The recent trade that sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets was shocking in-part because of the major ramifications it had on the teams involved—not just Houston and OKC, but also the other contending teams in the Western Conference. But as much as it was significant on the court, the Harden trade also helped remind us all, that off the court, the NBA is a major business.
Harden may have built up a fantastic rapport with his teammates in OKC, and the Thunder fans, but because of the millions of dollars involved, ultimately Sam Presti was forced to make a business decision. One day Harden was dreaming of creating a dynasty with his buddies Durant and Westbrook, and the next he was unceremoniously shipped off to Texas. It’s not always pretty, and the more idealistic among us might hate it, but professional basketball is not simply a game.
We recently had a chance to sit down with some young NBA pros, and we asked them about the business side of the sport they love.
BALLnROLL.com: At what point in your career did you realize that this is more of a business than a game?
Al Jefferson: I realized that early, my first or second year in the league. It’s a business, nothing personal, always a business. Teams are gonna do what’s best for their team and players are gonna do what’s best for themselves.
Ed Davis: (pause) I wouldn’t say at a certain point, but you just know. There’s a lot of money involved, you’ve got contracts, you know. You might have guys on certain teams that are playing just for their contract, so we take it as a business. Some guys get put in tough situations where they might never play, so they’re handling everything professionally and truly as a business, and some guys think it’s just basketball. But at the back of your mind it’s a business to everyone because you’ve got to be professional. It’s a job, you know, that’s what we get paid to do. We’ve got to be on time and you’ve got to present yourself well, all of those little things. But it wasn’t one thing that made me think, ‘oh man, this is a business’. I’ve always loved doing what I’m doing.
Gerald Green: Honestly man, late in my career. Probably when I was in Dallas. That’s when I started getting the picture, but it was too late at that time. It was just too late and that’s why I was out of the league.
Gordon Hayward: I think my rookie year when our head coach (Jerry Sloan), who had been there for 20-something years, just all of a sudden resigned, and our all-star point-guard (Deron Williams) got traded. Going into the season I would’ve thought those two would’ve been the farthest guys to be traded, but they were both gone so that made me realize that it’s definitely a business.
Jose Calderon: (laughing) I think, you know, at the end of the day for us it’s still a game. There’s a lot of things around it, a lot of things you can’t control as a player, but it’s still a game. When you’re living inside a locker room, when you’re just getting ready for the next game, practicing hard, getting the scouting reports, what you’re going to do in the next game, it’s still a game. Yes, it’s true, there’s a lot of stuff with the NBA everyday, a lot of media things, and a lot of things going around, but for me you’ve got to see it as a game, because if not you’ll get a little bit crazy (laughing).
Tyler Hansbrough: I knew that coming in. I talked to a lot of guys coming through, but probably when I first got drafted and showed up in the locker room. I knew it was more of a business than a college thing.
BALLnROLL.com: Because of that, did basketball change personally for you, from a game to a business?
Al Jefferson: No, it’s still a game. It’s still about the game of basketball. You just can’t forget the business part too.
Ed Davis: No, no, no. The only thing is that it’s just more serious. It’s more pressure. You have to perform because these teams are paying you big money to perform. You gotta perform every night. You gotta be there, you know what I mean?
Gerald Green: Nah, you know what, I don’t thing any of these guys think it’s an innocent game. This is a game we love. I never treated it like it was an innocent game. I just still kinda thought that it was just a game. This aint no game, this is a business, but that’s how I took it. I just thought it was just a game.
Gordon Hayward: I think it makes you realize that you can’t get too comfortable wherever you’re at because at any point in time you can be traded. You’ve got to realize that it’s a business and they’re (the front office) trying to win ball games. Whatever they see fit is what’s going to happen. You’ve just got to be a professional about it, and if you get traded, or one of your teammates gets traded, you wish them good luck and they’re on their own.
Tyler Hansbrough: Definitely. Once you reach this level it’s definitely a business. You know, when there’s that much money involved you’ve got to have a business approach to it.
BALLnROLL.com: Have you experienced a situation that left a bad taste in your mouth?
Al Jefferson: Nah. I mean, not that I can remember.
Ed Davis: Nah.
