Sports agent Peter Schaffer looks around his Cherry Creek office at pictures of the dozens of professional athletes he's represented. Proudly displayed are images of NHL stars and NFL greats. There are no pictures of NBA players.
"They're too high-maintenance," he explains.
Schaffer refuses to represent the players because he says they have been corrupted by money and attention at an early age.
"Basketball players start getting pampered very young," he says. "Twelve- and 13-year-olds are being brought to training camps, they get free shoes, they're deemed to be special at early age."
Schaffer believes all the attention often leads them to the mistaken belief that they can do no wrong. And the teams, he says, refuse to discipline their players.
"You've got to keep your player happy," says Schaffer. "If you don't, then he's going to say, 'I'm not going to play for the L.A. Clippers when my contract expires, I'm going to go to Denver, Milwaukee, or San Antonio.' "
Here Comes Trouble
In recent years, the NBA and trouble seem to have become synonymous. In the past year alone, some of the biggest names in basketball — Jerry Stackhouse, Marcus Fizer, Darrell Armstrong, Allen Iverson and Glenn Robinson — have all had run-ins with the law.
So many members of the Portland Trail Blazers have had problems with the law in recent years, sneering sports commentators have begun calling them the "Jail Blazers."
Some players have been charged with spousal abuse, others have been caught carrying guns, while still others have gotten into brawls with police.
To counter the trend, the NBA sends rookie players each summer to a seminar that doles out advice on how to avoid trouble. Role playing is a major component, and off-the-court advice on how to deal with money, fame, and sexual situations is featured. Sexual conduct is high on the list, especially since the Kobe Bryant case sent shivers across the professional sports landscape.
The classes, however, have had only modest success.
"I think they ought to send players to those courses every year, every season," says Harry Edwards, a noted sports psychologist and adviser in Oakland, Calif. "It should be like renewing your driver's license and driving test."
Huge Salaries Offer Ticket Off Streets
Many of today's NBA stars came from urban America, where basketball is seen as an inexpensive ticket to fame and fortune. In some cities, the image of streetwise "gangsters" is celebrated and emulated. And that can carry over into young adulthood.
"I don't think there's any question that athletes do not park their culture at the door of the gym when they take the floor," says Edwards.
But immaturity, fame and wealth are only part of the problem. Players also spend a lot of time on the road, where temptations can be found around every stadium and hotel corner.
"Everywhere you go, you know, it's a culture that lends itself to sex and adulterous activities on a regular basis," says Todd Boyd, author of the book Basketball Jones: America, Above the Rim. "There are women who follow players around, and women who make it very clear that they want to have sex with these high-profile individuals."
At age 19, it can be difficult to say "no."
The problem, says victims' advocate Kathy Redmond, the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, is that some athletes believe they are entitled to cross the line.
"They think they can get away with it," she says. "There's nobody to stop them. It's a totally different world than what you and I experience."
Does Mom Know Best?
Retired NBA star Charles Barkley has an unusual solution. He's told the latest superstar teen basketball multimillionaire, LeBron James, to get rid of his entourage and just consult his mother when issues arise.
Edwards says that makes sense: "I think his mother is going to look past the celebrity, is going to look past the money, and is going to deal with him more as a human being — a fragile human being at this point."
The issue James will have to face is whether he can resist all the temptations that come with instant celebrity status.
Kobe Bryant, who incidentally was accompanied by a couple of friends and a bodyguard when he got into trouble in Colorado, now says he wishes he had behaved.
"I sit here in front of you guys," he told reporters in Los Angeles on July 18, "furious at myself, you know, disgusted at myself for making a mistake of adultery."
A jury eventually will decide if it was only adultery. The L.A. Lakers all-star will be formally arraigned on rape charges Aug. 6.