Why Today’s Athletes Could Benefit from Having a Good Mentor in Their Life


As I booted up my computer this October 1st 2013 morning, I was hit with more troubling news, although at this point not terribly surprising, of yet another athlete falling by the wayside.  I don’t know about you, but it’s getting to be such a regular occurrence of so many of our foolhardy athletes (both collegiate and professional) who feel that they are above the law and have a sense of entitlement, that they can get away with just about anything.  Well, matter of fact, most of them have gotten away with just about anything… until they get caught.

Once a youngster is identified as having tremendous athletic abilities, he, and increasingly she, is allowed to circumvent the normal adolescent pathways (having to go to school, attaining good grades, learning to be respectful to peers and parents, and, having and needing to play by the “laws of society”).  Nowadays, this happens as early as middle school for our young athletes who are pegged as having tremendous athletic ability.  There has even been recent news articles of major universities positioning themselves to offer athletic scholarships to student athletes (and I use that term very loosely) even before they get to high school!  This is such a disservice to our young people, who need to grow up and learn to be responsible along the way.

Today’s news that caught my attention is of a former NBA player, peer (and somewhat of a friend), former fellow board member with the NBA Retired Players Association (a.k.a.: The Legends of Basketball), Tate George, http://finance.yahoo.com/news/ex-nba-player-tate-george-110223453.html and his conviction in the court of law of fraud and running a Ponzi scheme.  How ridiculous!  This is a young man (not even 50 years of age yet), as are so many of the young men who have the “world of opportunities at their fingertips” and yet blow it.  Most of them don’t even blow it in a small way, they blow it in a gigantically huge way!  Look at the Aaron Hernandez case, former player for the New England Patriots!  Terrell Owens, WNBA Player Chamique Holdsclaw, Oscar Pistorius, Yankee Great, A-Rod, Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods all have made the news over the last couple of years for behaviors that are just “off the charts”.  What we all need in sports and society are a few more quality individuals like Tim Tebow.  Hang in there Tebow, keep your head up and keep doing “the right thing”!

Tate George will be facing decades of prison time and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fines for running what amounted to a $2 million Ponzi scheme.  Was it worth it?  Hell no!  Even the dumbest of us athletes should be able to figure that one out.

So many of us athletes feel a “sense of entitlement and above it all”, plus, we’ve gotten away with untold numbers of infractions (ranging from parents cursing out referees from the bleachers because of what they feel is a bad call to their “7th grade superstar”, to University campus police officers “looking the other way”, to getting away with parking/speeding violations when any other “Regular Joe” would’ve had the book thrown at them, to punching out “fans” in a rowdy bar or nightclub, to beating up girlfriends/wives….  and get this,… sometimes even raping or murdering them… and still thinking we can get away with it).  Because we always have!

(See following article:)

Ex-NBA player Tate George convicted of fraud

Ex-NBA player, UConn star Tate George convicted of 4 counts of wire fraud, has bail revoked

Associated Press

FILE – This Aug. 8, 2008, file photo shows former NBA and University of Connecticut player Tate George during the Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic basketball game at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. George surrendered Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, to face charges stemming from what federal prosecutors say was a Ponzi scheme. Prosecutors say George used The George Group to run the more than $2 million investment fraud scam. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham, File)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A former NBA player best known for his 1990 tournament buzzer-beater for the University of Connecticut was convicted Monday of four counts of federal wire fraud in a Ponzi scheme that netted him $2 million.

Authorities said Tate George carried out a profitable scheme that lined his pockets from 2005 to early 2011, even though his purported real estate development firm — The George Group — had virtually no income-generating operation.

Prosecutors say he used money from new investors to pay previous investors or for home improvements and personal expenses, including his daughter’s Sweet 16 birthday party. George also gave money to family members and friends and spent nearly $3,000 to promote a Tate George “reality show” that is still available on YouTube.

A federal jury in Trenton, N.J., returned the verdict after a three-week trial. Prosecutors say George’s bail was immediately revoked, and his sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 16.

“The defendant has an incentive to run,” Joseph Shumofsky, the lead federal prosecutor, told the judge. “If your honor lets him walk out of the courthouse today, there is more than a good chance that we will never see him again.”

Each count of wire fraud carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

George spent four seasons in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. He’s best known for catching a full-court pass and sinking a jumper at the buzzer to give UConn a victory in a 1990 NCAA regional semifinal against Clemson.

