NBA executives have plenty of horror stories about teens who had all of the athletic talent necessary to play in the NBA, but didn’t make it because they weren’t mature enough. The individuals who struggle are often the ones who continue acting like a typical teenager rather than growing up and being a professional. They oversleep, eat fast food and have their priorities out of order. Many mismanage their money, especially when they are trying to keep up with the spending habits of their veteran teammates who have much larger contracts and much more saved up from their time in the league. For many, it’s also the first time they’ve lived on their own and had any freedom, which can lead to issues as well. One executive described a high-profile prospect who had issues with basic things like paying his bills and opening a bank account.
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Delta selects sports-charter flight attendants candidates based on attendance, commendations and work history. Officials from college and professional teams then get to sit in on interviews with flight attendants each season, and draft their preferred roster. Flight attendants typically wear team-branded shirts instead of airline uniforms. “You’d think they want the youngest and best-looking, but it’s not that way at all. They want experienced, well-spoken flight attendants with a professional attitude,” said Mr. Wernecke. “Teams are afraid of the 23-year-old beauty queen. They think only bad things can happen.”
Team charters often used to amount to a fraternity party of beer, pizza and junk food, sometimes with guitar playing and rookie hazing, but airlines say the days of raucous party flights are gone. Many teams ban alcohol, have nutritionists select menus and set up plane interiors so coaches can study game films and players can sleep. The most popular drink on National Basketball Association flights, according to Delta: Snapple Kiwi-Strawberry juice drink.
Delta takes eight of its Airbus A319 jets out of regular passenger service in October and installs special interiors designed by the NBA. Instead of 126 seats, there are only 54. The plane is segregated into three cabins—the front for players, with 16 seats that fold out into beds for 7-footers, 10 seats in the middle for coaches and 28 in the rear for team staff, security and beat reporters. Even the seats in the rear have more space than normal domestic first-class seats.