You badly want to buy in.
You desperately want to believe what pretty much anybody who has anything to do with the NBA has been saying ever since the names Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin became a staple of the daily discourse.
You hope it's all true about how this league, for all of its perceived ills and shortcomings, does not have a serious bullying or hazing problem.
And I will say that case has been made to me rather strongly in consultations with various players, coaches, team officials and agents over the past week-plus.
No one is saying: You better dig deeper on this one. Not yet.
It would be naïve in the extreme to dismiss the possibility that past transgressions can still come to light or that some NBA pranks still go too far. Folks in Denver won’t soon forget the rage emanating from Kenyon Martin back in April 2010 when a former Nuggets ball boy filled Martin's Range Rover with buttered popcorn. Anyone who has read about what Gilbert Arenas once did to a shoe belonging to former Washington teammate Andray Blatche won’t soon forget, either.
But the stories I’ve heard in the wake of the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal have been largely encouraging.
"It has really lightened up in recent years," one Western Conference team official said. "This is just my opinion, but on an NBA team with a smaller roster, people are more careful not to go over the line because it's more of a family."
Modern-day NBA rookies indeed have to sing "Happy Birthday" to teammates, carry team bags to and from the plane or team bus, fetch water at practice for veterans, wear embarrassing grade-school backpacks, bring donuts to shootaround, perform occasional skits and, yes, endure the sight of their popcorn-filled cars winding up on YouTube, even after what happened to K-Mart.
Yet I've heard just as many tales of vets taking rookies under their wing and buying them meals and clothes.
“It’s not just rookies,” one general manager told ESPN.com this week. “You’ll see a lot of established guys take care of [other players] on minimum contracts when they hang out.”
There’s always a risk that pranks can and will go too far, and you can safely assume fresh examples are bound to leak out sooner rather than later, given the tools players have today -- Twitter and Instagram and Vine and whatever else is coming next -- to bring the outside world in. But there’s an important distinction to be made between pranking and intentionally inflicting physical or mental distress on a teammate under the ridiculous guise of “toughening him up.”
“There really isn’t any hazing that goes on any more,” one Eastern Conference veteran player insisted. “The league has gotten so young that it has just faded away in the last four or five years.”
Said another veteran player: "I've seen vets who give their rook their entire per diem for a whole season."
Similar sentiments from numerous players in recent weeks, to a variety of media outlets beyond this one, didn't stop the NBA from issuing a memo to all 30 teams last Friday reminding everyone that no forms of bullying or hazing would be tolerated, listing a number of behaviors that violate policy. Which immediately prompted the Minnesota Timberwolves to decree that rookies would no longer even have to tote backpacks around, such as the Jonas Brothers model that had been issued to Shabazz Muhammad.
“Now I think rookie hazing won’t exist anymore,” Muhammad told the Los Angeles Times.
As long as it never strays into the realm of harassment, threats of violence, physical or verbal abuse, intimidation, ostracism, etc., then the NBA is in a sufficiently good place. It’s folly to presume this is solely gridiron football’s problem, but the relative scarcity of tales in circulation about NBA players inflicting stress, embarrassment, humiliation or harm in any other form on another teammate is a welcome development for a league where player conduct is always scrutinized. (And sometimes unfairly overscrutinized.)
“Hazing is everywhere in sports,” one former All-Star told ESPN.com. "The NFL just takes it to another level.”