I’m fairly obsessed with sports, but especially basketball. My Purdue Boilermakers (pre-season top 10!) and the Indiana Pacers keep me fully engrossed in the sport of basketball from late October to nearly the middle of the following summer. As such, I remember when Antoine Walker played for the Celtics just a few years ago and I detested him. He was equally capable of pounding the ball in from the blocks as he was hitting the long three with a hand in his face. Whenever I think of Antoine Walker, the first thing I always think of was his aggressiveness and (borderline) arrogance. That man never gave two thoughts to launching a 30 foot shot early the shot clock or taking on a double team instead of passing out of it like he should have. But apparently the basketball court wasn’t the only place where Walker was aggressive.
I came across an article on Walker in the Boston Globe the other day (“For Walker, financial fouls mount”) that is a must-read for anyone with a dual interest in sports and personal finance. The article goes on to talk about how Walker spent his considerable fortune that he made in his years as an NBA player. It is estimated that over his pro career (which, while not officially over, is probably done for after Memphis bought out his last NBA contract) Walker earned around $110 million. Even roughly accounting for taxes, $55 million is still a considerable amount of money to spend in such a short period of time to get to where he is now, essentially broke and indebted to various creditors (mostly gambling debts) for around $1.5 million.
How did he get to this point? Unfortunately, his story is not that unique amount professional athletes: lifestyle inflation, being overly generous to family and “friends”, failed business endeavors and a gambling problem all contributed to his current financial state. It is because of people like Antoine Walker than many professional sports operations, such as the NFL and the NBA, feature symposiums aimed at teaching rookies how to handle their money, how to make a budget, where to go to get good financial advice, how to evaluate (and get help evaluating) the multitude of business ideas they get pitched and how to create an environment where their financial success will be able to benefit them and their families even after their career ends. Unfortunately, the message doesn’t always sink in – the NBA Players Association recently released figures estimating that within 5 years of retirement, 60% of former NBA players were broke.
I suppose the only takeaway lesson from this is that everyone can make poor financial decisions, and there’s no such thing as having enough money that you no longer have to worry about how it’s been spent. In many ways I sympathize with many professional athletes who go broke after their career has ended. Maybe they weren’t given the financial tools to handle their situation, or maybe they have family and friends back home who see them as a paycheck, and have abused their relationship with the athlete for their own financial gain. Whatever the specifics of the situation may be, it is still shocking to read articles like the one I read about Antoine Walker and his financial demise.