FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The upcoming class of NBA rookies traded jerseys and basketballs for collared shirts and business notebooks last week for the league's annual Rookie Transition Program (RTP).
During the four-day event at a hotel about 30 miles west of New York City, the 49 participating rookies—along with 10 current players who hadn't previously attended, including Chris Copeland, Troy Daniels, Shabazz Muhammad and Mike Muscala—heard from NBA commissioner Adam Silver, representatives from the NBPA, current and former players and specialists in the field, who all covered on- and off-the-court topics associated with the NBA profession and lifestyle.
For most of the sessions, which were about 30 minutes to an hour long, the players would listen to a presenter and then be put to the test themselves. For example, during "Media Training," former broadcaster Lisa Levine, who now runs a sports media coaching service, conducted mock interviews addressing sensitive topics, such as Michael Sam and Donald Sterling, then had their peers rate and analyze them.
The 12-hour days of activities were geared toward teaching professionalism, though there was also an element of fun and group bonding. The best one-liner came from a rookie, whose assessment of Spencer Dinwiddie's interview with Levine—"He did a great job, but the best part was his mustache"—had the whole room laughing. In the same lighthearted mood, Cleanthony Early, Doug McDermott, Mitch McGary and Shabazz Napier all showed off their most creative runway walks during a make-believe fashion show, put on by pro-athlete stylist Rachel Johnson, to present different business threads the players can choose.
Another rookie who helped keep the RTP engaging and interactive was Nik Stauskas, one of the most outgoing new players entering the league. The Sacramento Kings shooting guard spoke with Bleacher Report about the lessons he learned during the week. Below are 15 of his takeaways:
1. Take responsibility for the game's global growth
"Adam Silver helped open up the Rookie Transition Program by talking about the state of the NBA right now and how it's becoming one of the most popular sports worldwide. He made us understand that now that we're in the NBA, we have a responsibility to carry on a legacy, and we're part of a brotherhood now. It just makes you feel special to be a part of this.
"[Adam] thinks that very soon it could be possible that basketball will be the most popular sport in the world, over soccer, by the way the NBA is growing around the world. That's something that we all have responsibility for and we want to help with. Maybe soon we'll be playing preseason games in India—where our Kings owner [Vivek Ranadive] is from—the way we're playing preseason games in China."
2. Commit to the community
"[Adam] talked a lot about NBA Cares and charity work involving the community. He stressed that the NBA is about the fans and their support. He said, 'They're the ones that drive this business.' It was just about understanding that and realizing that we all have responsibilities to carry on a good image for the NBA."
3. Pay your dues to get noticed
"During the Legends Panel—[with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Otis Birdsong, World B. Free, Robert Horry, Bob Lanier and Detlef Schrempf]—they really stressed that there's a hierarchy in the NBA, where you come in as a rookie and there are certain things that you need to do. You need to show up to the gym early, you need to stay late, you need to put your work in, and if you do those things, that's a recipe for success in the NBA. They said that those are the things you need to put in if you're trying to have a long career."
4. Be humble to earn respect among your peers
"Kareem was in one of my breakout groups. It was good hearing him talk about his experience from high school to UCLA to the Bucks and Lakers. It actually surprised me how humble he is for a guy that's the ultimate leading scorer in the NBA. He never even mentioned the championships and MVPs he won. He was just all about working hard and staying committed. He talked a little bit about his religion and how he converted to being a Muslim. It was interesting to see how little he stressed about his accolades."
5. Be respectful of inclusion
"Jason Collins talked about just being respectful of everyone around you. The main thing is being mindful in the locker room with the guys because you may not know if someone is gay and you may say something that's going to offend them. You can't make those kinds of statements. It's about being aware that they're people just like us, it's just their sexual preference, and we have to respect them for that and not ridicule them.
"Jason talked about what he went through, how long he was hiding for and how sad he was when he heard some of his teammates making jokes and using words like 'gay' and 'fag' around him when he hadn't come out. He talked about how much it hurt him. Just hearing him makes you want to respect him and makes you not want to hurt anyone else like that."
6. Understand the risks of sexual relationships
"The biggest thing was if you're getting to mess around with groupies, be safe and use protection. There was a big discussion about different diseases that are out there and how many people they affect, so it was about being aware of that. At the same time, it's realizing that those relationships with groupies probably aren't the healthiest ones, and you probably want to find someone that's going to be there for you and not just because you're a basketball player."
7. Eat right, sleep right
"They presented facts about sleep and nutrition—how every single thing we put in our body affects the way we sleep, affects the way we perform on the court. When I saw the statistics of reaction time based on your lifestyle, for example, it just makes you realize that if you're trying to be successful, eating right and sleeping right are two of the most underrated things that are going to help you get to that level. Fortunately we're going to get more help in the NBA by having a team nutritionist."
