In my 13-year NBA career, I was traded once.
With one phone call, every detail in my life changed. Former Orlando Magic general manager Otis Smith informed me I had been traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, and I had 48 hours to report to my new team.
I literally had to throw everything in bags. I jumped on a plane and played in my new team’s next game.
Then, instability, both on the court and off.
Until you can find and settle into a new home, you’re staying in a hotel and getting used to new teammates.
It’s not as simple as switching zip codes and uniforms. Far from it.
Which is why NBA players absolutely dread the trade deadline.
The media, handlers and hangers-on make it all the worse. Players are constantly asked what may happen and receiving nonstop updates from agents.
“Will you be traded?”
“Will you stay?”
“What does this mean for the team?”
“Do they have enough to contend for a title?”
Your job as a player is this: commit to the lip service. You'll hear players say that the organization will do what’s best for the team. That a player only wants what’s best for his family. It’s an opportunity to start fresh.
None of these statements are wrong, but they omit a more emotionally charged reality.
At the same time, players must strike a balance between being a good ambassador to the community, being a great team player and avoid commenting on front-office affairs.
Every time you step on the court and talk to the media, you're showing teams what kind of player you are—how you handle yourself, how you get along with teammates, how you seize the moment. So you try to avoid worrying about what's beyond your control.
What’s going to happen? Where will they send me? Am I going to a contender or a bad team? What do I need to do with my family and the rest of my things?
Some players have made a life for themselves in that zip code. Some become well-respected ambassadors to the community.
Players have families to think about. Kids become accustomed to schools and friends; wives become intertwined in the community; players develop strong friendships with teammates.
There’s an emotional attachment between players and city, players and teammates and also players and community that most fans never see.
When a player is traded (especially one who is well-liked in the locker room), it may not bode well with a teammate who happens to be a close friend. A coach or GM may try to address the situation and explain their reasons why the player was dealt, but the remaining players may still take some time to get over it.
After a trade, on the court and in the locker room, you’re the new guy. You need to create a rapport with your new team ASAP. You are on your own to figure out how you can fit in with these guys and what your role might be.
Trades can also affect players who aren’t dealt. Over the course of my career, even though I only played for three teams, I experienced 20-plus trades, and every one of them left a mark. We are trained to think of our team as a family, so it can be very conflicting when people are dealt away at the drop of a hat.
At nine months, the NBA season is longer than most professional sports, and we see athletes play games through tough mental and physical times, be it a family tragedy, a lingering injury, illness or other personal problems.
There is a constant battle between the mind and the body, but that is the quintessential essence of being a professional athlete.