- Henry Abbott, TrueHoop, NBA
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Tony Gaskins is a former college football player and current Christian motivational speaker who preaches, among other things, about the perils of pre-marital sex. He stood before a room of 60-or-so players at the NBA Rookie Transition Program on Sunday.
By lore, these young men are about to enter perhaps the most sexually active niche of modern society.
And he told them in no uncertain terms to either be monogamous, or abstinent.
It's the kind of talk he has given many times, to many groups. (He also spoke to NBA rookies in 2010.) He is accustomed to a mix of reactions.
Here's what may surprise you about the NBA class of 2012: They loved it.
Gaskins says nearly half the group had questions, approached him after the talk, got his phone number, followed him on Twitter and more.
But don't take his word for it. Listen to the players themselves, who told their own version of events on Twitter after Gaskins spoke.
Young Sun Kendall Marshall said "I'm turnin my playa card in."
Blazer top pick Damian Lillard declared: "This man @TonyGaskins is too real. Y'all need to get up on him. He just changed my life. #realrap"
Harrison Barnes, Darius Johnson-Odom, Draymond Green, Jared Sullinger, Andre Drummond and Quincy Acy all tweeted similarly.
Gaskins says he has certain advantages connecting to athletes. For one, he's young and African-American, with a life story that is, in his words, more or less out of the rap music that influences so many players. He once dealt drugs and cheated on his girlfriend. He can speak with a voice that grabs attention.
And then there's the subject matter. "I keep it," Gaskins told me by phone, "really real."
He writes and speaks frequently about relationships, and "embracing manhood." A recent book is called "Mrs. Right." His 140,000-plus Twitter followers are mostly women, and he is a life coach to many of them.
Those Twitter followers often make it so that young athletes know Gaskins' name before he takes the stage. NBA players have retweeted him, as have any number of strippers and porn stars -- many of whom are followed by NBA players -- who are among his clients, book purchasers and a non-trivial part of his audience.
Gaskins knows from his own life, and from his clients, all about the unhealthy dynamic between male athletes and the women who hang around stadiums and hotel lobbies. And he had stories, thick with sexually transmitted diseases, women who cheat more than men, and clever schemes to get their hands on players' money and more.
"The mindset with a lot of guys," Gaskins says, "is I'm the man, I make all the money, she knows I'm going to cheat and that's that."
What that scheme ignores, Gaskins says, is that things inevitably get complicated: "If she's letting you cheat, nine times out of ten she's cheating too. You're out of town and she's spending your money on another man, who is scheming to take her from you."
Gaskins knows this story, because it happened to him in college.
Gaskins has many memorable turns of phrase, like "take your mess, add some age, and make it your message." One that applies to the women whose men cheat is: "Hurt people hurt people."
"Scaring them straight" is part of what Gaskins says he's trying to do. And a surprising number of young players are eager to hear it.
"They see how the world is going," he says. "They're searching for something new. They don't want to see their girl on 'Basketball Wives' running their name into the ground."
What he preaches instead is that a player focus all his romantic effort on his high-school sweetheart, the woman he has always trusted most, taking the much more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding path of building a real marriage.
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