The NBA Rookie Survival Guide

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C.J. McCollum, Guard / Portland Trail Blazers - The Players' Tribune

Hello, NBA rookies. By now, you’re 40-plus games into the NBA season, and you probably have some questions. Luckily, I’m here for you. Think of me as You From The Future. Why? Because I used to be you. Last year, I was a rookie and I thought I had it all figured out. “Wait a minute, you’re telling me they have catered food? Salmon cakes, asparagus and salad … like, for free? I don’t have to throw in money for Domino’s or Wal-Mart pizza every night with my roommates like in college? I’m about to go Kobe on this whole damn league.”

And then reality sets in. You go to your hotel after practice and you’re so delirious from fatigue that you start looking around the lobby like, wait a second…

Then you have to text your teammate: Bruh, what room are you in? I know we were on the same floor across the hall from each other but I can’t remember my room number.

It’s a grind, man. And it’s only going to get worse as the season wears on. So listen to me, rooks. I have some wisdom to share.

Dollar Menu

Travel is not a joke
I don’t care how much you traveled in college, and I don’t care what kind of shape you’re in. Travel is the one thing you’re absolutely not prepared for as a rookie. Now, at first it seems like it’s going to be no big deal. It’s October and you’re hopping from Los Angeles to Oakland in your shorts and sunglasses, taking your #roadtrip Instagrams like “Wheels up!! KOTD!” (Kicks of the Day).

But just wait.

We’re fortunate enough to have first class chartered flights, which is an unbelievable perk. It eliminates the headache of checking in the airport and waiting in line like most commercial flights. But all the fluffy pillows and catered food in the world will not save you from your first West Coast-to-East Coast road trip in the dead of winter. Let’s say you’re playing in Portland on a Monday night and the game finishes at 9:30 p.m. You’re out of the locker room and must be on the plane and seated by 10:45 p.m. for an 11 p.m. departure. Now let’s say you’re flying to New York to play the Knicks. That’s a five hour flight. But you also just leapt forward in time, meaning you’ll be landing in the wee hours of the morning. Guess what? It’s 10 degrees outside and you will probably have practice at some point during the day. You’re about to get the sniffles, bro.

Hopefully you slept on the plane, but chances are your mind was racing going over plays in your head and watching film on the iPad, trying to figure out how you missed those shots you normally make and getting a better idea of your team’s defensive concepts. Crazy how vital that stunt man is in the NBA, huh? As you’re finding out, the best defenses in the league move on a string and help the helper. It sounds easy. “It’s cool man, I’ll just hustle! I got this!”

But it’s not so easy. You have to be in position to help stop the ball, then close out on your man on the pass, because the three point shot is so deadly. But you also have to try to trying to keep him out of the paint …

*Liam Neeson Taken voice*

“Good Luck.”

“Thank you sir, may I have another?”
A lot of people have compared being an NBA rookie to being a fraternity pledge. It’s not really intense like that. It’s more like being an intern. The vets on your team may be calling you at 3, 4 in the morning, crazy hours to have you run all kinds of errands. The requests are legit — mostly your standard intern stuff. It’s not even the stuff they ask you to do that makes you mad, it’s the way they ask you. It can rub you the wrong way when you can’t figure out if it’s night or day. But do not flip out, rook. Then you’re just asking for more. The less you talk, the less they ask of you. My fellow rookie Allen Crabbe never talked rookie year, so they barely asked him to do anything. I think they just forgot about him. He had a solid game plan.

Free Kale

If I could go back in time and give Rookie C.J one piece of wisdom, it would be that sometimes less is more. Off the court, sometimes it’s just better to shut up and be quiet. I was the one that was always talking, so I was the guy getting the wings before the flights and the Starbucks in the morning. I was buying playing cards every week. We had some vets that enjoyed playing cards on the plane. The problem is that when guys start losing they have a tendency to blame it on the cards before tearing them up. Allen and I were getting all kinds of cards and quickly realized we had to get the Bicycle ones. And soaps on the road. Some guys like soft soap — not the standard hotel soap. They’d pay us handsomely to get the supplies, so I wasn’t even trippin’. Upside: They’d always look out for us.

A video posted by @CJMcCollum (@3jmccollum) on

Carrying laundry bags was the toughest thing for me because I couldn’t really manage it with my crutches when I was hurt during the first half of the season. Thankfully, our team was pretty young, so there weren’t too many vets to run gear to. We’d always make Dame get his own damn laundry bag. Although my homie is likely a two-time All-Star, he’s too young to haze us. We make him carry his own bags.

