In 1996, Kobe Bryant’s agent, Arn Tellem, told the New Jersey Nets his client wouldn’t report to training camp and play in Italy if they drafted him with the No. 8 pick. Tellem then made the same threat to the Charlotte Hornets to convince them to trade his rights to the Lakers.
It was an infamous, occasionally maligned play that would be pedestrian in this year’s draft, where Luka Doncic’s medical reports are a mystery, multiple prospects are actively dodging the Kings, and Mo Bamba has reportedly refused to work out for the Grizzlies and made it clear he doesn’t want them to draft him. None of these tidbits have yielded much criticism.
The corruption and exploitation inside the NCAA and the prep-to-pro pipeline, alongside increased power and player movement within the NBA, have culminated into a public discourse where players who obfuscate power structures are met with little more than, ‘hey, get yours.’
By shielding medical records and conducting controlled agency workouts, players and their agents have turned information into power, shifting control slightly toward draftees.
The information war has already seeped into a nascent area: psychological testing.
At Fansided, Ben Dowsett reported more than 50 prospects have taken the Athletic Intelligence Quotient test, which measures visual spatial processing, reaction time, decision making, and learning efficiency. It was created by Scott Goldman, a performance psychologist and founder of Athletics Intelligence Measures, LLC, which already serves six NBA teams.
There’s standardized testing conducted by a professional ... and then there’s its roughshod, less effective little brother: the pre-draft interview.
The goal, in an era of well-coached interviewees, is to put players in new, uncomfortable positions and see how they react. But when brain-teasers — what weighs more, 10 pounds of feathers or 10 pounds of bricks? How many basketballs can fit in this room? Can you sell a pen like the guy in Wolf of Wall Street — get rooted out, things can get uncomfortable and invasive. In 2017, HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy reported players were asked what they drink at the club, their favorite strain of weed, and whether they engage in safe sex.
On Wednesday, Kevin Knox told Sports Illustrated’s Jake Fischer that one team repeatedly asked him if he had a child, only for them to admit they made the query up. It’s likely not the first time something like this has happened — the NFL has trafficked in invasive, personal mind-games with pre-draft interviewees for years — and it won’t be the last.
When asked about Knox’s revelation, an NBA spokesperson told SB Nation the league is “looking into it.”
As they do, these are the questions that need answering. What are NBA teams trying to uncover with these lines of questioning? Are they merely throwing stereotypical barbs against the wall and seeing if they stick? Or is it all in the name of throwing athletes off their scripts by taking a morally bankrupt line merely because walking out of the room means running the risk of getting a reputation for having attitude problems at a time when every narrative has the power to launch a player into a lower tax bracket?
Teams should be careful to balance their hunt for every ounce of information with a kernel of basic decency, not only for ethical reasons, but also for self-interest. The structure of a draft guarantees the teams possess hard power — they do, after all, make the pick — but the fact that players are asserting more control over the process than ever suggests team executives might want to consider themselves equal parts interviewer and interviewee. They, too, are auditioning. And why would any player want to play for a team whose pre-draft modus operandi is to put them through the emotional grinder?
The era of psychological testing has arrived, and it’s not going anywhere. Marginal prospects like possible second-rounders will likely have to bear the brunt of shitty questions until the NBA imposes stricter guidelines on the types of questions that are deemed appropriate.
For higher-end prospects, the ethics and efficacy of these pre-draft interviews deserve more scrutiny. What gives the league’s most decrepit and poorly-ran franchises the right to needle players who have studied meticulously — and in some cases sacrificed their childhood — to venture into a life with no real guidebook? While the Kings weigh their options, shouldn’t every prospect they might draft get to ask them why they’re in the lottery for the 12th straight year?
Kevin Knox might be Kawhi Leonard in-waiting. Why aren’t NBA teams trying to impress him?