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by Dr Boyce Watkins
If there is any story on this blog that you’re going to grow tired of reading, it’s the one about the former NBA or NFL athlete who is now broke and living with his mama. These stories are everywhere, and it has people wondering if the Harvard-educated financial managers being employed by professional sports leagues are actually helping these guys protect their wealth or if the players are being chewed up and spit out by people who could care less about them.
But we’re all responsible for our outcomes, and when we read stories like this one, we have to look in the mirror to find the answers.
Meet Vin Baker.
Vin was once one of the greatest players in the NBA, earning over $100 million dollars throughout his career. But things have changed for poor Vin, as he now finds himself at the bottom of the economic barrel, struggling along like the rest of us.
How bad have things gotten for Vin? Well, he’s now working at Starbucks. He’s not an owner, or even a manager. He’s the insanely tall brother asking you if you want whipped cream on your Caramel Latte.
According to The Providence Journal, the four-time NBA All-star’s next big goal is to become a manager at the local Starbucks in North Kingston, Rhode Island. While there is nothing wrong with being a Starbucks manager, this is a problem when you once earned nearly a million dollars a month. During his career, Vin earned enough money in two weeks for a single mother to make last for a lifetime.
Here’s what Vin had to say, as the 43-year old former superstar reflected on his life.
When you learn lessons in life, no matter what level you’re at financially, the important part to realize is it could happen. I was an alcoholic, I lost a fortune. I had great talent and lost it. For the people on the outside looking in, they’re like ‘Wow.’ For me, I’m 43 and I have four kids. I have to pick up the pieces. I’m a father. I’m a minister in my father’s church. I have to take the story and show that you can bounce back. If I use my notoriety in the right way, most people will appreciate this guy is just trying to bounce back in his life.
Baker gives credit for his Starbucks opportunity to CEO Howard Schultz, who owned the Seattle Supersonics during Vin’s time on the team from 1997 -2002. It’s ironic that Schultz would give Vin a chance to work behind the counter, but didn’t consider this college-educated black man for a position in the front office of an NBA team. This either says a lot about Schultz, a lot about Baker, or a lot about Schultz’s perception of Baker as a human being. It also reminds me of just how many great black athletes there are who can’t even get jobs as coaches at the same universities and NBA teams that exploited them many years ago.
Baker says that he spent a lot of years as an alcoholic and made some very bad choices. Yea brother, we can see that. The more toxic aspects of athlete culture (liquor, weed, women, clubbing, etc) have destroyed men to the point that they end up as shadows of who they once were, lost souls roaming the earth reflecting on their former glory. There’s nothing sadder than to see a 40-something year old man who’s best days occurred before 1998.
Vin’s not the only one affected by his long list of poor decisions: $100 million dollars is enough for a family to survive for 20 generations. So, rather than Vin’s great grandchildren having their college tuition paid for and a downpayment on their first home, they are going to start off with virtually nothing….as if their great grandfather never set foot on an NBA court. Lots of people are hurt when a black man chooses to be a follower rather than a leader.
Here’s the bottom line:
These stories are never going to end, but they can certainly be confronted. There is absolutely no reason that someone who earns this much money should ever go broke. The keys to financial devastation for most professional athletes tend to be related to various forms of intoxication, but not the kind that Vin received from the liquor bottle. It comes from the intoxicants of fame, fortune, arrogance, weed, countless women and the racial isolation that many black athletes receive when they are insulated from those who truly care about them.
In all of those years that these brothers are encouraged to neglect education, they are also being led to believe that life is always going to be good for them, that they can make decisions without consequences, and that everything is going to be OK. Then, by the time they figure out that the world has screwed them, their hair is gray, their careers are over, and their spirits and bodies are broken. Life doesn’t have a rewind button, so we can’t always go back and fix whatever we did to destroy our lives in the first place.
Black athletes are valuable commodities to those who run NBA teams, as well as the managers, attorneys, universities and agents who are all seeking to bloodsuck a piece of their fortune along the way. But after these men have been financially violated by everyone around them, they are dropped right back into the black community where they started. When they are on top of the world, they’re convinced that they are too good to be around us. But when they’ve been used up by our society, they are sent right back to the hood.
Let’s talk financial fundamentals here, since this seemingly complex problem has some very simple solutions:
The way for no athlete to ever go broke is this: Save 10% of your income and have the money invested in a diversified stock portfolio. Have the money taken out of your account before you can even touch it, giving someone you trust (ie. your mama or perhaps a trust fund) the legal rights to control that money without your permission for the entirety of your career. If you do that, then by the time your career is over, you’ll have enough interest coming in to last you for the rest of your life, even if you accumulate a couple of child support and BMW payments along the way.
The Vin Baker tragedy is one that keeps repeating itself due to a lack of financial literacy in the African American community. Money, especially this kind of money, is not meant to be used to buy Gucci hats, expensive cars, and other worthless material possessions sold to black people by big, white companies that won’t even hire your black ass. Money is CAPITAL, which means that it’s meant to develop industry, build businesses, create jobs, and accumulate into massive amounts of generational wealth. If you’ve earned $100 million dollars in your career, there is absolutely no reason that your children should have to go to white people and beg for a job.
If we are ever going to achieve economic equality in America, we’ve got to reshape the way we look at money. Money is not meant for meaningless consumption. It’s meant to build ECONOMIC EMPIRES. Every athlete who ends up going broke represents a huge and wasted opportunity.