In some ways, Al Harrington was outside his comfort zone for the past week. The veteran Wizards forward spent three-and-a-half days of his offseason in Syracuse, sitting through production meetings, talking into cameras, compiling stats, writing scripts, and otherwise studying for a potential future career in broadcasting.
“It’s funny, we think we could just roll out of bed and get in front of the camera and talk, but it’s not as easy as we thought,” Harrington said in a phone conversation. “Every last one of us, all nine guys here, we all get nervous when that camera gets rolling.”
But in other ways, Harrington’s trip to Central New York felt perfectly familiar. That’s because he was joined by Wizards teammates Drew Gooden and Garrett Temple, meaning nearly half of the seven active players participating in this year’s Sportscaster U. program were Wizards.
“It almost feels like this is a road trip,” Harrington said during a break in the seminars put on by the National Basketball Player’s Association, in conjunction with Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. “At the hotel, going to dinner every night — it’s a normal atmosphere for us.”
The three men are in different points in their playing careers. Harrington, a 16-year veteran, is still deciding whether he should play another season or move into a post-playing career in broadcasting, coaching or player personnel. Gooden — at 32, two years younger than Harrington — has also thought about coaching and broadcast work, but not in the immediate future. (“My craft right now is playing basketball, and I don’t want to forget that,” he said.) Temple, who turned 28 last month, said he hopes to play professionally well into his 30s.
All three players said they’d like to be in Washington in 2014; Harrington said he wouldn’t play for anyone except the Wizards if he decides to return. But the three men agreed on the value of planning for life after NBA paychecks, whenever that begins.
“This was an opportunity to kind of get a taste of broadcasting: being on the air live, and putting together scripts, and watching games with a different perspective than you would as a player,” Gooden said. “It’s definitely an experience for me to know what to expect if I do consider going into this field. I don’t think I’m good enough to get paid for it right now, put it that way. I’m doing okay; I’m getting my feet wet and realizing how extremely hard it is to be yourself in front of a camera that’s taping live.”
The program — which is organized by former Baltimore Bullets guard Rich Rinaldi — is in its seventh year; graduates include TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal, Philadelphia 76ers broadcaster Malik Rose, and Memphis Grizzlies analyst Brevin Knight. Ron Klempner, the NBPA’s acting executive director, arranged for the association to pay all the player costs this season other than transportation and lodging. And Rinaldi — who said the program has never before had three teammates in the same year — helped pester Washington’s players into participating. (“He finally broke me down,” Harrington said.)
“I played nine years of pro ball — three in the NBA, six in Europe,” said Rinaldi, who was drafted by the Bullets in 1971. “I was 32 and done and I felt the world was waiting for me, Like, ok, I’m done, who wants me now? And it didn’t quite go that way. I got very humbled, and realized that without preparing for your life after basketball, it’s very difficult.”
Harrington, Gooden and Temple are already preparing for that new life. Harrington is working on several franchising opportunities that he will pursue regardless of his next step. Temple went to sessions on the business side of basketball last offseason; “I’m just trying to see how I like [broadcasting], see if I have any natural ability, just understand the ins and outs of it,” he said. Gooden has mostly thought about a future in coaching; long a media favorite, he said he was still working on looking natural on set.
“Getting my point across, piece of cake,” he said with a laugh. “Being articulate and charismatic on certain subjects, piece of cake. But having to put a smile on at all times when you’ve got a million people watching, that’s a little different.”
Of course, his teammates were there to help.
Temple “makes fun of all of my takes,” Gooden said.
“I laugh at him and Al, but not every time,” Temple disagreed. “They’re both funny guys, they’re hilarious. They both have a personality, they have a good feel for the camera.”
Gooden “always has very interesting viewpoints about everything,” Harrington joked. “Something that might be black and white to everybody else, he’s gonna find the rainbow in it.”
All three men also agreed that they would leave Syracuse with a better grasp of what is required by broadcasting, and how they need to improve. Temple said he was already planning on sitting down with Comcast SportsNet’s Phil Chenier to discuss the industry. And Harrington said he planned to visit former teammate Austin Croshere, an analyst for Fox Sports 1.
“I’m not sure exactly what I want to do yet, but it’s definitely something that intrigued me, something I wanted to mess around with and see if I have what it takes,” Harrington said. “And I’m happy I did. There are a lot of secrets, a lot of techniques. I feel like I would have been in a world of trouble the first time I tried to go live on ESPN.”