During the trial, prosecutors said George held himself out as the CEO of The George Group and claimed to have more than $500 million in assets under management. He pitched prospective investors, including several former pro athletes, to invest with the firm and told them their money would be used to fund the purchase and development of real estate projects, including some in Connecticut and New Jersey.

George told some prospective investors that their funds would be held in an attorney trust account, prosecutors said, and he personally guaranteed the return of their investments, with interest.

As a former collegiate and professional athlete myself (14 years in the NBA plus another 6 years in the European leagues), I feel I have the unique perspective of being an African – American male, subject to the same peer pressures and expectations, understanding and going through exactly what so many of our athletes go through.  Even though I wasn’t a highly recruited athlete coming out of high school (that was probably my blessing in disguise), I was still awarded an athletic scholarship to Washington State University, which I am proud to say I not only “went to, but I graduated from”!

So, even though I personally wasn’t bestowed gifts, cash, houses and women, I know plenty of athletes who were.  Matter of fact, the old joke/saying goes, “so-and-so had to take a pay cut by going to the pros”.  Are we really serious about trying to get the student athletes an education?  We all have a part to play in the dynamics that are set forth by parents and teachers in middle school, coaches and recruiters in high school, and then college boosters and scouts at the university level.  I tell many of the young athletes I work with that “sports is a very exploitative institution, and you might as well understand that going into it, prepare yourself as best you can, make sure you get your education/degree, and then prepare yourself for exiting that very exploitative institution as best prepared as you can be to deal with real life”.

I remember when I first joined the Board of Directors for the NBA Retired Players Association in 2009, and Tate George, who was already a board member, asked me on just about the first day, if I would like to invest in his George Group construction business.  Something didn’t seem right about that from the start, and even though he gave me some materials to look over, I sensed that this wasn’t “on the up and up”.  I only hope he did not take advantage of too many of the guys.

Most retired athletes, being retired and “put out to pasture so to speak“, still miss the limelight and being the center of attention, and therefore are extremely vulnerable to “get rich quick schemes and hustlers” because they want to maintain a certain lifestyle and standard of living that they had as professional athletes, and haven’t come back to “reality” in needing to make adjustments after their high income earning years are over.  (like major corporations everywhere, professional sports teams are no different, and besides funding your pension/retirement plans, do very little else in regards to helping the retired athlete make that transition.  Once you’re retired, you’re retired). I know, I know… the professional sports leagues will say that they have all sorts of “programs to assist in transition” and blah, blah blah… don’t believe it!  What is typically offered is nothing more than what any everyday person can sign up (and pay for) for as well. Believe me, I’ve gone through the same thing, and even now am constantly wooed by financial entities who hope to use me to “get to the guys” so that they can help them and save them from financial ruin.

These are many of the factors that make it so challenging for professional athletes to make that transition back into “real and regular” life.  The stage is been set when they were mere youth running up and down the football field, or shooting baskets in middle school/high school, and that sense of entitlement tends to be “part of the package”.

Do I feel sorry for Tate George and others like him who have fallen by the wayside after having such a golden opportunity?  No, not really. Disappointed, yes.  In the case of Tate who in getting to know him as a board member, he was, in my opinion, one of the “most arrogant of the arrogant” and always wanted to be perceived as “the smartest person in the room”.  Matter of fact, he was one of the head ringleaders and throwing our former executive director, Charles Smith (one of the few former NBA players who actually has his act together), “under the bus and leading the charge to get him terminated”.  I remember vividly at one point in one of the board meetings, after Charles and I returned from a trip to China with tremendous opportunities for the former players and the organization in hand, Tate George stood to his feet and shouted out at the top of his lungs, “I don’t care what Charles Smith brings back to this Association, I want him gone!”  Oh, I know that’s going to “ruffle a few feathers”, but I’m no longer a board member (so, spare me the legal letters about “breaching board confidentiality”, it’s my interpretation of events, and I was there!) and it’s nothing that Tate didn’t let be known throughout the membership body of the association.  It’ll rank right up there with all of the rest of the “he said/he said” nonsense that goes on from time to time on any board.  He even tried (and failed, because of violations of every conceivable board bylaws and process and procedures) to get me thrown off the board as well for being a Charles Smith supporter.  So that gives you a little indication of the character of Tate George, at least in the years that I dealt with him as a fellow board member.  Oh sure, he was nice and charming as all get out when he needed to be, but aren’t we all?

