[FWIW, This post could also be titled, “Black Male Pro Athlete Myths, Debunked” and be just as true as “Pro Basketball Player.”]
I played nine years of pro ball, and have exchanged emails, DMs, with hundreds more. I have spoken to half of the NBA’s developmental GLeague. I hear from prospective pro basketball players every single day. From this experience, I made this post to inform the casual fan, or non-fan who just happens to have crossed paths with a Pro Basketball Player, about some inaccurate stereotypes I’ve heard about over the years.
You may roll your eyes at the fact that some of these even exist, which is understandable. But just think of the myriad dumb stereotypes that exist about you — your gender, race, city/country of origin, religion, vocation, choice in partner etc — and you’ll understand why this post is needed.
These will serve to both
- Help you, the basketball observer, understand that players are people before they’re athletes, and thus should not be judged strictly by their profession.
- Help you, prospective player, understand that your background, interests and other factors that make you you are not and will not prevent you from “making it” in hoops. But you Game could very well prevent you (HoopHandbook.com if you need help in that area).
If there are any that I haven’t addressed here, leave me a comment and I’ll add it.
Pro Basketball Players are not all from the streets, bad neighborhoods, or rough upbringings.
Which means, you don’t have to be of said background to “make it” in basketball.
The media’s power to shape casual observers’ image of basketball players — power which is now being taken back by the players themselves as we all can broadcast our own news — to me, portrayed professional athletes, especially those who are Black, as cocky, testicle-grabbing tough guys who just happened to play basketball. And if a pro basketball player happened to actually be that in real life, all the better.
I don’t know what the statistics are on the backgrounds of pro basketball players; it would be impossible to do such a study without setting standards as to what exactly “the streets” are or how “bad” a neighborhood needs to be to constitute a “rough” upbringing. Regardless, and even if we allowed the players themselves to determine the severity of their childhood environments, not every great athlete is from there.
There are plenty of former, current and future pro basketball players who grew up in suburbs, and “nice” (whatever that means to you) areas that are not overridden by crime. And they have (or will) Become damn good basketball players, good enough to make a living playing the game. Not every professional basketball player grew up in a home where the adults struggled to pay bills and make ends meet.
Basketball skill can be developed and nurtured in any environment.
I’m making this point for two reasons.
One, some people I’ve met in my basketball travels — non-players — seem to believe that, to be so great at sports, a person must have risen out of some impossibly bad situation to get to where he is. The terror and drabness of reality, these people reason, must be the motivating factor for players.
While that is sometimes true, it’s also true that, sometimes, a person is just damn good (or gifted) at what he does, regardless of where he’s from.
The other reason for this point: many young players come to me asking not about developing actual basketball skill, like dribbling or shooting, but about their mental approach.
Do I need to be a tough guy to be good at basketball? Should I get tattoos to alter my image? The guys who are real jerks and always want to fight are the best players. Do I need to be more like them?
These are actual questions from actual basketball players.
To be good in basketball, you need to be one thing: Good at basketball. If you happen to be from the ‘hood or born with a silver spoon in your mouth, neither of these alone predisposes you for basketball success.
Pro Basketball Players are not all tough-talking, slang-speakers who would’ve been rappers of not for sports.
This point is cousins of the above point about upbringing.
I know a ton of players who are articulate, enunciate their words properly, and are quite friendly and polite individuals, on and off the court. Like you, athletes read books (some even write them), self-educate and have a thirst for personal development. As this doesn’t fit the stereotype that some people have in their minds, this fact doesn’t get a lot of attention.
Pro Basketball Players are not all led by their penises and chasing females.
I’ve known and interacted with quite a few professional basketball players who were primarily led by their dicks.
When I got my first overseas contract, playing in Kaunas Lithuania, a guy named Mike was my teammate. Mike would walk the streets of Kaunas every single day and gather phone numbers of girls like it was a sport. I mean, Mike was damn prolific at it. I’d be walking to the Internet cafe in the middle of a random afternoon and see Mike across the street, exchanging numbers with another slim blonde. Mike had to have had about 250 Lithuanian girls’ numbers in his phone. Mike would sometimes call on me to help him: he’d invited two different girls over, and they both showed up, so I needed to take one off his hands. Mike was relentless.
Some players looked at females like pieces of meat, wild animals who existed solely to be hunted down, accosted and dominated. And hey, what relatively young, physically active and available man, who happens to have work that draws an inordinate amount of attention to him, doesn’t like to have a little fun?
But not every basketball player is like Mike.
I’ve known many professional basketball players who were husbands and boyfriends (and fathers). I’ve known and met many who may have been single, but still not preoccupied with girl chasing. While the opportunities for pro basketball players are, relatively speaking, higher than those who are not professional athletes (or otherwise famous), that doesn’t mean that’s all the athlete does. For a year, I lived in South Beach, Miami, two blocks from the actual beach (water, sand, etc) — and went to the beach all of twice. Just because it’s (possibly) available doesn’t mean we’re always taking it.
Pro Basketball Players are not sexual abuse cases waiting to happen.
This is what happens in our world: Some tragic or sensational story breaks. Ignoring details, people grab at the big slices of the story which they can relate to. Lacking judgement, These same people apply a blanket over anyone who, or anything which, closely resembles the tragedy or sensations situation.
So, some people hear of an athlete being accused of or charged with any form of sexual misconduct, and assume that’s “what athletes do.”
It’s not an athlete thing, nor a black guy thing. Something that happens to or involving one person (or even many persons), does not apply to all persons who have career or race in common.
Pro Basketball Players are not always all-consumed with basketball.
It’s funny how, when an athlete offers a strong opinion on anything that is not his sport, there are always a few idiots who offer the canned “stick to sports” advice.
Funny because, 1) at the same time, a whole lot of people who work “regular” jobs have plenty of interests and opinions that go far outside of their 9-to-5s. And 2) when a kid tells adults around him that he plans to play in the NBA, everyone advises him to diversify his goals, since very few actually make it. So it’s look at everything as a possibility! when you’re trying to get there, but look at nothing else! once you are there.
The general public — not necessarily you, reader (but maybe you) — seems to think that, of all the possible jobs out there, only athletes (and a few others roles, such as politicians) need to focus 100% of their thoughts on their work and nothing else.
Believe it or not, athletes are people, people who just happen to play a game for a living. People, who have strong interests outside of their main jobs.
Yes — just like you.
Basketball players have not-for-profit foundations, their own businesses, and lots of ideas about what they’ll do in life outside of/after sports (as even the great one’s basketball careers end at 40).
Life exists outside of work. When an accountant or a CFO exemplifies this, it’s applauded. When an athlete does, he’s not committed to his job, or so they say. This is a myth.
Pro Basketball Players are not all just basketball- and sports-centric in their knowledge.
Just as your job isn’t all there is to you, athletes are more than their jobs. Which means, you can converse with a Pro Basketball Player about something other than sports.
Try asking questions such as, What are you interested in outside of basketball? Or, If it weren’t basketball, what would you be doing with your life?
You may be surprised at what you learn.
Pro Basketball Players are not all attention-seeking, look-at-me prima donnas off the court.
To play a sport professionally, you do need ability to play your sport at a high level, plus an inordinate amount of confidence to do it in front of thousands of people. None of this, however, necessarily translates to brashness on or off the court.
A great on-court (or on-stage) performer could be the quietest, most shy person in the room when the game is not on. We are not all the same person out of work that we are during work.
That’s all I’ve got. If I missed any, or you have some generalizations about athletes that you think are true, leave them in the comments.