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Thursday, September 4, 2008
Getting Kicked Out of the Rookie Transition Program, an FAQ


Darrell Arthur and Mario Chalmers were sent home for breaking the rules. There is talk of women and marijuana. Everyone is shaking their heads in amazement at how this has unfolded.

But what actually happened? They were sent home from what? For breaking what rules?

More details are emerging -- we'll probably know more about what happened later today. But for now, here is an attempt to wrangle what we do know.

What is the NBA's Rookie Transition Program?
After getting to sit in for a day of the Rookie Transition Program in 2002, I'm a big fan. Yes, it's mostly about sitting in some dim conference room and and listening, but it's a significant few days.

Here's why: The NBA is long on tough and short on love. And this program is one little attempt at being just a little nurturing toward young players.

Darrell Arthur
It's doubtful the NBA will pose Darrell Arthur in the clouds again anytime soon.
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

There are no cell phones. There are no girlfriends. There are no agents, or distractions of any kind. There aren't even clothing decisions to be made: Every rookie wears their matching shirt.

But there is a lot of heartfelt advice from retired players, coaches, and experts of all kinds.

I think there are a lot of groans about the whole thing. The days are long, and often boring. (Here's a look at what's on a past year's agenda.) When they dim the lights use the overhead projector more than a few eyes fluttered shut.

But it was a real experience, like a school field trip. The players, I think, really felt like they were all in it together. I happened to be there on the day when Kenny Smith stirred up a little anti-European sentiment, but in the hallway afterward the players weren't having any of it. Whether you asked Caron Butler or Bostjan Nachbar, no one felt like the other did not belong there. Their bond as NBA rookies was too strong for that, even after just a few days of hanging around in the same big resort.

Putting together that seminar is a ton of work, and NBA people like Mike Bantom, Rory Sparrow, and Purvis Short do that work really wanting to show players how to be happier, healthier, safer and all that.

It's a gentle approach.

But you know how it is when you get a tough person to try the gentle approach, and then it bites them? THEY HATE THAT! So when the normally gruff NBA extended this huge fig leaf to the players with some real caring and insight, and then two of them apparently took advantage of it by breaking just about all the rules, the League was in no mood to hold their hands and explain things in gentle tones.

Mario Chalmers
Now with an extra few days to work on that handle: Mario Chalmers.
(Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

What are the rules?
There are tons of rules at the Rookie Transition Program, the full list of which is not widely known, even in NBA circles.

When I was there many rules were discussed openly and often, and have been conformed to still be in effect. No cell phones except during certain designated periods. No pagers. No beepers. No visitors. No skipping sessions. No leaving the resort. No shirts other than the official one.

And certainly, no drugs.

What are the specific NBA regulations as they apply to rookies and the Rookie Transition Program?
Although many rookies won't get paid until the League's first standard payday of November 15 -- depending on the terms they negotiated with their teams -- rookies become employees the instant they sign contracts.

And one fixed obligation of any rookie contract is attending this multi-day session. According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement: "When a player, without proper and reasonable excuse, fails or refuses to attend a 'mandatory program,' he shall be fined $20,000 by the NBA; provided, however, that if the player misses the Rookie Transition Program, he shall be suspended for five (5) games."

The NBA has dangled the notion that these two players could be suspended. They could not be suspended for violating the NBA's anti-drug rules. They have not been drug tested, and in any case a first marijuana offense does not result in a suspension. If the NBA was to suspend Chalmers and Arthur, one rationale could be they they missed a mandatory program.

Will Arthur and Chalmers be drug tested now?
Ordinarily, they would not be tested during the summer. However, the NBA certainly would appear to have that right now. From the collective bargaining agreement: "In the event that either the NBA or the Players Association has information that gives it reasonable cause to believe that a player is engaged in the use, possession, or distribution of a Prohibited Substance, including information that a First-Year Player may have been engaged in such conduct during the period beginning three (3) months prior to his entry into the NBA, such party shall request a conference with the other party and the Independent Expert, which shall be held within twenty-four (24) hours or as soon thereafter as the Expert is available. Upon hearing the information presented, the Independent Expert shall immediately decide whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the player in question has been engaged in the use, possession, or distribution of a Prohibited Substance. If the Independent Expert decides that such reasonable cause exists, the Expert shall thereupon issue an Authorization for Testing with respect to such player."

Did Arthur and Chalmers slide in the draft because of rumors about after-hours habits?
Both Arthur and Chalmers -- championship winning teammates at Kansas -- were drafted lower than projected.

When players slide, there is always speculation as to why. Arthur famously had a mix-up -- many teams reportedly thought he had a kidney problem, which later proved false.

But the whisper campaign about "off-court" problems is intense about many players every year, and many go on to become highly regarded professionals. And there is reason to lie -- agents and teams hoping to manipulate the draft have reason to point out flaws, perceived or real, in various players.

So, yes, there has been speculation about all kinds of players, but it's good to assume it's all nonsense unless further evidence comes to light.

Is it a good idea to kick them out of the program or should they have been forced to stay?
If your only concern in the world is the future livelihood of Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur, then you might want to have them learn what is about to be taught at the Rookie Transition Program.

But don't forget there is an entire rookie class present. People talk. If tales of women and marijuana were hanging in the air, and Chalmers and Arthur were sitting in the room smiling, would anybody in the room believe the NBA and the Players Association when they deliver their "don't do drugs" presentation?

Drugs have be
en a thorn in the League's side for decades. These few days are one of the NBA's most focused sessions dedicated to preventing illegal drug use. Reports of drugs at that very event? The League had to make an example.

Are they getting off easy?
Although the league says no decision has been made yet as to whether or not they will be suspended, it's extremely likely that Arthur and Chalmers are regretting their decision.

Before even suiting up for a single regular season NBA game, they are getting a mighty public shaming and possibly a suspension.

Every basketball person I talk to says the same thing: That was so dumb. People have reacted to the reports by accusing the players violated everything from common sense (partying at the League's big "you're a professional now" confab?) to basic pot smokers' etiquette (you mean they didn't learn about the towel-under-the-door thing in college?)

What's more, Darrell Arthur's public dressing down from the powers that be in Memphis has already begun.

Fines and suspensions are a hassle. But a global condemnation of your judgment -- that lasts a lot longer. They have a lot of work to do to restore that championship glow.