It’s a cautionary tale that includes millions in cold-hard cash, alcoholism, bad investments and supposed friends taking advantage of an athlete’s prestige.
Vin Baker played 13 seasons in the NBA, was a four-time All-Star and was considered one of the top offensive forwards in the entire Association. He also earned over $100 million during his extensive playing career.
Now 43 years old, Baker is training to manage a Starbucks SBUX -0.2% franchise—a far cry from the stardom he enjoyed in the NBA from 1993-2005.
Baker recently spoke to Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal to discuss how it all went wrong and what he’s done in his life to turn things around.
A known alcoholic during his playing days, Baker’s on-court performance took a severe hit due to his chemical dependency. It ultimately cost him a once high-profile career and left him indigent.
When you learn lessons in life, no matter what level you’re at financially, the important part to realize is it could happen,” Baker said in the in-depth interview. “I was an alcoholic, I lost a fortune. I had a great talent and lost it.”
Some may look at Baker’s tale as being an exception to the rule in professional sports. How could someone blow $100 million? What went wrong? How did he let it happen? These are all questions that ran through my mind when catching up on his story.
But then I took a step back and recalled this tremendous documentary ESPN ran titled “Broke,” which focused on former stars who fell into a similar trap as Baker.
It tells us a story of previous stars that have gone from riches to rags for reasons beyond the comprehension of the average human. From spending $15,000 on a suit to hundreds of thousands on a single vehicle, the common theme was young adults—without a real understanding of what that type of money is worth—blowing large sums of cash and finding themselves deep in debt.
It also tells us a story of athletes with entourages numbering in the dozens—individuals that are practically on their payroll for just associating with them.
Baker’s story is a bit different. He associates his alcoholism with the financial calamity that has led him to train as a Starbucks manager a decade after earning $100 million-plus during his NBA career.
Now four years sober and on the right track, Baker has first-hand knowledge of what it means to take everything for granted. He’s also hellbent on sending a message to young athletes today:
When you make choices and decisions and think that it will never end, and then you get into spending and addiction and more spending, it’s a definite formula for losing,” he said. “If you don’t have perspective in your personal life and you don’t understand what this $1 million or $15 million means, it will go.”
That’s the point. It becomes a downward spiral that takes over your life. You have millions, so why not throw down $2,000.00 for a pair of shoes or $10,000.00 for a dinner with your entourage? The expenses stockpile, the addiction becomes real. And when the earnings don’t increase, your checking account balance decreases rapidly.
Baker also makes a point of providing some wisdom regarding who athletes should surround themselves with—wisdom Baker wishes he had at a young age:
I would insist that you surround yourself with the person you trust the absolute most, someone who can tell you, ‘You’re wrong, don’t buy that, don’t go there, that person’s no good.’ I would also say be able to monitor every single dime that comes out of your accounts as if you’re a Starbucks barista.”
The former four-time All-Star also hinted at individuals he perceived to be friends stealing from him. This is yet another trap young athletes fall into. “This guy has been there for me since I was a kid, I need to take care of him,” some will say. It’s a more common occurrence than you think.
Though, Baker doesn’t want us to feel bad for him. Even after losing all that money and dealing with the demon that is alcoholism, he seems to be in a good place right now.
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,” Baker said. “If I use my notoriety in the right way, most people will appreciate that this guy is just trying to bounce back in his life.”
Not everyone possesses the willpower that Baker has displayed in overcoming his demons. He credits current Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz for helping him turn his life around. Schultz, now worth an estimated $2.5 billion, was the owner of the Seattle Sonics during Baker’s last year with the team in 2001-02.
Baker’s story isn’t one of failure. After recognizing the error of his ways, he’s worked hard to become a better man. Not only can this story act as an inspiration, it has to be seen as a cautionary tale for the countless young professional athletes who currently have the world at their feet.