Charles Smith has moved on to continue his great work pertaining to retired, former athletes. I’m still a member of the Retired Players Association, and finally rotated off the board. Now I spend the majority of my time in China creating opportunities for former NBA players, and working with wonderful Chinese high school and college students in preparing them to study abroad with cultural/student exchange programs back to the USA.

So, in light of yet another fallen professional athlete, what can be done?  Let’s not tiptoe too lightly here, we’re all grown-ups I presume reading this article.  Given that the vast majority (nearly 80% in the NBA and 70% in the NFL) of the athletes in the professional ranks are African-American males, and most overwhelmingly from disadvantaged backgrounds, poverty stricken, fatherless homes, and most likely from families and communities who haven’t had the opportunity to become educated (both in the classroom and outside of the classroom) we need to find a way to provide mentors for not only the current athletes who are still running up and down the football field and shooting baskets, but also for so many of the retired athletes who need assistance in that transition into real in everyday life.  I want this because love all of these guys as if they were my own flesh and blood, plus they could really, really benefit from it!

I’ve had great mentors (and of course, my 86-year-old dad, James Sr., who I speak to weekly and cherish every moment with) throughout my life ranging from “Bill the Crosswalk Man” when I was in elementary school, to my high school basketball coach, Chuck Calhoun, my college basketball coach, George Raveling, my professional NBA coaches (Lenny Wilkens, Dick Motta, Pat Riley and Jerry Sloan), and of course one of my all-time favorite mentors, former NBA champion, Clifford Ray of the Golden State Warriors.  I just received a call from Clifford a couple of weeks ago in which he was letting me know how much he loved me, cared for me and was proud of me. Just by me writing that in this article almost brings me to tears.  What young man/woman wouldn’t want to know that someone out there cares and loves him… just because!

For more on my great mentors in my life, read my recently published book, Standing Above the Crowd: Executing Your Game Plan To Be The Very Best You Can Be www.StandingAboveTheCrowd.com

A great mentor, is what so many of the professional athletes are missing in their lives.  Most athletes tend to surround themselves with their “posse”, and people who would not dare tell them no.  They’ll surround themselves with women who will “do anything to be with a high profiled athlete”.  A great mentor in one’s life will help keep them accountable, and help them to “keep it real”.

Not all of my mentors are from the basketball world.  They are from a variety of backgrounds and interests, be it business, politics, community involvement, religion and education.  I find that it’s good for me to have people in my life who don’t “think just like I think” and will challenge me from time to time to help me expand my thinking.  Most collegiate/professional athletes don’t have this going on in their lives.

In the “Best of All World’s Scenario”, here’s what I would wish for.  I wish that the NBA (and all the professional sports leagues) would bring retired athletes who have “made something of their lives” and have become a success after transitioning from their playing days, back in “from the pasture” and put us on their payroll ($100.000 per year would be a nice round number that would also be an incentive for the guys to keep themselves on the straight and narrow…. besides, they pay several times that to assistant coaches (many of them former players, and each team has 4 – 6 of them), to carry clipboards around and try to be that bridge between the head coach and the players) as an around-the-clock, 24/7, readily accessible mentor for as many of the current and former professional athletes as possible.

Of course, the mentor would have to meet a certain standard of criteria such as:

–        a college graduate

–        an accomplished professional outside the world of sports

–        a responsible family man… no deadbeats allowed!

–        drug-free and substance abuse free

–        able to speak standard English

–        a contributing/participating board member of a for-profit venue

–        a successful business person

–        a mentor to a young person in his community

I’m sure we can come up with a few more criteria, but you get the picture, I believe that if you example good behavior, then the person that you are mentoring, will most likely want to emulate that behavior.  Of course, just this short list of criteria, will probably knock the majority of retired professional athletes out of the picture, but that’s okay, it’d give the next generation of “soon to be retired” athletes coming through something to strive for.

Just last week, I circulated a wonderful article on my blog www.standingabovethecrowd.wordpress.com about “20 Things Boys Can Do to Become Men” written by NBA great and Hall of Famer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. http://shine.yahoo.com/team-mom/kareems-20-tips-son-150200306.html#   I thought it was a fantastic article, and in it, Kareem hits on all 20 points, just as deadly accurately as he did with his skyhook.  I’d love for Kareem to be one of my mentors and be able to sit down with him one of these days and pick his brain, and figure out this thing called “life”.  Pssst….Kareem, please call me, or at least allow me to call you!

