Incoming NBA rookies took one step closer to becoming full-blown professionals earlier this week by completing the Rookie Transition Program. The program is something of an orientation process for rookies, who learn the ins and outs of what it means to be in the NBA.
Like all well-meaning corporate initiations, this year’s event followed a theme that included a clever acronym: Be a PRO. (That’s professionalism, responsibility and opportunity.) Activities for the rookies were designed around those pillars, which sought to teach them about how to carry themselves, how to be an ambassador for the league, and how take advantage of their newfound status.
“Some of the things that they are talking to us about, people have talked to us [about] before,” Pistons rookie Luke Kennard said. “But each of these things are important. They are making sure that we have every little detail. Every aspect of what we’re going to go through is being brought up.”
The event may feel a little intense for the rookies, but for the average NBA fan, it sounds like it would be something of a fantasy camp. Celtics coach Brad Stevens stopped by to discuss expectations from coaches. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry Stackhouse and Quentin Richardson were on hand to dispense sage wisdom. And as part of the “professionalism” aspect of being a PRO, some rookies were tasked with putting on an impromptu fashion show to reflect the league’s business casual dress code.
“Any time the guys are able to demonstrate what they’ve learned, it’s a great intersection of fun and education,” NBA SVP of Player Development Greg Taylor said. “The rookies are hungry to learn. It’s rewarding and exciting for me to watch guys grow and mature.”
The Rookie Transition Program, of course, is not all fun and games. There are serious topics broached as well, such as keeping anti-LGBTQ language out of locker rooms, or how to manage your money throughout your career. Both Kennard and Kings rookie De’Aaron Fox mentioned budgeting finances as one of their biggest takeaways from the program.
“It’s easy to be overcome by emotion,” Fox said when it came to overspending. “When you’re out and about, you’re not necessarily thinking about what you learned here.”
To make sure players are taking these lessons forward with them, the NBA, according to Taylor, has created several “touchstones” throughout the season to help players continue their transition into the league. The NBA has several programs geared toward younger players, including Generation Next, a program for 20-and-under players, and a seminar for draft participants and their families. The league also offers presentations on business, media training and bi-annual Team Awareness Meetings that serve as a check-in on a player’s development.
“The common thread through all of those programs is reinforcing those lessons,” Taylor said. “We give them a lot of information and support to help them move forward. We wanted to take our experiences to create a better program.”
While there’s a lot to be learned at the transition program (if I was a player, I’d ask Kareem for some sky hook tips after his presentation), it’s ultimately just one step in ensuring both on and off court success for the incoming rookie class, no matter how long their careers eventually last.
“One of the first things we recognize is that RTP is not the end all be all, it’s the beginning,” NBPA Chief of Player Programs Purvis Short said. “It’s a major first step, but consistent follow up that has to occur throughout the year between teams, organizations, and players.”
Basically, NBA rookies are going to be fed plenty of information between now and tip off—and even more after. The transition is only starting.