The “we” extends to NBA and National Basketball Players Association officials who lead the program, which began in 1986 and is the longest-running support system among the major pro sports.
From workshops on managing money to media training and panel discussions on everything from nutrition to mental health, the presentations the NBA and NBPA developed are designed to help players thrive off the court so they can do so on it.
In short, it’s designed to remind all rookies they’re not alone.
“They’ve made it clear that whatever problems we have, they have so many outlets and people who are specialized to help you,” Carter said. “It can be as little as, ‘I just broke up with my girlfriend and don’t know how to go through that.’ Or a tragedy happens in your life and you don’t know how to bounce back and still be able to play.
“If something affects you in your time in the NBA, you have no reason not to bounce back because you have so many resources and so many players have been through the same thing. They know how to help you. It’s all about reaching out.”
There are interactive workshops and smaller breakout sessions to keep players engaged. But when someone such as Grant Hill or Anthony Davis is talking, both of whom presented at this year’s program, attention is assumed.
“You get those guys who are so engaged. They come ready to learn. They’re sitting in the front row,” said Greg Taylor, the NBA’s senior vice president of player development. “And then you have guys who haven’t realized why this information is important. They think it’s about their game on the court. There’s a little bit of bravado.”
By midweek, Taylor said, that bravado typically has been broken down. Players take ownership in the smaller breakout sessions and matters fall into line.
“On the first day, hardly anybody wants to be here. And I don’t blame them,” said Purvis Short, who has worked as chief of player programs for the NBPA for 25 years after a 12-year playing career. “But by the end, players are so appreciative.”
Added Taylor: “We let players talk to players. And I think the effectiveness of the program speaks for itself.”
Taylor spoke by phone while sitting 25 feet from a voter registration effort. The NBA long has been at the forefront of social issues, and lately select figures have entered the political arena. Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich have been openly critical of the Trump administration. High-profile players such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry have voiced political opinions as well.
“Recognize your ability to represent the logo is much larger than yourself. We want you to be a global citizen,” Taylor said of the voter registration effort. “Think about what those issues are in communities. We spend a lot at rookie transition talking our guys through what those challenges can be and help them form their own voice.
“Of course, we’re completely unbiased and nonpartisan. They can pick whatever their issues are. But we want them to be leaders in those social spaces they choose. We’re supportive of that.”
Short lauded the seamless joint planning efforts with the league.
“We understand it’s all about the players,” Short said. “We do whatever we can to make sure our content is relevant and presented in a way players can digest it. And we try to make learning fun. They need to know when they’re struggling where the resources are, who they can turn to.
“On the court, we’re playing a game we’ve played all our lives. The challenge of the competition is tougher, but we’re confident. Off the court, we go from no money to having a lot of money. We go from friends to a lot more. There are a lot of pressures and temptations. How do you say no to not only folks you may not know as well, but perhaps folks you’re close to? How do you engage with your coaches and teammates? We want to give them the tools and techniques to navigate their new world.”
Short organized Anthony’s talk at the NBPA offices in New York.
“Players like him went through RTP, so they understand the value of hearing from one of your fellow NBA players,” Short said. “Carmelo is a true professional. He’s been through a lot and has had a very successful career. So there’s a lot of information he passed down to these players.”
Carter, who is participating in the program with fellow Bulls Chandler Hutchison and Ryan Arcidiacono, cited the gambling seminar and the severe consequences — expulsion from the league — for any fixing or tipping as most informative.
“We know that being able to put the ball in the hoop got them in the door,” Taylor said. “But what keeps them on the court is their ability to navigate life off the court. Decision-making and professionalism are so important. They’re constantly being evaluated and judged. If you’re coming into the league and don’t know what the rules of the game are, you’re going to have a short career. Experience has told us that.
“This focus on off-the-court development — managing your money, picking an agent, navigating social media, thinking about life after basketball, mental wellness — is because we know our guys don’t spend as much time in this space. We think it’s equally critical to their on-court skill and development. We know the combination makes them successful.”
“You can go out and have fun, but you have to be a professional while you’re doing that,” he rookie said of what he has learned. “Carry yourself in a certain manner, on and off the court. That’s very important and something I’m going to live by every single day.”