Otto Porter Jr.’s first job was doing janitorial work at his high school to collect some pocket money and gain nonstop access to the gym. The long-term payoff already has proved immeasurable. Porter was selected third overall by the Washington Wizards in June’s NBA draft, and he will return to Sikeston, Mo., on Friday to have the court he once swept and mopped renamed after him.
The honor is a reflection of Porter’s dramatic rise to fame as he adjusts to his second paying job in basketball, one that carries much more responsibility and potential pitfalls.
“I’m so thankful for the position that I’m in,” Porter said in a recent telephone interview. “There are a lot of guys who would love to be in my position, so just to see how far I’ve come in two or three years, coming from a small area to now I’m here in the NBA and it’s all happened so fast, it’s amazing.”
From the moment he declared for the draft out of Georgetown, Porter has been flooded with information about what it takes to survive in a high-profile occupation. Last week, that information was condensed to a four-day session of seminars and workshops at the NBA’s rookie transition program in Florham Park, N.J., designed to educate players on the challenges that come with handling their finances, relationships and health.
Porter and fellow Wizards rookie Glen Rice Jr. were among the nearly 50 players in attendance to receive frank instruction and personal tales of hardship and perseverance from former and current players such as Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Jerry Stackhouse and Kyrie Irving and other experts in their respective fields. They also gained an understanding of the expectations that come with being part of a business that generates more than $4 billion in annual revenue.
“Some people learn information by just reading, others need an experience and others basically need a coach and a mentor, and we try to provide all three of those areas,” said Greg Taylor, the NBA’s senior vice president of player development. “The moment they leave here the show begins. I think what the players will leave with, most importantly, is knowing that there is a network of support from former players, NBA staff, players’ association staff and that network is here to help them whatever the issue or challenge is.”
Porter said he was moved by motivational speaker Tony Gaskins’s presentation on embracing manhood and former NBA player Chris Herren’s tale of a drug addiction that “could've cost him his life. To have so many different people giving us info — and I appreciated everybody here — it was a wonderful experience.”
The information about managing money was especially important for Porter, who just signed a deal that will pay him $4.3 million next season, recently rented an apartment in Washington and is figuring out how to balance a checkbook.
Porter also has had the chance to develop chemistry with some of his new teammates. He played on the Wizards’ summer league team in Las Vegas and has since been working out at Verizon Center with Rice, Bradley Beal, Kevin Seraphin and John Wall. Rice expects the connection to carry over once training camp begins.
“It’s definitely good because we have to play with each other and the bond off the court definitely helps on the court, getting to know guys early before training camp,” Rice said. “They are good guys, and it definitely makes it easier because they are good guys. So if you don’t mind hanging out with guys, you don’t mind playing with them. And you actually like it.”
Porter had a poor showing at the summer league, missing 21 of 30 shots and scoring just 19 points before injuring his right hamstring early in his third game. Looking back on the performance, Porter said he was neither upset nor disappointed by how he fared.
“It’s a learning experience for me. I just learned from it,” he said. “It’s the NBA. It’s 10 times faster, 10 times stronger and 10 times smarter. That’s the thing I took from summer league. Just that little taste, it was like a wake-up call. The competition is tougher. That’s what I took away from it.
“Ever since I’ve been drafted, I went back to D.C. and from Day One, I’ve automatically been like, ‘What do I need to do? What do I need to work on?’ I've always wanted to learn and being hungry, just wanting to know more to last in the NBA.”
Porter and Rice will head back to Las Vegas this week to participate in longtime NBA assistant Tim Grgurich's developmental camp. Afterward, Porter will return to Scott County Central High for a ceremony in which his No. 22 jersey also will be retired.
“I never thought that I’d have my jersey retired on a wall. Or have my name put on the court. That’s not something that I thought that I’d ever do or dreamed about,” Porter said. He added that his father, Otto Sr. — whose No. 35 was also retired at the school — told him “he was proud of me and always be who I am. Nothing can change you — money, friends, whatever it is, don’t let it change you. Because at the end of the day, that’s why you’re valued, who you are as a person, and I take that to heart.”