8. Stay away from guns and drugs
"They really recommended not to carry a firearm with you and not to own one because once you have it, there's always a risk that some sort of accident can happen. But if you get a license, it's OK. I know some guys may want one. For me, I never really even thought about having a gun before.
"As far as drugs, we heard from [former NBA player] Chris Herren [who nearly died from a heroin overdose]. It was an unbelievable story, everything he went through. It's kind of hard to believe he's still alive and he's OK now. So it was emotional just hearing the roller-coaster ride he went through. He had a very serious problem with addiction. It just makes you realize that it's not worth it to try or want to do any of that stuff because it can ruin your life."
9. Think like a businessman
"Throughout the program, I learned that every decision you make on and off the court is going to affect your business, and it's going to affect the way your brand looks. The player I look up to is [fellow Canadian] Steve Nash, who I've been good friends with for a while. It's just the way he handles himself off the court. That's someone that I could see myself being like. He's got a great sense of humor, and he's easy to talk to.
"In this game, it's important to build a brand off the court, be marketable and be able to speak to people. So they told us to keep in mind little things, like even if it's making sure you have business cards with you and making sure you get other people's business cards. It's also always realizing your surroundings are important and who you're talking to could help you later down the road."
10. Leverage style to be professional
"I'm a guy who's very anxious on fashion stuff, so it was great seeing and hearing some of the different ideas that Rachel [Johnson] had for simple ways to look professional and stay in dress code for the games.
"Steve Nash is a guy that's always showing up to the games looking professional, always looking sharp. And that's something I want to be throughout my career. I think I can have a 10-, 15-year career, and I want people to say, 'That guy always showed up and looked sharp and looked professional.' That's the main thing for me."
11. Keep tabs on your cash flow
"The main things they told us are to make sure you know where your money is at all times and be aware of the things that are going on when you're getting paid. We're all young, so for all of us, it's new having a large sum of money, so it's just being aware of those kinds of things and making sure you ask questions at all times. I met with my financial advisor this week. I'm just starting to learn about that kind of stuff."
12. Learn to say "No" to financial requests
"I learned that there's going to be a lot of family and friends that are going to come to you with different ideas—and different reasons why they need your money and they need your help. [Former NBA player] Antoine Walker [who filed for bankruptcy in 2010] talked about this. That's a big way that a lot of guys have lost a lot of money: taking care of their family and friends when they didn't necessarily need to.
"Some people in the draft may come from families that don't have a lot of money, and they may have more people that are trying to be helped out. For me, I'm fortunate enough to be in a good situation where none of my family is in need of money, and they all have jobs. So I don't have anyone that is requesting for me to help them out."
13. Seek out a veteran for guidance
"During a session on mental health, one of the biggest things that I learned was have a veteran on the team that you can talk to at all times—someone that you know is going to have your back and have your best interests at hand. It's finding a guy that you can be honest with and tell him you're struggling. Maybe because they've been in the league for 10, 12 years, they can help you out with something. For me on the Kings, a lot of the guys I've met already are really friendly."
14. Take the time to prepare for interviews
"That's the biggest thing that Lisa [Levine] stressed to us. She recommended that when the game finishes, take the 15 minutes you have before media gets there to prepare. She said that in your mind, put together a few points that you want to focus on and not get too far away from those points while you're speaking. Overall for the most part, all my interaction with media has always been pretty positive."
15. Don't let coaches pull you down
"So far, I love the coaching staff at Sacramento. They're all easy to get along with. But Avery Johnson told us that when you come in as a rookie, you're not going to be The Guy right away. ... Most of us might not even play at the start of the season. He said it's about dealing with that and still coming in every day and being motivated to work hard, and being ready when your number is called.
"He told us a story about how when he was a rookie, there were some games where he wouldn't sub in until 45 seconds left in the game, and his team would be up by 25, 30 points. But he said whenever that opportunity did come, he would be ready and he would try to do his best. So it's about not getting frustrated when things like that happen to you and realizing that you always have more things to work on.
"He also touched on that there's going to be some coaches that get on you, and they might curse at you and they might tell you that you're horrible, but not to lose your confidence when they tell you that. He said they're just trying to make you better, and they're trying to motivate you. He told us this story: When he was with the Spurs, [Gregg] Popovich told him that he didn't belong in the NBA. Popovich was really just trying to get on him to motivate him to play better defense. He said it was tough for him to hear Popovich say that, but he didn't let it alter his confidence."
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