Dreams come true, but the grind is sold separately, Franks says
There are so many firsts associated with the journey of a professional athlete.
A first contract.
A first preseason.
Nothing, though, compares to the first regular-season game.
Last week, Robert Franks signed a 10-day contract with the Orlando Magic of the National Basketball Association. Later that day, he was in his first layup line during pregame. Then he checked into a regular-season game for the first time. He took his first shot, and he buried that 3-pointer. He allowed himself a mini celebration, signaling ‘3’ with his fingers, for the first time in his NBA career.
“Honestly, it just felt like a big monkey just jumped off my back,” Franks said in a telephone interview. “Ever since I was 4 years old, it was a dream of mine to play in the NBA.”
Robert Franks, a 2015 graduate of Evergreen High School, a Vancouver man who never let go of that dream, has made it.
Oh, he’s not done. Not even close. One goal was accomplished but he says there is so much more to achieve.
For now, though, he can appreciate where he has been and where he is today.
“I can’t repeat it enough how grateful and blessed I am to be able to be in this position,” Franks said.
All athletes want to be first-round draft picks. They all want to have guaranteed riches and find success as soon as they go pro. The reality is that many of the players in the NBA do not get there that way.
After a stellar career at Washington State, Franks went undrafted in 2019. He signed a two-way deal with the Charlotte Bobcats and played for the franchise’s team in the G League, a developmental league. While Franks played well there, it did not work out with the organization. He asked for and received a trade to the Sacramento organization and played for the Kings’ G-League team for a bit.
The pandemic hit. Everything came to a half. And Franks was a free agent.
He signed a training camp contract with the Magic prior to this season, even got in a few minutes of some preseason games. But he did not make the NBA roster. Instead, Franks went back to the G League, which played a no-travel, Florida-only schedule this winter. Franks helped the Lakeland Magic to the G-League championship in March.
Then he hoped to get a call.
It took a month, but the call arrived. Franks signed a 10-day contract on April 12.
“Signing that contract, it was just a joy,” Franks said. “A great feeling, just knowing I worked so hard. I’ve been disciplined to my craft. It just felt like all the trials and tribulations I went through, it paid off. It gives me more motivation moving forward. This isn’t the end. Just keep working hard.”
Franks played 15 minutes in that first game, a loss to the Spurs. He scored four points.
In the lay-up line prior to the game, Franks allowed himself a moment to reflect.
“That, right then, was the feeling. ‘OK Robert. You’ve arrived,’” Franks said. “Just being able to do what I love at a high level, I’m just so grateful for it.”
Next came his first action in the NBA. He had to remind himself it is basketball, the game he has been playing since he could remember.
“When I checked in, that’s the first thing I told myself. At the end of the day, it’s another basketball court,” Franks said. “Just another group of guys out here. We’re on a bigger stage now.”
Then he found himself toward the top of the key, outside the 3-point line, open. The ball came his way.
“To have the opportunity to take my first shot, to make my first shot, it was just so surreal at the moment,” Franks said.
The next day, the Magic traveled to Chicago on a Tuesday to prepare for a Wednesday game with the Bulls.
While there was no travel in the G League this season, Franks experienced G-League travel in his first professional season.
Let’s just say the NBA players have it a little bit better than those in the G League.
“It’s night and day, man,” Franks said, adding that he loved not having to go through TSA at the airport.
“Being able to walk right on to the PJ, it makes you appreciate those things a little bit more. It’s been a blessing.”
Wait, what? The PJ?
“Private jet,” Franks said.
We’re not in Vancouver anymore.
He did not play in his second game, a road game in Chicago.
“It allowed me to take a step back and look at the game from a different perspective,” Franks said. “If I’m not playing, I still have got to bring value to the team. I have to be a great teammate on the bench and communicate. For me coming in and not being there the whole season, it’s an easier transition for me to watch for certain stuff, certain sets, certain people’s tendencies. There’s always benefits, even when not playing, just being a student of the game.”
Orlando took on Toronto in Franks’ third game with the team. He played a couple minutes and scored four points.
On Sunday, he was told by his coaches he would be in the main rotation for the team’s home game against Houston. Sure enough, Franks was one of the first off the bench. He scored a career-high five points — including a highlight scoop shot around a defender — plus he had a blocked shot and an assist in 15 minutes.
Tuesday night, the Magic are in Atlanta to take on the Hawks. The 10-day contract is almost up, and the Magic will have a decision to make in regard to Franks’ immediate future.
“That’s one thing about this business. You never know,” Franks said. “Every day, I’m going to go in and just give it my all. After the 10 days, I hope I can sit back and say I did everything I could and leave it in their hands.”
That matter will take care of itself later this week. No matter what happens, though, Franks said he will continue working on his game. This is only the beginning of his NBA career. He never doubted that he belonged on an NBA roster.
“Honestly, no,” he said. “I kind of always knew. I had that confidence. That confidence came from my work ethic. I was always determined to get here. You’re always going to go through adversity. Everything is not going to be perfect on the journey. But I’m embracing it and accepting each challenge as it comes.”
In fact, that is his message to any youngsters back home in Vancouver.
“Hard work, dedication, and discipline. Those three things are going to take you so far in life,” Franks said. “Dreams can come true. But the grind is sold separately. You’ve got to grind for it.”