How to polish your pro-basketball résumé.

The stadium scene.
Nov. 13 2008 6:43 AM

Curriculum Vitale

How to polish your pro-basketball résumé.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

One of the perks of being a pro athlete, you would think, is that you don't have to maintain a résumé. I'm guessing that Kobe Bryant has never suffered the indignity of typing up an "Honors & Awards" section or had to remember to put the good paper in the laser printer before running off a dozen copies of his CV. But not every athlete is Kobe Bryant. Let's assume you're a ballplayer on the fringes—you graduated from a college that's better known for honing academic credentials than frontcourt fundamentals, or maybe you didn't play college basketball at all. I've got bad news for you, friend: You're going to have to update that résumé—and quick.

As the NBA season gets under way and the league pulls back the curtain for its brightest stars, a lot of lesser-lights get pink slips. Many of these players look to take their game overseas, where an online résumé is a requirement if you want to land an on-court job. While the NBA is a self-contained circuit, the European leagues and those beyond are sprawling, often loosely connected organizations. Out on the pro-basketball frontier, teams with wildly disparate budgets search for talent across dozens of countries. It makes sense, then, that basketball's talent marketplace has evolved into something like a combination of Monster.com and Match.com, with a healthy dose of Craigslist-style unruliness.

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It doesn't matter  whether you're a 15-year-old Bulgarian looking for a team or an American former first-round NBA draft pick—it's time to start social networking. The first step is to get an agent. If you're not a college stud who caught the gaze of a European superagent, there are plenty of workaday representatives to choose from. Many agencies specialize in a certain type of player: Global Sports Plaza, for example, touts itself as "the first Macedonian-American based" agency. It's the agent's job not only to whisper in the ear of potential employers but also to jam their inboxes with your credentials.

One reason for the proliferation of the online résumé is speed. Coaches and general managers are under pressure to make decisions fast, and these tight deadlines mean that expediency—can you hop on the train from Brussels to Berlin in an hour?—can be as important as talent. John Patrick, the head coach and general manager of BG 74 Göttingen, a team in Germany's top league, maintains a database of players he's monitoring and also "spot checks" the 10 to 20 unsolicited player résumés he gets in his inbox daily. If Patrick is sufficiently interested, he'll double back to check stats, watch game tape, make phone calls to past coaches, and (depending on time and resources) go to see the player in person.

While the hoops CV serves more as a trailer than the full picture, it's still important to make yourself stand out in a sea of 7-footers. If you're at the top of the basketball matchmaking pool, then your Web presence is most likely a reminder that you are alive, don't weigh 300 pounds, and do, in fact, still play basketball. Former NBA-er Lamond Murray's CV, for instance, stresses that he "is still only 34 years old, injury free, and in excellent shape."

Those of us who aren't former first-round picks need to craft a fuller picture. While a glamorous college pedigree and gaudy stats may get you a second look, there are other variables, like the ability to cope with a new culture, that are just as crucial when making the leap overseas. It's just as important to "explain who you are," Patrick says. "Explain your successes on and off the court."

If you're looking for a model, you could do worse than copying off Gabriel Hughes, an out-of-work center from Cal-Berkeley who's now represented by the Dutch agency Court Side. Along with his height, weight, and stats, Hughes' résumé includes a link to a personal highlight reel—team execs look at online video to uncover non-numerical details like gimpy knees, a poor attitude, or third-rate competition—as well as a 300-word personal statement that recaps his professional highs and lows. "Big men take longer to develop and Gabriel Hughes is a prime example of this axiom," the promotional copy begins. More rationalizations quickly follow: "He got a 6-figure contract last season to play for Al-Wasl in Saudi Arabia. While the money was good, Hughes had his season shortened by injury (and the one foreigner on the court rule did not help his stats as he had to share playing time with the other American on the team)." After getting the negatives out of the way, Hughes' CV focuses on the bright spots: "For a 7-footer, Gabe runs the floor well, has leaping ability, good hands and doesn't mind contact. He also has mental toughness, having survived some of the roughest/dirtiest play. Hughes has always been able to rebound, having led the leagues in Japan and Ireland in rebounding." And in conclusion: "He plays hard and hustles. A family man, he has an excellent attitude on and off the court."

