Not that long ago, The Mag’s NFL Player X (whoever he is) estimated that 30 percent of married NFL players cheat on their wives. I was surprised to hear it was that low. In the NBA, I think it’s closer to 60 percent. When you get a bunch of young, rich guys together, infidelity can be contagious. It’s like high school — the young guys watch the older players to see how things are done.
Respected vets like Kevin Ollie or Derek Fisher set good examples, though, for guys across the NBA. There are a lot of players who stick in this league for way longer than they should because they’re family men who keep rookies in check. They’ll call you out on your dumb mistakes. I know the vets I played with early on helped keep me straight. They’d warn me off the groupies who’d been going after NBA players for years.
I’ve had girls approach me at the hardware store and act like they didn’t know who I was. I’ve been followed at the mall. There are groupies who hang around my neighborhood trying to bump into me on the street. They don’t care if I’m married or not.
The whole thing seems innocent but most often it’s not. We’re talking about strangers here, who are following us. Fall in love with the wrong one, and you can end up trapped, with a child you never expected or a wife you weren’t ready for. People ask me all the time how many of the women I meet are looking for a ring. I have to assume it’s all of them, because I’ve never met a groupie who was in it just to have fun. Those girls take the long view, and it’s not always about love.
Look at what happened with Dirk last year. He fell for a groupie, gave the girl an engagement ring, only to find out she was a criminal. The situation blew up right during the playoffs, so his teammates ended up answering questions about the woman when they were trying to focus on the Nuggets. It’s not good when those problems trickle into the locker room.
Trades have been arranged because one woman is involved with two guys on the same team. That’s what happened in Dallas some years ago. And right now I know of one girl who is dating two NBA players. One makes her car payments, and the other pays her rent. They don’t know about each other, but they do share a money manager who’s writing both checks. It’s bound to blow up at some point.
Truth is, NBA players are easy targets. We’re not like most guys, who can meet a nice girl at work or at a barbecue. We are recognized and treated differently pretty much everywhere we go. Most of us have grown up in an environment where we’ve been given whatever we wanted, so a woman approaching us suggestively seems normal. Sadly, all you usually have to do to get an NBA guy for a night is smile and make it clear you’re willing to go home with him. Especially if he’s single.
As for the married guys, it’s not that hard for a groupie to get with one of them, either. They’re like regular dudes in corporate America who travel a lot, except they have more money and more opportunities to cheat. They don’t get caught because they keep it on the road, calling their wives all the time to check in. (It doesn’t always go smoothly. I’ve overheard plenty of dudes fight with their wives over the phone about their activities.) It gets to the point where you see teammates doing it so much that young guys assume having a woman on the road and a wife at home is just part of the NBA lifestyle.
In fact, I would guess that 50 percent of NBA wives actually started out as groupies. And a lot of those women are realistic about the scene their spouses are in. They take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. They will say something like, “Don’t embarrass me by getting caught.” It’s not that they like the situation, but they understand the circumstances. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that they were in those same clubs looking to get with a professional athlete, no matter how many tries it took.
Honestly, with all the pitfalls and temptation, sometimes I wonder why young players even get married. They should follow Derek Jeter’s example. No one criticizes his lifestyle because he doesn’t have a wife at home wondering what he’s up to. He’s just a young, rich pro who enjoys being the king of New York. He’ll settle down when the time is right. NBA guys should take note.