The most exciting part of starting a basketball season for players is that no two are ever the same, and each year brings new opportunities, new hope, and new challenges. But every season has one thing in common: after the final buzzer of the last game sounds, life takes a dramatic turn, and the offseason begins.
What are the biggest differences between in-season life and off-season life?
One nice thing about being a professional basketball player during the season is that there is more down time than most jobs can offer. Non-game days consist of a combination of shooting, lifting, treatment, and practice. Most of the required work takes between 3-6 hours per day, plus extra individual work. The rest of the day is yours to use for rest, recovery, and anything else. I had a baby and a wife for the last few years of my career, so the amount of time I got to spend with them was invaluable.
Although most days had a good amount of down time, there weren’t many full days off. The few we did have were used as recovery days. As a pro player, there are no free weekends, no vacation days, and no travel days for that 10-month season. The job gets credit for being “glamorous,” but most days are anything but that. When I had friends come stay with me while I was playing in Europe, often they’d be extremely disappointed by how rare we would go out on adventures.
I tried my best to entertain, but there just aren’t many opportunities. Many of my teammates that would head back to America immediately after the season and, although they spent 10 months playing in a country, never actually got to see any of it.
So when the offseason comes, the freedom that comes with it is a big deal. Although staying in shape and improving is the main goal in those summer months, I usually had some travel plans queued up by season’s end. The travel window is small, so it’s important to take advantage. I tried to stick to a strict offseason workout schedule, but it’s nice to be able to move some of my training to different times if I need to.
The other big change that happened every offseason: how my body would feel. As I wrote in my last article, no one is completely healthy during the season; every player is fighting some little ache somewhere. When not doing contact drills, my body would feel amazing when I woke up in the morning—no new bruises or pain. It’s a little thing, but I can’t explain how refreshing it is.
What is free agency like?
One of the worst parts of pro ball overseas is a lack of stability. I was lucky enough to be with the same team in France for six years, but that rarely ever happens in Europe. And although I was there that long, there were still some nervous summers. I had an agent for the first couple years of my career, but I negotiated for myself for my final four.
Multiple-year contracts are more rare in Europe. I only had one 2-year contract during my career, so almost every season ended with some degree of uncertainty. Even when I felt like a lock to return, I never knew for certain without a contract. Things change, and I’ve seen other players get strung along by agents and teams. There are plenty of promises about dollar amounts or interest, but things sometimes just don’t get finalized and then calls don’t get returned. It can be frustrating. I learned very early in my career that until you ink a contract, nothing is for sure.
I have seen the season begin while very talented players sit at home without a job. It’s not easy. Watching other players sign—especially worse players—and not having a team yourself is a scary feeling. You never know when your time is up. Jackie MacMullan wrote an article last year that covers the feelings of that moment very well, which she hit spot-on: very few players get to go out on their own accord. The rest are still waiting on the contract offer that never came.
Even after a solid season and with some actual contract offers on the table, not knowing where you will be can be tough, as well. Not only did I have to look out for my wellbeing, but I had my family with me. I really liked staying with my team in Tarbes because my family was comfortable and safe there, and knowing they’d be taken care of if something happened to me was very important. Especially with new cultures and different languages, signing with an organization that could not offer that sense of security was a big deterrent.
When choosing a team, city is important, but the team itself is one of the most crucial elements. Finding yourself on a losing team or a situation you might not succeed in could be a step back for your career. Everything—style of play, management, teammates, and coaches—has a direct effect on your season.
Free agency is not easy, and there’s a lot to consider. People will have their thoughts and opinions about what you should do, but at the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you and your family. After going through free agency so many times, I now tend to be very compassionate to NBA players who have to make hard calls.
How much does the offseason differ after a bad season compared to after winning a championship?
The simple answer: not as much as you would think it would. After a championship, I’d celebrate more in the days following a successful season than after a bad season, but for the most part, not much else changes.
There is a bit of an emptiness either way, and it takes a few days for it to register that the season is actually over, and I always miss playing no matter how it went. Ending a season on a good note or a with a championship helps your reputation, negotiations for the following year, and makes you happy and nostalgic every time someone asks “How did your season go?”
But for the most part, I would move on from a season shortly after it ended. I felt like no matter the outcome of the previous year, my drive during the offseason to win a championship the following year did not fluctuate; the winning and the championships really only became a big deal to me after I retired. But now, those are still the moments I remember (and talk about) the most—some of which I’ll share here in the coming weeks.
Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a new series from former professional basketball player Brian Freeman, who will be providing insights into a player’s perspective and approach to the game every other week for Blazer’s Edge. Brian can be found via email (Bfreemo24@gmail.com) or on Twitter (@BrianFreeman24) for questions or future topic suggestions.