There's a reason why LeBron (James) and Doug (McDermott) are on the NBA Cares [ads]."
Replied Aaron Gordon of the Magic: "[We're] not obligated if it's not in the contract.”
Turns out, it is. Rookies learned at the transition program that NBA players are required to make 12 appearances throughout the year for their respective teams -- ranging from charity functions to promotional appearances -- in addition to the in-arena appears to connect with fans.
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• Keep your family close – but out of your finances. Rookies also learned about what it takes to start a charity or foundation, something many NBA players go on to do. But Athletes for Hope CEO Ivan Blumberg encouraged players not to partner with family members when venturing into business.
• Don’t just cut a check. Blumberg quizzed rookies on a charity scenario. Say there is a breast cancer walk, would it better for NBA players to donate money or make an appearance?
Hawks rookie Adreian Payne relayed the answer:
"[An appearance] will bring more people to the cause. You never know how much [money] you can help raise just by showing up.”
• Don’t sleep on sleep. Payne and the rest of his fellow class also heard from sleep psychologist Dr. Derek H. Suite and dietician Kat Barefield. Suite has worked with the MLB and the New York Knicks over the last few years.
"Sleep is important to physical and mental recovery,” said Suite. “Something critical such as growth hormone which is important for muscle repair is only secreted in high numbers when you sleep. Testosterone which is vital to our verility and concentration is secreted at peak levels during sleep.”
• Eat for health – not convenience. Barefield tried to get rookies to understand that you need to be intentional with your choices and not label food as an afterthought. Players need lots of carbohydrates to replenish the sugars lost by their body during workouts and protein to help repair muscles, so things like pasta and grilled chicken are recommended.
"It really does go beyond basketball, it's about longevity and life after basketball is long," says Barefield. "I hope that they think twice about grabbing a big mac or choose the chocolate milk over soda."
• Be smart with your money. Players received information on how to protect their money and invest properly from members of PricewaterhouseCoopers. The NBA has been able to raise the effectiveness of their financial education program.
“We don’t want a day to occur [where] a player sits down with five or six [financial] advisers and has no idea what that conversation entails,” said Senior VP of Player Development Greg Taylor.
The assistance starts during summer league and runs through the season. PwC employs a curriculum that follows guidelines on how to intelligently address finances, avoid con artists and how to say ”no,” which, according to Jazz rookie Rodney Hood, is the most important lesson.
“Handling your money, learning how to say no; that’s the biggest thing,” Hood said. I’m a nice guy and a lot of things are going to happen that I have to say no.”
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• Prepare for a difficult transition. The route a collegiate athlete takes to playing a sport professionally can often be a bumpy one. Lots of people are telling you what you should and shouldn't do, meanwhile you constantly have to perform your best in every single workout.
"Its been busy, outside of the last two weeks where I got to go home and relax," said Suns rookie Tyler Ennis. "Just a lot of traveling, emotionally a lot of ups and downs. I'm happy to be done with the draft process."
Gordon, who is still 18, is acclimating to a professional league at a time most people his age and just trying to acclimiate to dorm life.
"The last few months have really just been exhilarating, extremely different than the average 18-year-old has been through in a lifetime,” said Gordon. “I just feel comppletely thankful and grateful to get through it. I've made it but at the same time I haven't. At the end of the day, I have to keep a level head and keep working out and playing hard."
• Be ready to adapt. The rookie program brought in several veterans and retired players to so speak with the newcomers, including former Cavalier Roy Hinson, who is now a regional representative with the NBPA. Hinson, who played in the 80s, said the league is a far different place than it was when he played.
“Unfortunately, nutrition was not a big thing back then like it is now,” Hinson said. “At the [Chicago] pre-draft camp, we found that quite a number of players had a strong interest in nutrition, so we’re kind of doubling our efforts.”