Learned Behavior

The rookie class is hearing all about Kobe. Are they listening?

Updated: August 20, 2003, 11:30 AM ET
By By Carmen Thompson | ESPN The Magazine
Ah, beginnings. It's early August in the Knicks' chilly practice gym in Tarrytown, N.Y., and much of the NBA class of '03 is suited up for their rookie trading cards photo op. Just the day before in Eagle, Colo., Kobe Bryant was suited up in a cream-colored linen suit to hear a judge read the sexual assault charges against him. And while Kobe isn't the topic of all the between-shoot chatter -- there were new Hummers and homes for moms and other stuff to talk about -- he wasn't ever far below the radar.

"A lot of players are scared right now because of the Kobe situation," says the Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony, 19. "I think things will mellow for a while. And then it'll wear off." And that's the fear -- and reality -- for those closest to the rookies, the people who'd lectured them to watch their backs well before the Kobe story broke. No lectures were scheduled on this day, but come late September, this rookie crop will be captive attendees at a six-day orientation on such topics as sexual health and finances. They can hardly wait. "Just telling me stuff I already know," says Raptors F Chris Bosh, 19. "If you slip up, your business is gonna be out in the streets -- so you've got to be careful. You already know that."