My First 100 Days in Retirement
September 27, 2010
It has been a month since I officially announced my retirement on August 17. But today (the first official day of training camp and Media Day) was the first day I REALLY knew I was retired.
Let's backtrack a little bit. Because of a series of events that occurred (particularly when I injured my knee while practicing with Dwight Howard in Los Angeles last summer), I thought the time came for me to hang it up. I had surgery on my knee, but it never really got better. It didn't really make sense for me to continue playing if I didn't think I was healthy enough to really get on the floor. This game is mentally exhausting and physically grueling, so the best thing for me to do was step aside and focus on the next phases of my life.
I retired on my own terms (I wrote a poem about it, made the media rounds and walked off into the sunset). But after the smoke cleared, I began to think: "Now what?" I spent the next month trying to figure out what I could do next. My first priority was to finish my Master's Degree in Sports Psychology. After that, I had to look for a job. And I had to really think about what it was I wanted to do. Third, I had to think about financial constraints because even though I made a good deal of money as an NBA player, I was no longer making that kind of money as a retired player. It's now a matter of taking better care of my expenses and being more mindful of where the money is going. Any experiments or other business moves would have to be looked at more closely. (The fallacy is that retired NBA players can live off their wealth and not have to work again. The truth is, there are a great deal of NBA players who struggle financially after their playing days are over).
It's not like retired players can't have fun anymore. They can still do the things they love to do, but they have to watch their money a lot closer because those long-term contracts are long gone. For me, it will be a tough transition - but a transition I'm looking forward to facing.
I was happy that the Orlando Magic organization offered me a position in the front office (I am the new Director of Player Development). I didn't know what it would mean to be working in basketball during my post-playing days. But this is as close to the game as I can get and still feel like I'm contributing to the team. The first few days on the job, I felt really excited about my new role. But something hit me once I made my way to the training room. I refused to set foot in the locker room because I knew that if I went in there, I would have to deal with the inevitable - that I really was retired. So I refused to go into the locker room for the first three weeks.
This brings us back to today - Media Day. Today became the first reality of the physical dimension of the game. I felt the consequences of no longer being one of the guys on the floor with his uniform on and talking to reporters. Anything that has happened up to this day dealt more and more with things outside of the game itself. But when it came to Media Day, it was more about missing the game. Just seeing the guys again, getting together as a group with their uniforms on really made me wonder how I was going to deal with this transition. When I went on to the basketball court and saw all the cameras, I literally had to get myself back to the office until the day was over. It was the first time reality really sat in and I thought: OH MY GOD, I am retired now. And that feeling scared the bejeesus out of me.
Most retired players would rather not talk about the next phases in their lives and would rather talk about the good old days. For me, one of the reasons why I wanted to write about this is because I spent the better part of the last two years writing my Master's thesis on the experiences of NBA players. I interviewed nine retired players and had them talk about the journey toward retirement and what it felt like. As this season approaches, my first season as a retired player, I thought this was a way for me to actually deal with this on a first-hand basis. I want to look at my first 100 days of being retired and chronicle what that journey looks like. I want this to be a first-hand experience about honestly going through the day-to-day ups and downs of no longer being a player - having to work in an office and finding myself during that process. It's really a discovery and quest to find out who I am. Part of this journey will be how to shred the legacy of being simply a basketball player - something that was a part of me for 20 years. How can I let go of that social status? How do I find and merge apart outside the confines of basketball? And how can I jump out of that identity of being a basketball player and become someone else?
This will be a difficult journey for me. But I feel that if I can be honest with myself - as well as all of you - this is a ride that I know can be enjoyable as well. After talking to nine retired players about this issue, I now have first-hand experience of what it is like to be a former player in this league. Perhaps this is also a chance to see if my experiences are parallel to those nine former players. I'm interested to see which experiences are similar and which are different.
Along with this being a new blog, it is also a comparative study from the people I worked with over the past two years to look at my journey and see what is different from theirs. It is to share the ups and downs with the readers and not shield any kind of pain that comes with not being a player anymore. It is also a chance for me to talk honestly about something that most people in the league wants to talk about - from the financial aspect to the emotional aspect and everything in between. It is more for my discovery than anything else. With that said, these first 100 days of retirement is a chance for me to really put everything out there and see just how honest I can be during this new journey. I welcome other retirees to share if they have similar experiences and talk about what their journey was like. I also encourage other players who are still in the league to read this and share any anxiety they may have when it comes to pondering retirement.
I anticipate these 100 days to be nothing but excitement, joy, frustration, sadness, anxiety, jubilation and fear - not in any particular order. I hope you will join me on the ride.
See you soon.
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