Rookies get introduction NBA perils off the court

1 Comment

Kentucky-Rookies.jpgJohn Wall is learning that life in the NBA is challenging on the court — in his first Summer League game against Golden State Wall pushed the ball on the fast break, got into the lane, made a lightning quick spin move and tried to lay the ball in, only to have Reggie Williams come flying over him and block the shot.

The challenges off the court can be worse.

The average guy drafted plays five years in the league — they are done by age 27. That’s a lot of life left, especially players who never imagined a life off the court. While the players will make good money in the league, there’s more ways to blow it all than there are NBA groupies. And there are hotels full of groupies.

These rookies will find friends trying to mooch and steal off them, seemingly well-connected people with business plans that could shred their public perception, family members looking to leech off them (or worse yet want to take over their finances or marketing), and countless other ways for them to get into trouble. NBA players have to learn to navigate this minefield.

While we were looking at photos from the NBA’s rookie day photo shoot, the NBA was trying it’s own scared straight program. A day-long class designed to be a dose of reality for players about what really lies ahead for them off the court. The Washington Post talked with John Wall about his experience there.

Wall said the importance of image and public perception was hammered home during a presentation by NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver. Silver showed a poll from fans that revealed that NBA players have the greatest image problem of athletes in the three major sports.

“That ain’t good,” said Wall, who has been conscious of his image since he was 14 and joined the D-One Sports AAU program. His coaches and now advisers Brian and Dwon Clifton had a strict policy of no cornrows or tattoos. Wall, who had braids at the time, was initially reluctant, but came around at the urging of some of his friends.

“When I first cut my hair and all that and didn’t get any tattoos, that was the main thing, having a clean image coming into this,” said Wall, who admits that he has been tempted to get a tattoo to honor his late father on his chest. “That’s what they want, to help you to be more marketable. And if you don’t stay in the league a long time, it helps you get jobs after this.”

Wall is a lucky one — a guy who came to his stardom relatively late in high school, not a guy picked as a future top pick from age 10 on. He comes off far more grounded than most.

To make sure the message doesn’t go completely in one ear and out the other, the NBA brings in guys these players know, such as Alonzo Mourning.

Mourning, the former Georgetown star and NBA champion with the Miami Heat, congratulated the rookies on making it to the league but wanted them to understand that being a basketball player is “temporary” and told them that success wasn’t guaranteed, using the example of former No. 2 overall pick Jay Williams, whose career was derailed when he was injured in a motorcycle accident after his rookie season with Chicago.

“As fast as you come in this league, this league will spit you out of here,” Mourning said. “I knew there was a clock that started as soon as I came into the league.”

The messages in the meeting cover a lot of mines — how to handle pressure from friends and NBA peers, taking care of their money, sexual health, avoiding drugs, gambling regulations and more. Maybe the most important — and maybe most overlooked — is how to say no to family members looking to be given money and more. Many of these players are close with family members and trust them unconditionally, and it costs many of them.

The message doesn’t always sink in; there will be hard lessons to be learned. Just like on the court. But the rookies come away with a little more knowledge of what lies ahead, and that’s at least a few mines avoided.

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

Leave a comment

There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
2 Comments

Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.

On Mamba Day (8/24), former Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti talks about what made Kobe great

4 Comments

Kobe Bryant’s work ethic is legend.

It takes talent to become an MVP, 15-time All-NBA, 18-time All-Star, and lock future Hall of Famer. However, it was how Kobe got the most out of his talent that separated him from his peers. Long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti retired a couple of years ago and will soon publish an autobiography, “32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science.”

Vitti joined Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, and he talked about Kobe (hat tip to CNBC).

“He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn’t the most talented guy out there? I’m telling you, and I’ve had them all, there’s nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he’s a big guy, but he’s not that big. He was quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s fast, he wasn’t that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn’t that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?…

“He was tough in the sense that he took ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it. Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it’s what you do with your talent.”

Nobody in NBA history did as much with the talent they had as Kobe.

On Mamba Day, enjoy his ultimate mixtape highlights above and remember what it took for Kobe to get there.

 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: ‘I am not Russell Westbrook. I’m just going to try to be myself.’

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
8 Comments

Thunder fans are going to love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Clippers did not want to give him up in the Paul George trade but had no real choice — Gilgeous-Alexander was a prize get for OKC. As a rookie last season he started 73 games, averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 assists per game for a 48-win playoff team. Playing the most difficult position to learn in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander grew as the season wore on and has a promising future.

But he is taking over for Russell Westbrook as the point guard for the Thunder, so the comparisons are inevitable. Even though they have radically different games. Gilgeous-Alexander handled the question well when asked, as reported by Erik Horne at The Oklahoman.

Gilgeous-Alexander smiled and said he could compete with Westbrook’s fashion sense. He also deflected any notion of pressure to live up to the legacy of the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. “He set the bar pretty high,” Gilgeous-Alexander said…

“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with no malice. “I do not have the same name, same body type, stuff like that. So, I’m just going to try to be myself and be the best me and everything else will take care of itself.

“I’m just a basketball player. Regardless of the situation, I’m going to continue to work hard and play my game. I know that eventually it will come out. I don’t worry about starting. I’m not worried about accolades or things like that. I just work hard, keep my head down and (stay) true to who I am.”

That attitude is part of why Thunder fans will love him. Gilgeous-Alexander is confident but not cocky, and he knows his game.

That game is more traditional point guard, more game manager, than the dynamic and explosive Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander learned for a season under a smart, player-friendly coach in Doc Rivers, who built his point guard’s confidence up as the season wore on. Rivers showed the rookie how to be a professional, how to prepare, and most of all trusted Gilgeous-Alexander — and that trust included being matched up on Stephen Curry in a playoff series. Through it all, Gilgeous-Alexander showed real promise.

Whatever is next in Oklahoma City — and there is a lot of rebuilding to do with that roster, a lot of picks to be made still — Gilgeous-Alexander can help lead it. He will be at the heart of what is next for the Thunder.

Just don’t expect him to be Westbrook. There is only one of those.