Ex-NBA player Sanders gives seminar for rookies

November 04, 1990|By Mike Kahn | Mike Kahn,McClatchy News Service

SEATTLE -- If Tom Sanders had his way, everyone who ever played in the National Basketball Association would have had the same opportunity to get it together.

"Until you get there, you have no idea what the stress of being an NBA player is like," Sanders said. "Well, we do. That's why we have the seminar, and that's why ex-NBA players are happy to get involved. The same traps are there today, only worse. We want to make sure the rookies know about it."

And that's why Sanders gathers all the rookies in Dallas every year for a 2 1/2 -day seminar on how to deal with life in the NBA. Better known as Satch, the former 13-year defensive wiz of the Boston Celtics is the director of player programs for the NBA.

"I doubt you'll find any retired players who want to get away from the game entirely," said Sanders, soon to be 52. "Everyone does for a while, but the game is so embedded in your heart, that it nags at you to get involved in some way."

And this is how he does it. In September, he summoned those selected in the 1990 NBA draft for their session on how to deal with being wealthy rookies.

"It's more than just the money," Sanders said. "That's more a product of the lifestyle. You just hope they have agents they can trust. But if they don't, this will help point out some of the problems they have that they otherwise may not have realized. A lot of it is just about dealing with stress as an adult.

"We know the classroom scene doesn't grab anyone's imagination, but we have it broken down so we have skits, and stand-up comments from players, and we try to do it in groups of four to keep it personalized." The groups include a rookie, a psychologist, a veteran player and a retired player. Former and current players such as Dave Cowens, Dave Bing and John Lucas have been regulars.

"You go down there thinking it's a waste of time and you know everything," Seattle SuperSonics top draft choice Gary Payton said. "But it wasn't like that at all. I learned a lot, and it was definitely worth going to, even as just a 22-year-old coming out of college.

"Being from Oakland, I already knew about some of the places that were drug problems for a lot of guys. I knew that's where the bad guys hang out and to stay away from there. But when John Lucas gets up and talks to you about it, you listen. You know he's been a success, gotten in with the wrong people, and survived. Those are things that wake you up."

One year later, the Sonics' Shawn Kemp, at age 20 the youngest player in the NBA, remembers what it was like for him to go to the seminar.

"Just seeing players I heard so much about and knew understood the NBA made me listen," Kemp said. "They talked a lot about people coming at you for money deals all the time -- to lay low and stay away from these people.

"That's something I figured out right away. Stay away from the clubs and bars after games. People are out there to feed off professional athletes. They know we have money and they all want it. We have a game, I get something to eat, then I go back to my room." That's life on the road for Kemp.

Not many other players are like that. However, teammate Dana Barros, also in his second year, spends a lot of time with Kemp. "There are a lot of things people take for granted that they spent time talking to us about at the seminar," Barros said. "Everybody wants tickets from us in every city. Sometimes, like when I go home to Boston, I do need a lot of tickets. I make deals with the other guys in other cities so I get help with tickets when I'm home.

"Then there are a lot of women on the road who are out after athletes. We had skits about that at the seminar too that were pretty funny at the time. But those things happen the minute you walk out of the building. That's why I don't spend much time out. In the off-season, when I'm away from the game, I can have a more normal social life."

That's why the seminar is in the sixth year and going strong. This isn't publicized much, according to Sanders, because NBA commissioner David Stern wants it that way. It's a low-profile workshop for high-profile guys. Nobody needs to know what's going on there.

"This is all for the players' benefit," Sanders said. "Then I travel the league during the season just to see how they're doing. It's not just a matter of drafting or signing players, then letting them go. We want to do everything we can to make sure these guys are adjusting to life." Which is exactly why Sonics coach K.C. Jones figures Sanders is in this job. The former Celtics teammates spent an afternoon together when Sanders showed up at the Sonics' training camp.

"He's a mental giant climbing up the NBA corporate ladder," Jones said. "Satch always figures out the most effective way to do things. These rookies don't even know how lucky they are that he's the guy working with them. I envy him for having this much impact on the young players."

Sanders was with Jones as he put the Sonics through another day's workout, and his desire to coach with him was clear.

"I do miss the game," Sanders said. "Particularly during training camp, I realize I miss being directly involved in it. It's the teaching of the basics of training camp that I miss. The games -- dealing with the officials and all the pressure of the fans -- I don't miss that.

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