There are certain careers that countless people fantasize about, despite the fact that only a small handful of individuals ever get to experience them. Countless people dream of playing in the NBA, but (unfortunately) very few people are able to turn that dream into reality.
Only 3.4 percent of high-school basketball players go on to play at the collegiate level (Division I, II or III), according to NCAA research. From that limited pool, just 1.2 percent get drafted by an NBA team. Remember, only 60 players are drafted each year (and even that doesn’t guarantee you’ll play in an NBA game; only half of those draft picks get a guaranteed contract). Another NCAA study determined that only 0.03 percent of high-school players go on to get drafted.
However, that same NCAA study found that many college players believe they’ll make it to the professional level despite these long odds. Athletes are often told to have a backup plan, but they got to the collegiate level in large part due to their confidence and strong self-belief. They already beat the odds by becoming college-basketball players, so many go all-in on making it to the pros. This is incredibly risky. In this situation, the best thing to do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Most NBA players had some kind of alternate career in mind, just in case they got injured or weren’t good enough to play in the Association long-term. HoopsHype talked to a handful of NBA players about what they’d be doing today if they weren’t playing professional basketball.
CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers: “I’d probably be doing broadcast journalism or I’d be a stay-at-home dad. I would’ve played baseball if I didn’t play basketball, though. I chose basketball in high school, but baseball was my best sport. [I was a] shortstop and pitcher. My grandfather, James Harrison Andrews, played in the Negro Leagues. I chose basketball because my brother, Errick, chose basketball and I wanted to be like him. My heart was in basketball, but my baseball skill set was far superior. My grandfather was devastated when I told him I was going to stop playing baseball. My Ma was also a reason I picked one [sport]. She said, ‘You can’t master any sport when you’re spending time balancing three. You need to pick one and focus all your energy into one sport.’ I think she was tired of going from practice to practice (laughs). It worked out! It’s crazy how life works. But yeah, regardless, I think I would’ve ended up doing some kind of sports broadcasting eventually.” (Errick is an overseas star who has had success in a number of countries).
Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers: “I actually wanted to work in a forensics lab. Once I got to college, I realized that. I got my degree in Criminal Justice.”
Jeremy Lin, Atlanta Hawks: “To be honest, I really don’t know for sure. I think I’d probably doing some kind of philanthropic work.” (He started the Jeremy Lin Foundation, which helps underprivileged children and families. They do a number of events, such as hosting free basketball clinics and offering free meals around Thanksgiving.)
Kyle O’Quinn, Indiana Pacers: “I’d be a guidance counselor at a high school. I had a great guidance counselor when I was in high school; his name is Lloyd Desvigne. Without him, I would’ve never had a chance. He’s the reason I went back to finish school and get my degree too. I majored in Education and got my bachelor’s degree. [Working as a guidance counselor] is what I want to do when I’m done playing.”
Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls: “If I wasn’t playing basketball, I’d still be in college at the University of Arkansas working on my master’s degree. I would’ve graduated [undergrad] last year and I would be working toward my master’s degree this year. I think I’d be doing business marketing. I love anything that has to do with marketing. Marketing was my major in college. I’m a big-time people person and I have a big-time personality, so I’d want to do something where I’d be working with people too. Marketing for a company like Coke would be great.”
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: “Rapper or boxer. With boxing, I didn’t start seriously doing it until a few years ago, but I’ve always loved the sport. (Lillard has rapped since he was a kid and he has released two albums, The Letter O and Confirmed, which had a combined 25 songs; he’s worked with artists such as Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Jamie Foxx and Juvenile among others).
Quinn Cook, Golden State Warriors: “I would’ve pursued something in the movie industry. I’m into producing and editing movies and stuff like that. I majored in Theater when I was at Duke. I’m making a documentary right now. I edit a lot of videos too. I use the program Splice and a little bit of iMovie, but mainly Splice. At Duke, I didn’t put on any actual productions [for the public], but I took a class and I was in two plays. I was in The Outsiders – that’s my favorite book. I wasn’t a main character, I was just one of the Socs. It was just part of that class, it was cool.”
Langston Galloway, Detroit Pistons: “I would have played football for sure. I played wide receiver when I was younger. My favorite WRs were Keyshawn Johnson, Michael Clayton and Jerry Rice.”
Marvin Williams, Charlotte Hornets: “I’ve thought about it many times, but I honestly don’t know. I’m very much a workaholic type of person, so I definitely see myself having a great job – or maybe I’d be working two jobs. I love to work; that’s how I was raised and that’s what I’ve always seen my parents do. But I don’t know what field I’d be in. I mean, I love to work with kids. Maybe I’d be working with an after-school program? Maybe I’d be a teacher? Something like that seems great.”
Jordan Bell, Golden State Warriors: “I actually wanted to be a dentist. I never did [any work toward it]. It was just something I was always interested in. I didn’t want a job, I wanted a career. That was something I used to think of as an alternative to basketball.”
Evan Turner, Portland Trail Blazers: “I don’t really know what I’d be doing. As a kid, I was always into some kind of weirdo stuff (laughs). I used to think all of the different types of rocks were dope, so I wanted to be a geologist at one point. I always admired people who were in the arts too. Like, the way a guy like John Mayer can play the guitar is so impressive. I would’ve loved to do something in the arts, something along those lines.”
Elfrid Payton, New Orleans Pelicans: “I’d be a school teacher. My two grandparents were both teachers. I had a great 10th-grade math teacher, Mr. D, who made me want to be a teacher too.”
Ish Smith, Detroit Pistons: “I’d like to be a lawyer, you know, get into some litigation. Even though, I get scared sometimes watching Law & Order because you might get somebody off who may have actually committed the crime. That stuff can be tough. My family is always talking to me about how I’m persuasive, proving my facts (laughs).”
Garrett Temple, Memphis Grizzlies: “I’d be in business and real estate, or I would’ve went through medical school. I do business and real estate now. I have no medical experience, though (laughs).”
Damian Jones, Golden State Warriors: “The career I would be working toward is engineering manager. My major was engineering science, so I have some background there. If I wasn’t playing basketball, I think I would’ve finished school and then got a job doing that. Basically, I’d be managing the expenses on a job, putting together different teams for different projects, scheduling them and things like that. It’s a lot of project management.”
Caron Butler, Former NBA Player: “I think I would be a supervisor at a youth center and I’d be doing something in politics. I now own the Bray Center [in Racine, WI], which had a big impact on me when I was a kid. (Butler has said this is where he learned to play basketball, ate free lunches and celebrated holidays, and he has credited the Bray Center for helping him avoid a life of crime). I try to do things that make a real impact, that really change the narrative.”
Nic Batum, Charlotte Hornets: “I think I’d still be doing something around basketball. Maybe I’d be coaching young kids or I’d be a general manager or something like that. I love this game so much, I can’t see myself somewhere else or doing anything else.”
Moe Harkless, Portland Trail Blazers: “When I was in school, I really enjoyed kinesiology class (the study of body movement). Maybe I would’ve pursued something associated with that, but I’m not really sure. I don’t know for sure.”
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: “First off, I’d get my degree – that’s for certain. Then, after I got my degree, I would be… Man, I really don’t know. That’s a great question; I haven’t really thought about it. I’d get my degree in business and then I guess I’d try to work my way up in the business world. I’m not the kind of guy who’s fit for a 9-to-5 job, but I do like the competitive nature out in the business world.”
Bryan Kalbrosky contributed to this article.
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