John Ebeling, an agent with the Megasport agency in Italy, says that Hughes' realistic, explanatory CV is far preferable to one that overhypes your game. James White's online résumé, for example—"Superhuman athleticism and leaping ability. Most athletic player in college basketball while playing for Cincinnati. … Dunked for the first time as a 12-year old"—might come off as a bit over-the-top. Rather than making yourself sound like a human highlight reel, Ebeling prefers technical information: plays multiple positions and excels in an up-tempo offense, not capable of jumping over small children.

Along with the good, Ebeling suggests including a sliver of the not so good. It's a dreaded question for job applicants: What are your weaknesses? This doesn't mean "going off the deep end with actual negatives," he says. If you are an atrocious defensive player, keep a lid on it. Instead, pick a positive part of your game and say you're going to improve it. Alexander Lutter provides a textbook case of snatching self-congratulation from the jaws of self-deprecation: "[Lutter] is his own harshest critic and despite his ability to easily make defences—and gravity—seem irrelevant it is difficult to find a harder working player."

One thing that the basketball-résumé writer needn't worry about is spelling. While the typical job applicant seeks to avoid having his CV sound like 99-cent Viagra spam, this is nothing to fret about in the hoops world. Sure, English is the lingua franca of the basketball world, but most agencies that represent players abroad aren't overloaded with fluent speakers. So don't fret if your representative posts this sort of gobbledygook: "[ Charles Gaines' ] appearance, his forcefulness, his generosity in defensive assistance, his intimidation and his consistance makes him a determinant player, able to change by himself the dynamic of a team." Just as long as they spell your name right, you're probably OK.

If you don't trust an agent even to get that much right, you can always make your own résumé. For the player going it alone, the Web site Eurobasket offers a " Make-It-Pro" service. According to Eurobasket, not playing pro basketball may be the biggest mistake of your life: "If you feel that you are a quality player and you are able to contribute to a professional team overseas, please do not miss your opportunity." For just $39.99 for three months (or $105.99 for a full year), Eurobasket will list your online profile alongside those of 120,000 other players and coaches. While there are other companies that help players spread an online résumé, Eurobasket has the advantage of listing all of its free agents together, giving the impression that you're a real player, not just a rec-league bruiser.

As an aspiring professional hoops player myself—who isn't, really?—40 bucks seems like a small price to pay for a shot at fulfilling a lifelong dream. The first step of writing my basketball profile: taking the résumé I used to land my current job and deleting everything except my name and contact info. Step 2: adding my date of birth, nationality, height, and a position. (Remember, this needs to look professional: I'm 6-foot-3, so I'm calling myself a guard.) Next, some florid prose: "A team oriented player, Hannon's interior passing often makes big men look better than they actually are and his jump shot spreads defenses and frees up teammates." And finally a bit of self-criticism: "Needs to improve inbounding." You can look at the final product here. I grab my credit card, submit the résumé to Eurobasket, and I'm officially a free agent. But not for long. A short while later, I get an e-mail from Marek Wojtera, manager of the site. "I am really confused about adding your record to the database," he writes. "The problem is that Make-It-Pro service is aimed at the players who have real chance to make it to professional basketball." Ouch. And it gets worse: "If I were the coach of a basketball club, I would not consider you as the candidate to join their pro roster. You may have extremely impressive stats, but if they are for playing at the local team, which is not recognized anywhere, you have really 0% chance to be called for any try-out. ... I do not see any real chance for you to make it to pro basketball and I believe it will be only wasting your money to try it."Despite that e-mail, I'm not ready to quit. Did Rudy quit when everyone told him he wasn't good enough to play football at Notre Dame? Did Michael Jordan quit after being cut from his high-school basketball team? I don't think so. So, if any general managers are reading this, don't be discouraged by Marek Wojtera. I may not be good enough for Eurobasket, but I'm always ready to hop on the train from Brussels to Berlin—just as soon as I get home from work.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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