You’re sitting in the green room in Toronto, surrounded by extremely talented guys like Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse. But this is your night. You are about to be picked No. 1 overall in the 1995 NBA Draft.
This may not come as much of a surprise to you. After all, you were the College Player of the Year at Maryland, and there are no easy games in the ACC. Ever since that third game of your freshman season against Georgetown, when it felt like all of DC and Maryland was watching you play, you’ve been in the spotlight. Of course the Warriors want to take you with the top pick.
But before you get too excited, I have a few things to share with you.
You’ll soon realize that your idea of success in the NBA is going to change a lot throughout what will be a 16-year career. That’s a long time, but I can tell you now that the road isn’t always going to be smooth.
That brings me to my next point: Get some nice luggage, Joe. You’re going to be moving a lot.
There will be plenty of stops during your career, but you’ll probably be remembered most for your time in Minnesota. On the Timberwolves, Kevin Garnett will have already established himself as the go-to guy, so the plays won’t be working through you anymore. You won’t be the star, but your time with the Wolves will turn out to be the best experience of your career. On most NBA teams, you have maybe one or two guys that you hang out with. But in Minnesota you will all be a pretty tight group, which is rare to see in the league. Guys like KG, Anthony Peeler, Gary Trent, and Malik Sealy — these will be some of your best friends, on and off the court.
You’re going to face your most trying obstacle in Minnesota, too. Being forced to leave that team because of a contract situation is going to be embarrassing, especially when your name is getting dragged through the mud about something that you had nothing to do with. But you have to keep your head up and understand that the NBA is a business. Everyone is here to make money, and you better believe that the teams and agents will put themselves ahead of you. Take it day-by-day, be patient and be persistent. You’re going to get through it.
You’ll be lucky to have those teammates who will always have your back, but you’ll also benefit from being blessed with a very supportive family.
Oh, and by the way, don’t be surprised if Mom decides to be your roommate during your rookie year. You’ll have trouble living that down for a long, long time. Even though she might give you a curfew, it’ll be worth it because she’ll make sure everything is in order. This is an age that can be make-or-break for your career, and you won’t realize until later how much she’ll help you through it.
There will be a lot of people pretending to be family who just want some handouts. They’ll say they know you, but that doesn’t mean they’re your friend. Be careful with your finances, because not everyone is going to have your best interests at heart. Keep a close eye on those who surround you only after you have money.
Like I said earlier, try not to get too comfortable in any one place. Besides the Wolves, you’re going to play for 11 other NBA teams, and people might think of you as that guy who always gets traded. Don’t be discouraged by that. Embrace it. You’re an asset.
You might feel like the strongest man alive right now, but 82 games is a lot. A lot. In order to have a long career in this league, you’re going to need to learn how to preserve and maximize your strength. Fortunately, you’re going to be surrounded by some really savvy vets early in your career — Latrell Sprewell, Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin among them. Make sure you keep an eye on how they take care of themselves. These are guys who understand their bodies. They know when to go hard and when to rest. Take good notes.
Sitting in the green room right now, you’ve got high expectations for yourself. Unfortunately, you won’t be the All-Star that you think you’re destined to become. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a great career. You’re going to find out what it means to grind in order to achieve your dreams. Being a role player means showing up early and working your ass off at practice every single day. It means adapting your game to your team’s needs and finding the best ways to be effective. It means always earning your spot.
After you retire and have some time to reflect, you’re going to be incredibly proud of what you’ve accomplished. If you stay professional and humble throughout all the trades, contract disputes and disappointments, you’ll survive 16 years in the NBA. That’s pretty damn impressive.
Now put on a smile, Joe. You look fly in that suit!