Before Sixers No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and the incoming NBA rookie class will learn a drill or scheme for their new teams, they spent this week learning about life in the league.
Eighty players participated in the 30th annual Rookie Transition Program (RTP) over four days in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. It is the longest-running athlete support system in pro sports, with presentations created by both the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). The objective of the program is to help players adjust to life in the NBA by equipping them with the appropriate skills and information.
“You can get an idea how everything works,” Simmons said in a telephone interview from the RTP on Wednesday. “It’s not just playing ball. A lot behind the scenes goes on.”
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Each day players attended mandatory workshops and seminars led by field experts, current and former players, and personnel from the NBA and NBPA. They also participated in breakout group sessions, in which they were able to build closer relationships in a smaller setting, and interactive workshops.
The session topics ranged from professional skills, such as media training, career development and finances, to personal development, including decision making, embracing manhood, leadership, personal styling, and respect and inclusion. These sessions are tailored to address current topics, including cultural issues and an emphasis on the power of social media.
Players heard from several NBA personnel, including commissioner Adam Silver. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Detlef Schrempf, Shane Battier, Allan Houston, Tobias Harris, and C.J. McCollum were among the former and current players who spoke over the week.
“They have a lot of experience and they’ve been through it,” Simmons said. “You have to listen to everything they say, take it all in and be willing to learn.”
The program also offered special sessions designed to specific needs. The Generation Next session was held for those 20 years old and younger. In this session, players learned about peer pressure situations, interacting with veterans and living on their own for the first time. The International Session addressed the challenges international players encounter entering the league, such as language barriers and adjusting to a new culture.
“We often call it the most important four days in the start of your career,” Greg Taylor, senior vice president of player pevelopment at the NBA, said. “We know that the transition coming out of college or internationally coming into the league is just an amazing moment and a time for the players. So we think it’s really important to take the time out to educate them on what it means to be a pro.”
Throughout the program, the players learn how to overcome what Taylor describes as the three “classic challenges” in the NBA.
The first challenge is “sudden wealth syndrome,” which is when players quickly gain access to large amounts of money they didn’t have before entering the league. They learned ways to manage that income and tips for handling situations in which people ask them for money and other things related to their new-found wealth.
Secondly, the program addresses the statistic that the average NBA career is less than five years. Before their rookie season even starts, the RTP encourages them to think about life after the league.
The third challenge is maintaining positive relationships. The players were given tips on building and keeping healthy relationships by understanding who is there for them in their circle given their status.
Simmons paid close attention during the presentations. While he turned just 20 years old last month, he already is thinking down the road to his future and how his NBA career can impact it.
“[I learned] a lot, from fans to financial advice, family issues, everything,” Simmons said. “Financially, that’s one of those things I’ve been looking at. I definitely want to be one of those guys who’s not in one of those statistics of not having money. So that’s big for me.”
He continued, “You’ve got to look toward the future because you don’t play basketball forever. It’s one of those things you need to take seriously and listen.”
During the week, the players took a trip to New York City to tour the NBPA’s new office, or the “players’ house,” as Purvis Short, director of player programs at the NBPA, referred to it. While there, they attended a panel discussion that included Isiah Thomas and Spencer Haywood, and also heard from union president Chris Paul.
“We hope they get a number of things,” Short said. “No. 1 is an awareness and understanding of the resources that are available to them in the event that they encounter problems or issues. No. 2, understanding some of the issues they may be faced with, how to address those issues, techniques they can perhaps use. Thirdly is coming into a new environment, there are going to be some adjustments. So there’s a certain amount of patience you have to have and willingness to humble yourself to try to learn as much as possible.”
Many players in the program like Simmons have been focusing on getting to the NBA their entire lives. Now that they have reached that goal, the RTP has provided them with the full picture of what that entails and the resources to manage it. While Simmons is looking ahead to the beginning of his rookie year, he is going into it with an understanding of the entire scope of being a professional athlete.
“Sometimes [I was thinking about the start of the season], but sometimes it’s a bit scary,” Simmons said. “There are a lot of things that happen, but I’m looking forward to it.”