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The Life

November 1, 2001
The D-League life
ESPN The Magazine

During a weeklong tryout, The Magazine's Chris Palmer experienced life in the NBDL firsthand. It was a rough landing back here in the real world.

I wake up most days wondering if I've got exact change to get to work. Or sometimes maybe I pack a lunch or can't find two socks that match. You know what I'm talking about.

But last month, I tried out for the NBA's new minor league, the National Basketball Developmental League, and the only thing on my mind in the morning was not getting stuck behind a pick. Okay, that's not entirely true. I also thought about getting good rotation on my jumpshot and getting back fast in transition. Not to mention keeping my knees properly bent on D. And add about a thousand other things that you have to do to play good ball.

Midway through the seven-day tryout at Suwanee Sports Academy in Suwanee, Ga., I'd forgotten I was more reporter than baller. I was more concerned with holding my own than getting the scoop. But that's how it is when nothing else matters except playing well. You forget your life when your life is what you're fighting for.

After a while I got into a comfortable groove and did more playing than thinking. A jumper here, a steal there. Oh all right, maybe a turnover or two as well. But it didn't make a difference because the entire week was pure fantasy. I was in a pro camp with nothing to lose. This was the closest I'd ever get to playing in the NBA, and I cherished each box out, each shot attempt and each time my coach shouted "Good job, Chris."

It was hardly glamorous, but it was enough. And I knew how to play the part. Whenever I needed the trainer, I wouldn't hesitate to enlist the services of three or four at a time: one to tape my ankles, another to massage my aching wrist -- the victim of a brutal pick -- and someone on standby. Bags of ice were a mandatory part of the experience. Is this what Kobe feels like when trainers prep him for a game? Maybe.

The entire week, Magazine photographer Ross F. Dettman followed me around, shooting my every move. I'd walk to the drinking fountain with Ross in front of me perilously backpedaling through power forwards to get "the shot". The constant flashbulbs turned heads all week.

Wherever I went players, coaches and league personnel wanted to know how my week was going, many paying close attention to me. I was the reporter, but they were the ones asking all the questions. To complete the experience, I had to take care of the ballboys. I gave one kid a pair of sneaks and handed out several copies of ESPN The Magazine. I wasn't Vince, but it was good enough for them.

And me, too.

Chris Palmer covers The NBA Life for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

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