Always take the free lunch
I’m just going to say this one time because I probably shouldn’t have to say it at all: No McDonald’s. No Wendy’s. No Burger King. (Maybe in moderation because those BK fries are addicting.) You’re a pro now. You gotta tighten up your diet. Portland is good for that. Everybody here is healthy. I see a dude eating a kale salad for lunch and I genuinely feel bad if I have a burger or something.

With two free meals a day provided by the team, you have no excuse but to eat right. Maybe I’m weird, but that was the most mind-blowing thing when I was a rookie. That was my “Welcome to the NBA” moment, when I showed up for the first team lunch and I saw the spread.

I came from Lehigh University, so maybe it was different at bigger schools, but our food was usually hit or miss (lol) depending on your meal plan and ability to perform in the kitchen. If you ever get jaded about NBA food, just remember college, when practice would end late and the dining hall would close at 8 p.m. and you couldn’t even use your cafeteria points or swipe card. Thank the Lord for ramen noodles. I know I’m not the only one. Noodles or the sorority connect was crucial. Remember that?

You need your Power Sandwich. If you eat a Big Mac the night before a game, you might mess around and get dunked on.

When you were in college, you couldn’t afford the things you should be putting in your body after all that hard work. How could you afford some red salmon with asparagus and mashed potatoes, let alone have a little money left over to take a girl on a date? You were taking your girl to get ice cream because you knew it would be cheaper than the movies.

Don’t forget where you came from. Eat that free kale, man. And better yet, be sure to use everything in that trainers’ room to help your body. The NBA facilities have equipment that I had never ever heard of before I was a rookie — the NormaTech and GameReady compression machines for recovery are luxuries we could never afford at Lehigh. The team masseuse and the team chiropractor should be your best friends in the NBA. Take care of those people and they’ll keep you healthy.

You need a go-to sandwich
I didn’t mean to hate on McDonald’s before. Let’s be real. McDonald’s is delicious. But when it’s 10 p.m. and you’re starving, you need a go-to sandwich that you can make at home. It will stop you from making a panic Big Mac run.

For me, it’s the Scooby Doo sandwich. I always used to watch Scooby Doo as a kid and him and Shaggy would always make these enormous sandwiches which consist of like four pieces of bread with a layer of lettuce and onion, then a layer of ham, turkey and salami, then a layer of mayo and cheese. Rinse and repeat until you have a giant Scooby Doo sandwich. It’s very important to get your layers right. Do not mix up your layers. If you need a visual aid, click here.

As a kid, I used to try to model my sandwiches after those Scooby Doos. My mom and brother were in on it too. We just started calling it the Scooby Doo sandwich. And we still eat them! My brother Errick was just about to leave for China to play basketball and he was like, “Yo, I’m about to make this Scooby Doo sandwich, you want one?”

You need your Power Sandwich. If you eat a Big Mac the night before a game, you might mess around and get dunked on.

Lafayette Lehigh Basketball

Bad stuff is going to happen
You’re going to have setbacks. That’s just the nature of the NBA. I ended up breaking a bone in my foot early in my rookie season, and honestly, it was kind of a blessing. I had so much free time while being laid up that I put a lot of time in on film to understand the game from a different vantage point. I learned the Synergy system and put in a ton of hours studying the games of different guys, learning what makes them nearly unstoppable in certain situations.

You can read my series on Elite Guards and Underrated Guards to see what I mean. All that knowledge came from studying with Synergy. Instead of wasting time playing NBA 2K15, learn from your peers on film when you have downtime. Steal some of their moves. There’s no excuse now. You can do it right from your iPad.

On the court, the game moves faster than normal at first but eventually slows down. Sometimes it’s better to just take the one dribble pull-up instead of trying to get all the way to the rim. Simple plays and simple passes simplify the game. Coaches love “hockey” passes. Don’t complicate the game you’ve played your entire life.

Off the court, one of the things you probably don’t know much about is handling the money. You go from being a struggling, broke college student managing $5,000 a semester if you’re lucky to making a couple million dollars per year before taxes. One of the things you notice is that everybody’s problems become your problems. You’re the guy they call. You’re the savior who’s supposed to fix everybody’s life. Some people feel like because you made it, they made it. It takes a while to figure out how to handle it. And honestly? It’s really more of a personal thing. I guess what you have to ask yourself is this: Was this person with me when I was eating Wal-Mart pizza and flirting with the Dollar Menu?

Choose your battles wisely. Think before you tweet. And go to sleep. For real though, go to sleep.

CJ_Signature_Black

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