Graduation advice for former pro athletes

Don Nelson has 1,355 coaching wins in the NBA ... and now a bachelor's degree from Iowa. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

In recent weeks, Shaquille O'Neal, Don Nelson and Shareef Abdur-Rahim have all earned college degrees. But realizing that none of the commencement speakers were able to offer advice suitable for high profile sports figures, we at ESPN Playbook have put together our own commencement speech to help the newly graduated sports heroes put the right foot forward as they take the next big step in their lives.

To the class of 2012:

Congratulations on receiving your degree, an accomplishment that very well may be mentioned in your obituary if editors have nothing else to fill the space. This marks the end of an important era in your life but also the beginning of a new one: an era of waning relevance. You can either embrace this new era gracefully, adapting to a casual civilian lifestyle, or you can resist it in spectacular fashion by starting a boy band with Jose Canseco that is really an elaborate front for an illegal chimp trafficking operation. There is no middle ground.

Going forth, you will pursue some exciting goals, and with patience and grit you will almost certainly achieve them. But you will undeniably make some mistakes along the way. You might accidentally spend a million dollars on a Tempurpedic lawn, or perhaps a Dolce & Gabbana meniscus. It happens. But you’ll emerge from your mistakes a better man, just as Dennis Rodman has considered doing from time to time.

As you are no ordinary graduate, it would be pointless to give you ordinary advice. So please take the following tips to heart knowing that they’re designed for someone just like you:

  • If you ever feel undervalued, try moving to China. They’ll likely commemorate you with a statue.

  • Change your name to Magic. It should help you with any business ventures you choose to pursue.

  • Be a mentor to young college athletes who are thinking of dropping out. Let them know that they’ll never be able to weather the avalanche of cash in the pros without first earning a sheet of paper in college.

  • If you’re meeting with a Weight Watchers rep about an endorsement deal, give him a curtsy instead of a handshake if you really want the job.

  • So go forth as new men, graduates, and harness your degrees to help you pursue your loftiest backup dreams. Your time is now ... or, um, at least it was 20 years ago. Make the most of it.

Thank you, and congratulations.