Rookie Transition Program

NBA Class Trains Players To Be Responsible Athletes

Last summer began, as NBA summers always do, with Commissioner David Stern basking in the spotlight.

Stern introduced the NBA's latest rookie class, welcoming new multi-millionaires - many of them teenagers - into the $3 billion a year corporation he oversees.

And to continue building his league into a global brand-name, Stern dispatched ambassadors to some of the world's troubled corners. Correspondent Harold Dow reports.

"Players spent this summer visiting the troops in Iraq. Visiting orphanages and others in South Africa," he says. "But that wasn't the summer stories. The summer was a police blotter."

Because of the sexual assault charge against Kobe Bryant, the summer was a siege as Stern tried to contain and explain the damage.

"Every single action is being dissected by the media because that's the way our business runs," says Stern. "We're in the business of manufacturing, if you would, celebrities."

Stern spoke last week as the NBA cracked opened the doors of its "Rookie Transition Program" for the first time and gave 48 Hours Investigates an exclusive look inside. Since 1986, every rookie, including Kobe Bryant, has been required to attend the 6-day program -- a crash course on the high-profile, high-risk life of an NBA player.

The program is all business: 12 hours of classes a day, and players are not allowed to leave or have visitors.

The NBA also requires rookies to attend classes that they would not let us see on subjects such as Gambling, Felony Situations, Drugs and Alcohol, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Health. The goal of these classes seems clear --help players stay out of trouble, which in turn helps the NBA protect its investment, and its image.

"We want them to know that they're going to be defined in the media by their weakest moment," says Stern. "And we're here to remind you that those decisions can have horrific consequences for you and the league."

"What Rookie Transition does is try to expand guys' horizons. There are always people out there who want to get in their pocket. There's always lovely ladies that might have another agenda," says NBA Hall of Famer Bob Lanier.

His message was direct: players are targets.

"They have to be careful about that. So what we try to do is to raise the awareness level, so they can have a basic understanding of things that can be coming at them," says Lanier.

Which players are most at risk? Those like Kobe Bryant who enter the league straight out of high school, says Mike Bantom, who runs the program: "All of a sudden everybody wants something from you. And the guys are probably less equipped to deal with them today because they're younger, less mature, for the most part, less education."

The NBA is anxious to escape the shadow of the Kobe Bryant case, and it is also anxious to establish new stars. So on the program's second day, the league took its rookies out to learn the ropes of community service, and to generate some good news for a change. The rookies went with some veteran players to a hospital to see sick children. They also stopped at a school, to promote reading.

"Before I was a basketball player I was a student, so I'm here to encourage the kids to read," says Jarvis Hayes, 21, of Atlanta. He played basketball for the University of Georgia and is one of this year's most promising rookies.

Jarvis says he's taking the league's warnings seriously: "We're wanted people, you know? Everybody wants a piece of the pie."

Does he feel like a target?

"I don't feel like a target, but I am a target. And knowing that, I'm looking out for my back and for my best interests. It's sometimes hard to say 'No.' Temptation's tough, but I think I can handle it," he says.

Are his parents and family excited? "I think they're the ones that's scared because I'm finally getting out, being on my own," he says. "So I kind of ease them up every time I talk to them, tell them, 'I'm okay.'"

Jarvis' parents, James and Yvonne, believe he's on the right track.

"Jarvis is going to do real good," says his father, James. "And if he keeps his feet on the ground, he'll be even happier. And it all boils down to: do the right thing."

This week, the NBA turned to its main business, and opened training camps, as Jarvis Hayes officially began his professional career. NBA counselors will keep in personal contact with Jarvis and the other rookies and try to nurture them throughout their first year, and beyond.

"I think I'm well-prepared for the NBA game, and life, on and off the court," says Jarvis, who enters a league that is steeling itself for a season like no other - a season where every move Kobe Bryant makes will be watched as never before.

"I would say that from a basketball matter, Kobe Bryant is one of the brightest stars in the NBA," says Stern. "There are certain accusations. There's a trial coming up that will resolve those hopefully. And the season will go on."