What it’s really like to be an NBA player

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What it’s really like to be an NBA player

October 2, 2015 -

We all wonder what it’s like on the inside. What is it like to be a professional athlete? It’s why we have an entire cottage industry of reporters and experts who promise to take us behind the curtain to know what it’s really like back there. We think we have a pretty good picture of what it’s like, but most of us really have no idea of what comprises the life of a modern professional athlete.

Dorell Wright wrote a fascinating “open letter” on the Player’s Tribune to his younger brother, Delon recently. Dorell, a former 1st round pick of the Miami Heat in 2004, never really became a star in the NBA. His best season, 2010-2011 for the Golden State Warriors, saw him average about 16 points per game along with 5 rebounds. Those are not astounding numbers, but still, considering how many young NBA players that never materialize, Dorell’s 11 year career is something to be proud of.

Now his younger brother, Delon, is about to start his first year with the Toronto Raptors, and Dorell wants to make sure he gets across some key points of advice to Delon so that he doesn’t have to figure everything out on his own.

He begins with some startling counsel: “First, run away from the card games on the team plane. Don’t play. Don’t sit down at that table. And if you do play, put a limit on your buy-in. Pick a number, and if you lose it, get up. Guys will talk trash and try to keep you in.” Card games are a notorious part of NBA life. Think about it. Ultra-competitive guys are employed to play an aggressive, cutthroat game. It’s hard to flip that competitive switch off. So, many of the players enjoy competition even when they’re not suiting up for a real game, and this spills over to the long hours that they spend traveling to and from NBA cities.

Most of us non-professional athletes aren’t tempted to squander vast amounts of money at informal card games, but we’d be fools to think this isn’t an important issue in our culture in other, more subtle ways. If you’ve been watching sports over the past few weeks, you have been caught in the media blitzkrieg from sports-gambling sites Fanduel and DraftKings. They may seem harmless enough, but anyone that has known someone with a gambling problem knows how quickly a fun hobby can turn into “a relentless, daily, predatory lure of fast cash and easy money.” (Pastor David Prince in a recent blog post)

Dorell also advises his brother on the temptation of endless free time, sounding a lot like the writer of Proverbs: “Really, free time is the root of the trouble you can find as a pro. That’s the hardest thing about the adjustment you’re about to make. When I was at prep school before jumping to the NBA, I had a strict schedule. Be at school at 7:30. Breakfast. Assembly. Class all day, then basketball. Afterwards, it was study hall and maybe one more chance to sneak in some gym time. Most of your days in college were basically planned for you, too.” Going from a regimented schedule to being allowed to manage your own schedule is a classic adjustment that all 18-21 year olds go through, but most don’t go through it with access to as much money as Delon will have.

I wonder what advice you would give to someone about to jump into your profession? What are the particular adjustments that are unique to what you do on a day-to-day basis? The Bible is full of vignettes similar to Dorell’s letter to his younger brother. Think of all the letters Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus. I love Paul’s verve and passion when he pens these words to the church at Colossae (1:28-2:2):

“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ…”  

You may not know what it’s like to be a professional athlete, but you do know what it’s like to be a mom, a dad, a banker, a lawyer, an entrepreneur, a real-estate agent, a pastor, a writer, a nurse, a teacher. “Encourage one another daily…” (Hebrews 3:13)

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