There’s a lot for you to know heading into your rookie year in Toronto.
Let’s start with some practical information — stuff that may not have been mentioned at the NBA rookie symposium.
First, run away from the card games on the team plane. Don’t play. Don’t sit down at that table. And if you do play, put a limit on your buy-in. Pick a number, and if you lose it, get up. Guys will talk trash and try to keep you in.
“C’mon, man! You’re done?”
Just say, “Yep,” and walk back to your seat.
Second, get ready to hear lots of trash talk from the fans. Some places are worse than others. Golden State is going to be live this year because they’re the defending champs. I love playing there. Madison Square Garden is always crazy. And in Philly, there’s this guy behind the Sixers bench who writes down all your stats on a dry-erase board if you’re struggling. He’s hilarious, so don’t take that too personally. When I was traded to Philly in 2012, he was the first guy I asked about. I wanted to make sure he was still a season-ticket holder.
And Dude got me this past year when I wasn’t playing much with Portland. He put up my stats, like 2.3 points, 1.3 rebounds, 10 minutes. I laughed so hard. Tears, man. You have to laugh at it.
More seriously, I know my wife Mia has spoken to you about the women you’re going to meet, and more importantly who will be trying to meet you.
She understands. She’s in the family room at the arena. She’s seen all kinds of different women come and go. Different teams, different girlfriends, wives, fiancees — she knows more than I ever will. So whatever she says, do it. You’ll be happier, more focused and you’ll stay out of trouble.
And then there’s money. We all know that when it’s there and coming in, it’s easy to go out there and spend, spend, spend. Every athlete goes through a time when they’re going over budget (and yes, you should have a budget).
What they don’t tell you is that it’s not just the availability of money that adds temptation, but time. You have all this free time to buy, buy, buy. Really, free time is the root of the trouble you can find as a pro. That’s the hardest thing about the adjustment you’re about to make. When I was at prep school before jumping to the NBA, I had a strict schedule. Be at school at 7:30. Breakfast. Assembly. Class all day, then basketball. Afterwards, it was study hall and maybe one more chance to sneak in some gym time. Most of your days in college were basically planned for you, too.
In the NBA, on non-game days, you’re there at 8 a.m. to get your extra work in and then practice with the team. That takes maybe four hours, tops. Now you’ve got the rest of the day to yourself. You’ll need to learn how to manage your time. My rookie year, after practice, I used to head to 24 Hour Fitness and play even more ball. We used to go to the movies, or just go back to the house, chilling around.
I managed to pull that off … in Miami.
I remember having to explain to you why I wasn’t playing when you were 11 or 12. You felt my pain. The truth is, I wasn’t ready. The guys ahead of me were better, and a month after I was drafted in Miami, we traded for Shaq, so now we were championship contenders. I went from coming into a young team where I thought I’d play 20-30 minutes a game to playing 159 total minutes over my first two seasons. I had to wait my turn.
But I had great vets around me: Wesley Person, Steve Smith, Eddie Jones and Gary Payton among them. They all told me my time was going to come, that Jermaine O’Neal and Tracy McGrady had to wait their turn, as well. They also taught me that you’ve got to sacrifice your pride for the next guy. Cheer him on. Be a great teammate. I learned that over my first few years, sitting at the end of the bench and watching with those guys.
Plus, there was Alonzo Mourning. He had something to say to me every day. He would look you right in the eye, lean his head in a little bit and shake your hand like he’s gonna break it. You just knew he was serious. Alonzo talked about being a professional. Treating people with respect. How to carry yourself and dress well. That’s what Alonzo stood for, and since he was the Miami Heat, that’s what we all stood for.
But you’re in a different situation with the Raptors. You’re in position to play right away as a rookie on a team with serious postseason aspirations. That’s a lot of responsibility, and there will be ups and downs. At times you’ll play well, at others you won’t. You might catch a few DNP-CDs for whatever reason. No matter what, just continue believing and keeping your head, because it can always come back around. That’s what I’ve been preaching to young guys the last few years. This is a marathon, man. You’ve got to continue to get your work in, practice hard and be ready whenever your name is called.
You’ll also be taken care of in Toronto. I’m close with Kyle Lowry, going back to those four-star camps, ABCD and AAU. DeMar DeRozan is somebody who looked up to me in high school, and he played on my team at the Drew League when he was still in eighth and ninth grade. Those are two great dudes, and I know they’re going to look out for you. I didn’t even have to ask. They reached out to me and let me know you’re in great hands.
Do what they say. Follow their lead.
Oh, and here’s a nice little perk: Since you’re a rookie, if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing and behaving like a pro, on road trips vets like me will throw you their per diem envelope. Whatever rook looked out for me, bringing in my gear in the morning or doing those small things a vet needs, as soon as we get off the plane, I’ll just hand the envelope over. Those extra per diems are pretty sweet and can go a long way.
And if you’re going to bother saving your money, don’t waste it picking up T’s. They cost too much. Two grand off the top, and then higher if you start piling them up. More importantly, you don’t want to develop a rep, especially as a point guard. You need the respect of the refs. Not to be teacher’s pet, but so you can talk to them during games. Little things like that can go a long way over time.
When the refs call players up to meet before the game, most guys like to take that time and get up extra shots. Don’t. If Kyle goes up, go with him. Speak to the refs. Just a little small talk. I had this talk with Damian Lillard last year in Portland. He liked to get up those shots, instead. I said, “You can’t send C.J. McCollum and Meyers Leonard up there. You’ve got to go talk to those guys, because they feel like that’s a sign of respect.” Show them that respect, and they’re going to respect you on the court.
One more thought on money: When you come back home to L.A. to play the Lakers and Clippers, everyone is going to call you for tickets. That was one of the things I struggled with early in my career. I wasn’t even playing, and I was getting 30-something ticket requests for people to come see me dressed all nice on the bench. I used to spend a lot of money buying tickets.
Here’s your story: “I’ve only got 10 tickets, and these are going to my immediate family, so I can’t do anything for you.”
And while we’re talking family, it’s going to be hard for me playing in China this year, because I won’t be around for your rookie season. But I know it’ll be fine. I’ll still be able to watch some games, and when I do, you’re going to get a long text message afterward with all the things I see. I’m sure you’re going to tell me the same thing you said at school: “Yeah, my coach told me that already,” but too bad. I’m never going to stop coaching you and being your big brother.
And remember, just step away from the card games.