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How Several NBA Rookies Started Making 6 Figures Before Even Being Drafted

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Most athletes picked in this year's NBA draft played basketball in college or maybe for an overseas pro team, but not the guy who went second overall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SILVER: The Houston Rockets select Jalen Green, from Merced, Calif...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes, Lord.

SILVER: ...And the NBA...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes, Lord.

SILVER: ...G League.

CHANG: Ignite is a new team in the NBA's minor league, the G League, but unlike other G League teams, it's set up specifically to attract elite talent straight out of high school with six-figure contracts. And along with Jalen Green, Ignite also produced two more players picked in this year's draft. Joining us now is NBA G League president, himself a former NBA All-Star, Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

Welcome.

SHAREEF ABDUR-RAHIM: Ailsa, thank you. Thank you for having me.

CHANG: Thank you for being with us. All right. So, you know, the G League, it's been around for a while, but this was the very first season for the Ignite team. Can you just tell us how, like, the Ignite team got started in the first place?

ABDUR-RAHIM: Ignite is really birthed out of a place of young people looking for opportunities in between their prep experience. In between high school and professional, you had young men taking gap years. You had some that were, you know, domestic - from here in the United States, they would go abroad and play professionally for a year before entering the NBA. Our focus is helping them prepare for the NBA.

CHANG: So how does a day in the life of a G League Ignite player stack up compared to, say, the day in the life of an NBA player?

ABDUR-RAHIM: I'd say, one, it's, you know, it's concentrated. The focus is the development on court. And, you know, you'll start with, you know, practice, team meetings, breakfast and skill development. The day centers around that. However, included in that is a lot of our off-court programming, so college courses. We provide all of our players, all of our young people, tuition and scholarship to Arizona State University, so there's classes. We have a robust program of what I would call off-court development, everything from financial literacy to learning about being an entrepreneur.

CHANG: That's so cool. And how did you learn that kind of stuff when you were coming up, all that off-court knowledge?

ABDUR-RAHIM: A lot of it I learned in my professional career.

CHANG: Yeah.

ABDUR-RAHIM: And I think what we have the opportunity to do is precursor, you know?

CHANG: Exactly.

ABDUR-RAHIM: For example, they'll always - you know, the one thing I always say to our players, they don't realize their first paycheck - they get their first paycheck, and they're like, wow, what happened to all my money?

CHANG: (Laughter) Taxes.

ABDUR-RAHIM: And - but they don't realize - right? And they don't realize that, you know, every state that they perform in, every state they compete in, they pay taxes in those state (ph).

CHANG: Well, let me ask you - you know, when it comes to attracting people to a team like Ignite, I mean, a real salary is obviously a big draw. But as of this summer, college athletes can be paid for things like brand endorsements. Do you think that that will discourage players from joining a team like Ignite?

ABDUR-RAHIM: I don't think so. Because I think the young man that, you know, turns professional or, you know, doesn't go to college and comes to Ignite, again, like, that's a unique or a specific young man that said, look, I want to hone my skills in a professional environment against professionals, against competition.

CHANG: Right. What about you? Like, when you look back on your career - you played one year at UC Berkeley, I understand, before a successful career in the NBA. Do you kind of wish you had the option of something like Ignite when you were coming up?

ABDUR-RAHIM: It would have been really intriguing for me. You know, I think what's really different about this era of young people is they're so much more informed, they're so much more empowered, you know, they have so much more access. Like, I didn't have, you know, access to professional sports. And, I mean, it just seemed like another world to me at that time. And like you said, a year later, six months later, you know, I was in a position to do those things. And all of this has kind of come together so fast. But it definitely - you know, what we offer with Ignite would have definitely been intriguing to me at that time.

CHANG: Shareef Abdur-Rahim, president of the NBA's minor league, the G League.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

ABDUR-RAHIM: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "SOURCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.