The Rookie Transition Program has been regarded as a mere formality since its inception. There is, after all, only so much that league officials can do to warn their players of the temptations and pitfalls to come.
It's one of many strategies the league employs that initially appeared to be superficial. And yet over the course of the last decade or so, we've seen considerable change in the collective mindset and approach of the bulk of NBA players.
Henry Abbott of TrueHoop was on the scene for this year's Rookie Transition Program and took note of the good work being done to further the evolution of the modern NBA athlete:
As designed by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, the program is heavy on avoiding tricks: financial advisors with an eye on raiding the nest egg, gamblers eager to rope players into conspiracies and women scheming to entrap husbands are all on the agenda.
But after spending a day roaming the conference center halls with the generally delightful, upstanding and promising 60 players of the Class of 2012, it's clear that one of the dirtiest tricks facing young players today is the persistent racially tinged accusation that NBA players are "thugs."
Whatever is assumed to be wrong with NBA players, I'd challenge their accusers to find evidence of it at this suburban New Jersey meeting facility.
"We're finally feeling like this stuff is working," said retired player Antonio Davis, who is a key part of the proceedings in his role for the NBPA's player programs department. "We're finally feeling like, 'Man, we say things, and we don't know if they're getting it, until we see them doing the things we have told them to do.'"
It would be easy to falsely claim that NBA players haven't really changed over the last decade or so—that their underlying nature is merely zipped up by things like the league's dress code—but that's not at all the case. There's a distinction in the maturity level of players entering the NBA that goes well beyond the appearance of their personal brands, and more change at work than could be demonstrated with a collared shirt and a cardigan.
Through generations of trial and error, today's athletes are more informed than ever as to the results of their actions. They understand what the traditionally assumed NBA lifestyle could hold for them on all fronts, and thanks to programs like this one, they're actively dissuaded from pursuing the "spoils" that swayed generations of pro athletes past.
Today's NBAers maneuver with a different mindset that's undeniably organized, and professional by most every definition. They work not only with coaches and trainers, but publicists and nutritionists. Their brands are multi-faced and carefully manicured operations, and while mistakes are still made, they amount to teaching points for the rest of the field.
When a certain athlete commits a Twitter blunder, their contemporaries are granted a warning in their own social-media strategies. The same is true across most every arena of a professional athlete's life; the current generation not only has years of experience operating in a uniquely modern landscape, but the benefit of watching all of those who made mistakes before them.
The league is never going to completely wipe out the seedier influences that circle around its players, but by educating the talent from day one and preaching to the value of a career well-considered, they've instigated some legitimate evolution.
It may have seemed superficial, but the slightest influences in terms of the way the NBA conducts its business have gone a long way toward cleaning up a culture of prevailing problems.
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