Gerald Green: Getting cut from the Houston Rockets. Man, it was just tough. I had just got traded back to my hometown, and I was there for two weeks and I got released. That’s something that started the avalanche of being out of the league and going overseas.
Jose Calderon: Not really. I think I’ve always tried to be professional, to do my best. Don’t worry about the stuff you cannot control. So, I think I’m very honest with everything I do and I’m pretty happy with the way things have been going. You may like for other people to do something better, or different, but that’s with everything in life, with your job, and your life, and your family. But at the end of the day you’ve gotta go to bed everyday thinking you’re a better person and that you did the right thing. That’s what I’m trying to do everyday.
Tyler Hansbrough: No.
BALLnROLL.com: Is this statement true for you: Home is home, my friends are my friends, and everything in the NBA is just temporary, because it can change at a moments notice?
Al Jefferson: Things can change, yeah. That’s a true statement.
Ed Davis: Yeah, sure.
Gerald Green: No, that aint true. You might meet somebody in this league and he might turn out to be a great friend. I know of a player who had a baby and he named one of his teammates the godfather of his son, so that definitely is not true. Every person’s different, but in my eyes it’s not different. You may meet some of these players and you may touch them in a different type of way than another player might touch that player. It just depends on what type of person you are. Everybody’s different.
Gordon Haywood: Yeah, I think for the most part in the NBA that’s kind of how it is. Like I said, I would’ve thought Deron Williams would’ve never been traded. He was an all-star, someone you would think that they wouldn’t get rid of. But like I said, they make decisions up there, what they think is best for the team and the organization, so you’ve just got to roll with it.
Jose Calderon: It’s true that it can change in a moment, but I think when you’ve been enough time in one place you can have friends forever. I like to have friends in Toronto, not only basketball-wise, but also outside of basketball. That’s the main thing. Hopefully I can keep those friends for life, that’s what you expect. It’s weird to have just temporary friends.
Tyler Hansbrough: Yeah, to a degree.
BALLnROLL.com: Now that the ‘CEO’ of NBA Incorporated has announced his retirement next year, help us grade his 30 years of work.
Al Jefferson: It’s been wonderful. He took the NBA worldwide. I think he did a hell of a job during the lockout for the owners. He’s just a smart man—a smart, business-intelligent man. It’s been a job well done and now he can sit at home and spend time with his family.
Ed Davis: I think he did a good job. People say he’s going down as one of the best commissioners ever so you’ve got to respect him. He did a great job, and I hope he finishes off on a good note, and gets the credit he deserves.
Gerald Green: (pause) I don’t know. He’s done a great job of incorporating his stamp on this league and I think he’ll truly be missed.
Gordon Hayward: (laughing) I haven’t even been alive for all of the time he’s been here, but from when I’ve been in the league, I think he’s done a great job of promoting the game worldwide. I think it’s becoming a lot more international now, with the games we have over in Europe and China, and different things like that, so I think he’s done a great job with that.
Jose Calderon: I think he’s done great. The NBA has grown so much everywhere in the world and that’s got to be credited to him because he’s the one, the man in charge. I think for sure he’s done a great job and hopefully the league keeps on going that way and growing. I think basketball is followed everywhere now and is getting bigger in countries that never followed basketball before, so that’s a good thing.
Tyler Hansbrough: I think the commissioner’s been great. He’s done a lot. He’s one of the more respected commissioners in professional sports.
BALLnROLL.com: Pick the next commissioner from the following: Adam Silver, Donald Trump, Martha Stewart, Bill Gates, or Mr. Burns.
Al Jefferson: (laughing) It doesn’t matter. Who’s the man next up? (BALLnROLL: Adam Silver) Adam, yeah. He’s the man because he’s behind David Stern.
Ed Davis: It’s got to be Adam Silver. This is serious man. We’re not going to bring Donald Trump in to make it a business and just mess it all up. You’ve got to bring someone in who’s dedicated to it and who’s going to take over and do the right thing.
Gordon Hayward: (laughing) I know Adam Silver is definitely the next commissioner, but those are some funny names.
Jose Calderon: (laughing) Everybody talks really good about Silver. He’s been in the business before and he knows how everything goes. He’s going to have new ideas, but still, it’s better because he knows what it’s about.
Tyler Hansbrough: (laughing) Probably Donald Trump.