Chasity Melvin had two days to decide.
She received the call on Wednesday and needed to deliver an answer by Friday. Did she want to drop $5,900, not including airfare, to become the first WNBA participant in Sportscaster U? The three-day broadcasting seminar was developed by the NBA Players Association, in conjunction with Syracuse University's Newhouse School, and there was an open slot for early June if Melvin wanted it.
The WNBA Players Association had been trying for years to get one of its own members in front of the cameras on the practice television set. And Melvin, who played 12 years in the league, was the perfect candidate: She holds a degree in communications from North Carolina State and has always pictured having a future in the media.
But $5,900? For NBA players such as Shaquille O'Neal and Vince Carter, both graduates of Sportscaster U, that amount is what they might spend on a nice meal or a three-piece suit. To Melvin, though, it's a serious chunk of change.
"Then I started thinking," Melvin said. "And I realized I probably had spent just as much on frivolous stuff -- and this was investing in my future."
Melvin joined NBA players Quentin Richardson, Richard Jefferson and Jarron Collins on the SU campus June 3-6. The athletes took part in production meetings and filmed spots about the ongoing NBA playoffs. At the end of the jam-packed three days, each player walked away with an audition DVD.
"This is the type of work I wanted to do after college, but then the league opened up right when I graduated," said the 36-year-old Melvin, who was a first-round pick in the 1999 WNBA draft and played in Turkey last winter.
Because the Syracuse program was developed specifically for NBA players, the course uses NBA content exclusively, which means the students are expected to have an inherent knowledge of the players and teams in the league. Melvin's knowledge comes from growing up in Roseboro, N.C., and watching the league with her dad and brother, when the WNBA didn't exist.
"For women to talk about NBA basketball, there is still that stigma there," said Melvin, a 6-foot-3 forward with an easy smile. "But we watched it, and we've played the game of basketball. We know what it takes to be great on the court. And that's the most important thing."
Sportscaster U is one of many offseason programs the NBA Players Association runs for its members. The group also runs coaching clinics and seminars on investing. The goal is to prepare each player for life after basketball, which usually comes sooner than expected. The WNPBA is the lesser known of the two unions, which share office space in Harlem. The NBPA has hundreds of millionaire members and spent last summer as the protagonist in a headline-making lockout that inspired the phrase "nuclear winter" from NBA commissioner David Stern. The WNBPA, on the other hand, has had a difficult time jump-starting career counseling programs for its members because the WNBA season runs during the summer, and most players also accept overseas contracts during the winter.
"We really focus on helping our players find areas they want to get into," said Pam Wheeler, director of operations for the WNBPA. "Broadcasting, obviously, is ripe for WNBA players. We have a number of former players who are doing that now, but there are even more who are interested. We'd love to have our players participate during the summer and maybe even move to a situation where we have a separate course during a more convenient time."
The program, using the expertise of Syracuse professors and instantaneous feedback from TV talent scouts, acts as a condensed version of a semester-long class. Of the 10 NBA players who have participated in the program and retired from the league, eight are now working in broadcasting. Some are in high-profile gigs; O'Neal signed with TNT before this season. Others are color commentators for local cable stations.
"I was nervous because I was going to be the first female with the NBA guys," Melvin said. "But we were high-fiving, pumping each other up. We're competitive. When we nailed a take, we were all excited."
Melvin is part of a new generation of female athletes who have watched women such as TNT's Cheryl Miller and ESPN's Doris Burke work big-ratings NBA games. And these athletes don't just see a future in broadcasting women's games; they see a future in broadcasting, period.
"Basketball is my passion," Melvin said. "I don't just play the game; I watch the game."
Before she plunked down that $5,900 and hopped a flight to Syracuse, Melvin figured she would play another year professionally overseas, maybe even try to get back into the WNBA. Now, she's not so sure. Armed with her audition DVD and a newfound confidence about what her future might hold, she's intrigued about the possibility of jumping right into the broadcasting game.
"Now that I've had this experience, I realize how much I like it," she said. "I don't feel like I'm ready to retire, but I also don't know where this is going to take me. I think I'm going to get out of my own way and let life happen."
Not a bad idea.