Advice to NBA Draftees: Hold On to Your Money

Congratulations to the Draft Class of 2015. As an NBA veteran, I know a little something about how the next few days, months and years may play out.

After an impressive college campaign, the attention turns to the bright lights and big city of New York, where this year’s draft is being held. Rest assured that everything will be going a hundred miles an hour. To those who are fortunate to have their name called, you made it! By the time you shake hands with Commissioner Adam Silver — and hear him say “Welcome to the NBA” — you’ll be going from one interview to another. Cameras and microphones will be in your face. Every member of your family will hug you and express their pride. And that’s just the first 10 minutes after you have been drafted.

From there, it’s a plane ride to your newly adopted home and then a press conference with the local media and endless photo opps. Your phone will blow up with voicemails and texts (some, all of a sudden, from unfamiliar numbers) and your Twitter following will quadruple thanks to your new fanbase.

You worked all your life to get to this point. But how you navigate your NBA career (regardless of how well you perform on the court) is up to you. Distractions will come from many directions. And before you can blink, you have yourself a 10-to-20-deep entourage. What doesn’t happen upon signing that rookie contract is your first paycheck. It won’t be deposited into your bank account until mid-November. So I wouldn’t rush to get that new home or sports car just yet.

If you’re borrowing money from an agent until November, you may have already made the first rookie mistake, depending on how much the agent wants in interest. Instead of borrowing money from my agent, I took a loan from my parents. I needed some cash to get an apartment in the Bay Area, some clothes, groceries and a new car. My dad was really nice about it. He only charged me 20 percent interest! (I kid.)

Make no mistake, freshly minted NBA rookie, this new life is exciting — as well as terrifying. So how can you prepare for what’s to come?

All of a sudden, you’re going to have a lot more friends and relatives than you thought. Say hello to uncle James, and cousin Andrew, and your ex-girlfriend’s half-brother’s roommate Justin. Your new relatives are going to tell you how much they appreciate your great success, sometimes followed by something like, “Can you do me a favor?”

Some people in your family (bogus and real) will want to move with you to your adopted home and work for you. He or she promises to take care of everything so you can just focus on playing basketball — all you have to do is give them power of attorney. They will insist that you will need them to protect you from all the moochers and hangers-on (keep in mind that someone needs to protect you from your relatives, too). It’s not uncommon for players to hire family members to work for them. If you insist on doing this, don’t just give them money to pick up your groceries or gas up your car. Leverage their skill sets and empower them to be an asset to your new brand. This will also help them build their own resume so they won’t have to work for you forever. It’s a win-win.

I discuss how to “manage” your friends and family in my new book, Winning the Money Game. I also cover many other important issues you will confront as a professional athlete — such as avoiding suspicious “investment opportunities”; opening businesses in areas that you are not familiar; as well as how to take advantage of the invaluable resources offered by the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).

Since more than half of NBA players go broke within the first five years of retirement (hard to believe but true) and play an average 4.8 years, it means some players will be in their 20s by the time they hang it up, with their whole lives ahead of them. I’ve witnessed my fair share of former teammates and competitors lose their money in a short period of time. It’s always heartbreaking to see friends who work so hard to get to this level and have nothing to show for it by the time they retire.

Be wise, NBA rookie. Take it upon yourself to learn as much as you can to secure your future not only as a player, but as a man. A lot’s going to happen on the court for you. Just don’t forget about what happens away from it.