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Life for a NBA rookie: Welcome to The Big Leagues

<strong>A LEG UP</strong> Spencer Dinwiddie of the Detroit Pistons during a down moment before the N.B.A.'s rookie photo shoot.

  Photo by Eric White
  Quotes by Sarah Lyall in Tmagazine blogs from the New York Times

A killer three-pointer no longer cuts it in the world of pro basketball. To succeed as a multimillion-dollar brand, an athlete needs business savvy, fashion know-how and good table manners. Welcome to the N.B.A.’s other training camp.

They had heard a succession of horrifying tales about drug addiction, alcohol abuse and women of ill repute who hang around hotel lobbies in unfamiliar cities. They had been told how to seize control of their new fortunes, how to distinguish genuine friends from opportunistic hangers-on and how to nimbly sidestep tricky questions in interviews. And now, as part of a program to help them prepare for the most seismic transformation of their lives, members of the National Basketball Association’s rookie class of 2014 were assembled in a conference room in a hotel in Florham Park, N.J., being lectured on a crucial part of their new job: personal style.

It’s hard to be a newly minted multi-millionaire newly drafted into the NBA.  Fame, fortune, women and of course lots and lots of stylish new clothes and accompanying bling.  Once we are done feeling bad for these unfortunate young men we can appreciate the attempt the league is making at helping them avoid some of the pitfalls of those who have come before them.  Granted that will deny us the pleasure of reading about another wealthy, famous person crashing back to reality with the rest of us but really it is a good thing.  The reality is sports stars are role models and aspirational figures for today’s boys and young men.  If our sports stars learn to surround themselves with positive influences, save and invest their money wisely and represent themselves as positive figures who deserve to be emulated then perhaps everyone wins.

One of the interesting topics that this crop of rookies is taught is how to develop a personal style.  One that projects the image that the league and all those eager prospective sponsors want to be associated with.  The advice is appropriate not just for budding NBA stars but for anyone who wants to control the image they project along with spending their wardrobe budget wisely.  According to celebrity stylist Rachel Johnson who lectured at this years meeting:

Every gentleman should have a peacoat, a raincoat, a varsity jacket and an overcoat, she said; also a blue suit, a gray suit and a black suit. Cargo pants are versatile and can be dressed up to look fancier than they are. You can mix and match; the navy jacket will look just fine with the black pants. Do not use the same Irish Spring soap on your face that you use under your arms. When you leave the house, throw on a classic watch and your signature fragrance, and assume that you are being observed at all times.

Some sound advice.  You don’t need a closet full of custom suits and enough pants and shirts to risk breaking the clothes rack along with your bank account.  The right combination of key pieces goes a long way to looking like you were just drafted into the big leagues.

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Sports Report: Big changes in college athletics are coming.


We are in the middle of March Madness but the real news in collegiate athletics isn’t happening on the basketball court.  Thanks to the Northwestern football team, college athletes can now unionize.

Wednesday the National Labor Relations Board ruled that according to federal law, members of the Northwestern football team qualify as employees and can therefore unionize.  The board found that football players materially contribute to colleges and universities collectively earning billions of dollars through ticket sales, television rights, merchandising and licensing.

In addition there is a case currently working its way though federal court from a group of current and former college athletes seeking compensating for the use of their names and likenesses being sold in entertainment packages by athletic conferences.

While the NCAA has defined students athletes as engaging in their sport 20 hours per week in season and 6 hours per week off-season, the reality is football players (and many others) routinely put in 40+ hours per week relating to just their sport.  The results of their work generate millions of dollars for each institution and fill  the pockets of  conference officials, coaches and athletic directors with multi-million dollar contracts.   Unbelievable example number one is Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith.  Smith’s contract calls for a base salary of $940,484 with the potential to hit $1.5 million dollars with bonuses.  This past week Smith earned an extra $18,447 because wrestler Logan Steiber won a national championship in the 141 lbs weight class.  Yes 18K because a wrestler, an athlete who gets a fraction of the benefits and support of a division one college football player, won a championship.  Does Steiber get anything?  Maybe a handshake and pat on the back.  His coach?  Probably not nearly as much as the  CEO of the athletic department, AD Smith.  Since when does a non-profit educational administration official earn a bonus larger than the annual earnings of many of the residents of his state?

Sixty years ago tuition, room and board may have been fair compensation for athletes.  The revenues and benefits to their respective institutions was considerably less.  Today billions are earned, people are getting rich and the athletes who put their bodies on the line get essentially the same thing they did 60 years ago despite significantly more risk and serious long-term consequences to their health.

Are college athletics a business? Three major conferences (Big 10, Pac 12 and SEC) own or are partners in their own television networks.  College teams and players are featured in video games.  College players are essentially paid with athletic scholarships that are directly tied to their participation and performance in the athletic program.

What do the players hope to achieve with their new-found status?  Better health/disability coverage for current and former players, improved head injury policies and procedures, the ability to pursue commercial sponsorship, potentially additional stipends to cover living expenses.  Possibly even a share of the revenue they create places into trust for them to access following their collegiate careers.

The impact of this decision will reach far beyond division one football and basketball programs.  There are issues of gender equity under Title IX that will require policies put in place for revenue generating men’s sports to be extended to women’s sports as well as non-revenue producing athletes.  There are going to years of challenges from institutions, conferences and the NCAA.  Yesterday’s ruling applied only to private institutions, not public universities, so there will be repercussions as public institutions react to compete with their private employer competitors for the athletic services of the next round of college all-stars.

One thing is for sure.  There is too much money in the game today for this to be the end of what is going to be a long and drawn out saga of legacy institutions fighting to protect full control and ownership of the revenue streams they now enjoy.

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