One question I continue to receive since embarking on the NBA PR world more than a decade ago is…what are NBA players really like? And, undoubtedly (well at least 8 times of out of 10), that question is followed up with more loaded questions, like, they must be stupid and/or they’ve got to be divas, or some variation of the two. I suppose the latter are more statements than questions, but I feel the need to “answer” nonetheless.
I find myself sharing the same anecdotes about players done good and rattling off the names of guys who are simultaneously running businesses, completing college courses and shelling out their own cash for community service projects. The stigma that all NBA players are morons and live beyond their means has become personal to me. Sure, there are plenty of stories about players who lose their millions and find themselves in hot water. It’s very real and a serious problem, and there’s no denying that. But why should the proverbial bad apples (too harsh?) ruin it for the rest?
This rant may sound naïve – most likely absurd – to some, especially to reporters whose player experiences can be less than pleasant. This particularly happens when attempting a post-game interview with a half-naked player who just lost in a buzzer beater and is about to board a plane to Sacramento. I’d be giving ‘tude too. In the media’s defense, this is their job, and Lord knows I’ve been on the mic-in-player’s-face side of things many times.
What was the question again? Oh yes, what are NBA players really like?
From my own experiences, which include working with current and retired players in a number of facets, my answer is quite simply that they are “normal” (for the most part).
Many are proud Dads who pride themselves on “family first.” D-Wade shows off iPhone pics of his two boys whenever he gets a chance (I don’t blame him, those kids are damn cute), and Melo made sure to personally take his little girl trick-or-treating amid the madness of New York City’s Upper West Side, even if it meant bringing along a bodyguard and trying to go incognito in dark sunglasses and a black ski hat. Jerry Stackhouse speaks about his wife of 11 years Ramirra and their kids as highly as any family man can, and Raja Bell often brings his parents along for NBA-related events. Far more interesting than that is how much Raja and his Mom look alike. It’s uncanny, really, and a very close second to Ray Allen and his equally famous mother, Flo.
A good majority (read: majority) of players are just nice dudes. Of course, like in any situation, some are more personable than others. Guys like Baron Davis, Tyson Chandler and James Jones make a concerted effort to remember folks’ names and are big on pleasantries. I’m not giving a medal to these guys for saying please and thank you, they are just a few that stick out as particularly respectful. And there are the ones who always ask how others are doing – Keyon Dooling inquires about my Mom every time I see him, and I’m pretty sure they’ve never met.
I have had some of my more interesting conversations with NBA players. Yes, it’s true. Talk to Samuel Dalembert about his upbringing in Haiti and the work he has done post-earthquake – I’m talking Brangelina style – and I dare you not to be fascinated. Luc Mbah a Moute also has an incredible story about growing up in West Africa’s Cameroon and his journey to the U.S. and eventually the NBA. On a lighter note, Matt Bonner can talk a blue streak about the best roast beef in New Hampshire. The Bonner part really has nothing to do with anything, but it’s a fun little tidbit, now isn’t it? P.S.: That’s a rhetorical question.
There are hundreds (a rough estimate based on no scientific facts) of players actively involved with their own non-profit organizations and/or supportive of others. Paul Pierce, through his Foundation’s Truth on Health campaign, has quite an operation in place that is working to combat childhood obesity. And Dwight Howard’s Foundation has more events and programming than the Kardashian’s. These are just two examples of many. And education is certainly up there on the priority list too. This past summer, nearly 50 players took college courses around the country. Royal Ivey and Maurice Evans even graduated! Check this out: http://www.nbpa.org/nbpa-news/pomp-and-circumstance
I could easily get into the negative (and often more popular) stories about players going broke or accruing baby mamas. Maybe that would get me more Twitter followers or, better yet, a book deal! But for what? It’s about time to shed light on the “good guys” – the players dedicating their time and money to charity, the players serving as positive role models to young people and, especially, the players who are just normal, nice, family guys.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t see halos on any NBA players, and I am not attempting to paint that picture. The point is that for years the unfortunate behaviors of some have tainted the image of the greater sum. And I’m here to share the “glass half-full” approach, which isn’t what usually makes the headlines.
Does that answer your question?