Many of the former professional athletes who would meet the above listed criteria to be a mentor, wouldn’t really necessarily “need” the job of being a mentor to young guys who will be a generation younger.  But, we all can benefit from someone in our lives to help show us the way.  That way, when any of us get the urge and temptation to do something foolish (get involved with get rich quick schemes, run around was shady characters, miss behave and act disrespectful to our spouses, buy more card/homes then we can afford, etc.), we have someone who has “been there done that” and who can truly understand some of the stresses, pressures and expectations that are placed upon us as professional athletes. The “win” for society is that, now you’ll have former athletes in your community who will willingly want to get involved and give back.  That goes for all of the Universities as well, that at this point, serve as little more than a “minor league farm team” for the pros.

There’s a certain bravado and macho wisdom that athletes feel like they have to maintain even after they retired from the playing field.  Again, many times that hampers them in their transition into the real world.

I’m a mentor to three or four young African-American males at this point in my life myself.  I meet with them individually one-on-one, and I know that their dreams of being a professional athlete “diehard”, but my job as a responsible mentor is to prepare them for “real life” that so many other people in their lives didn’t take the time to do.  I’m glad someone took the time (and are still taking the time) to spend with me throughout my years.

I hope that the time is coming soon when we’ll see a serious drop off of athletes misbehaving or not re-engaging with that “rags – riches – rags cycle” that so many of us find ourselves on.  If we truly realized how privileged we are to be a student athlete in the first space, and then perhaps a professional athlete in the second place, we’d take this whole thing a lot more seriously.  Yet, now the conversation in collegiate sports is centering around “should college athletes be paid?”.  Again, I think that is detrimental, and sets the stage for the star athlete continuing on in a sense of entitlement (and professional riches that are awaiting him), at the sacrifice of the rest of the team.  If we’re serious about having these college athletes become educated and receive a college degree, then we’ll make sure that that’s what they’re there for on the college campus in the first place.  But, the way that conversation is starting to heat up and get some traction, I’ll have to save that conversation for another day.

James Donaldson
Former NBA Player

About the Author

James Donaldson is a Washington State University graduate (’79). After an outstanding basketball career with WSU, he went on to play professional basketball in the NBA with the Seattle Supersonics, San Diego/L.A. Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, and Utah Jazz. He also played for several teams in the European Leagues in Spain, Italy, and Greece, and he toured with The Harlem Globetrotters to wrap up his career. James was an NBA All-Star in 1988 while playing center for the Dallas Mavericks. In 2006, James was inducted into the Pac-10 Sports Hall of Fame and also the Washington State University Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2010, James was elected as a board member for the NBA Retired Players Association.

James established The Donaldson Clinic in January 1990 (shortly after a career-threatening knee injury) with the idea that he would eventually become a physical therapist. He is a strong advocate for Women & Minority owned businesses and is very involved with various Chambers of Commerce. He understands what it takes to sustain a strong business environment that is conducive to the success of businesses overall. He also serves as a coach for other small business owners.

Today, James devotes the majority of his time to various community activities and to the operations of The Donaldson Clinic. James frequently conducts speaking engagements (motivational, inspirational, educational) for organizations, schools, and youth groups.

In 2009, James was a candidate for the office of Mayor for the City of Seattle. He had a strong fourth place finish in a crowded field of eight candidates. It was the first time James ran for an elected office in the world of politics, and he continues to work closely with several elected officials in regards to politics, youth, and educational issues in Seattle.

In 2010, James was the recipient of the NBA Legends of Basketball ABC Award, awarded for outstanding contributions in Athletics–Business–Community.

Currently, James is a director in China with the China Service Center for Friendship and Cooperation with Foreign Countries Studying Abroad Department in which he assists in helping students with various study abroad and cultural exchange programs.

James is a long-time resident of the Magnolia neighborhood in Seattle. He believes in being a role model for success and professionalism to the scores of young people to whom he devotes so much of his time. He currently serves on several boards and committees and is a member of many organizations.

James believes in developing relationships that create a “Win-Win” environment for everyone involved, and in being the best he can be!

For more information about James Donaldson or to request he speak at your event, contact him at:




1-800-745-3161 (voicemail & fax)


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