Learning ins, outs of life in NBA

By Michael Lee
Sunday, August 22, 2010

PALISADES, N.Y. - Reprinted from yesterday's editions.

In the four months since he took his last final exam at Kentucky, John Wall has quickly discovered there is a lot to learn that he can't get in a classroom.

He has received an education in finance (he has become a multimillionaire after signing a contract with the Washington Wizards and endorsement deals with Reebok and Panini); in how people roll in Washington (he had a police escort for his red carpet introduction); in basketball (he earned most outstanding player honors in the Las Vegas summer league); and in real estate (he recently bought his mother a house and found an apartment a short drive from Verizon Center).

But this week, Wall was back in a classroom setting, scribbling notes and listening to lectures during the NBA's rookie transition program. Wall, the No. 1 overall draft pick, joined nearly 50 other rookies in an intense, secluded, three-day schedule of seminars and workshops designed to help them understand that being a part of the NBA requires more than an ability to dribble, pass and shoot.

"It's a lot of stuff you have to learn," Wall said. "Everybody say they think they know everything, but we really don't know nothing."

For a corporation such as the NBA, which generated almost $4.2 billion in revenue last season, it is imperative that the face of the business - the players - have a full grasp of the challenges ahead. The program, which was created in 1986, focuses on subjects such as the stresses that come from playing an 82-game season, dealing with peer pressure, how to say no to family members and friends seeking handouts, being fiscally responsible, legal education, sexual health, the anti-drug program, anger management and gambling. Since the average NBA career ends at age 27 and after nearly five seasons, a portion of the program also was focused on preparing for life after basketball.

Panelists included current and former players such as Bill Russell, Earl Monroe, Alonzo Mourning, Amare Stoudemire, Spencer Haywood and Jarrett Jack, and various experts in their respective fields. The knowledge passed along doesn't come across like a TV after-school special, as presenters often use frank and direct language. The curriculum is the result of input from players, and it is reinforced throughout the regular season as the NBA meets with teams twice a year for player development programs.

"Now, we don't expect them to retain all the information, but I think it helps for them to see that there are so many layers to this, so many different things that you can get hung up on and that you have to be aware of, the financial aspect, the social aspect, image," said Michael Bantom, NBA senior vice president of player development. "A lot of people see this as a one shot deal, but we use this as an introduction to the relationship-building process to show them what we do and that you don't have to figure it out on your own."

Wizards rookie Trevor Booker also participated, but fellow first-round pick Kevin Seraphin was unable to attend while he awaits a work visa clearance from France. The 12-hour sessions were draining on the players, with Wall using a lunch break on Wednesday to sneak in a short nap.

He was especially attentive on Thursday as Monroe, the Hall of Famer and former Baltimore Bullet, shared stories during an early morning legends panel with Mourning, Haywood and Sam Perkins.

Monroe spoke of his playing days when he earned $20,000 as a rookie and jokingly said teams traveled to games "on an ark." Monroe also told the players about the importance of being well-rounded and well-connected, saying, "When people see you out there, they see you as a player, but do they see you as a person?"

Players were warned to be careful with what they do and say on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and how fans perceived them.

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