Society

NBA Shouldn't Do More To Prevent Player Bankruptcy

| by Nik Bonopartis
Antoine Walker with the Miami HeatAntoine Walker with the Miami Heat

To hear Antoine Walker tell it, he ended up bankrupt less than two years after an NBA career that paid him $110 million because he was generous to his family and the victim of bad investments.

"[I was ] trying to help my family out...I wanted to do a lot of great things for them, get my mom a home," Walker told a panel of finance experts on CNBC. "I took a lot of responsibility on."

After declaring bankruptcy in 2010, Walker sold off assets to settle more than $12 million in debts, and now makes a living as a financial coach for young NBA players, warning them not to make the same mistakes he did.

Stories about Walker's shocking bankruptcy often paint him as a victim, mentioning his "big heart" and his insistence on doing right by people. But if Walker really wants to help young NBA players avoid bankruptcy, he should be honest about how he blew $110 million in the first place.

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In the sanitized version of Walker's story, the one he delivers during TV appearances and in interviews, he glosses over his lavish spending -- spending that makes the Kardashian clan look like paragons of financial discipline.

He doesn't detail his collection of watches, capped off by one timepiece he reportedly paid $200,000 for. He doesn't like to talk about his previous penchant for outrageous bling and the millions he spent on jewelry. Sometimes he'll mention how much he loved cars, but there's a difference between a BMW or two and a fleet that includes $350,000 Maybachs and $300,000 Bentleys.

Walker mentions his generosity to his mom and his sisters, but if he'd stopped there he would still have millions in his bank account. Walker traveled with a massive entourage, up to 50 people at a time, and each one of those hangers-on were booked in first class or given rides on private planes, with limousines waiting to pick them up in each NBA city, according to a story in WKYT.

Then there were Walker's gambling debts -- including an $800,000 debt to one casino -- and his ex-wife Evelyn Lozada, who disappeared after the cash was gone like a vampiress a moment before dawn. Lozada, who starred in VH1's Basketball Wives, went on to marry former Bengals’ receiver Chad Johnson, then had a kid with Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford, according to WKYT.

Finally, Walker blames a big-time real estate investment timed disastrously to the recession for draining the remainder of his fortune, and laments the fact that he made "only" about $70 million after taxes.

Back in 2009, Sports Illustrated estimated that 60 percent of NBA players are bankrupt within five years of retiring. NFL players fare even worse -- 78 percent go bankrupt or are under severe financial stress within two years of retirement, the magazine said.

That's led some former athletes to push major American sports leagues to do more about the bankruptcy problem.

“It’s difficult for players, especially those who didn’t go to college, to be prepared to understand the business side of what they do,” Adonal Foyle, a former NBA reserve center, told southwestern Illinois' Belleville News-Democrat.

Foyle and others say the NBA needs to do more to educate its players.

“They need to understand that what they do isn’t just on the basketball court, they are the CEO,” Foyle said. “They need to find the right people to watch over their money and then watch those people. It’s a lot of work.”

But major sports leagues do their part, even if it's not widely advertised. The NFL has a "financial boot camp" for rookies, and offers ongoing counseling through and education through a partnership with Money Management International. Major League Baseball and the NBA offer free one-on-one sessions with financial counselors, according to The Alert Investor, and bring in former bigwigs like Walker to tell cautionary stories.

Pro athletes get classes in spotting financial fraud, advice on how to watch over their investments, and referrals to legitimate and trusted money managers. In the past two decades, every major league has addressed financial discipline as an ongoing education, not just a one-time crash course for 20-year-olds during their rookie seasons.

But how do you stop your players from buying hypercars? How does a leaguer step in when a player's about to plonk down hundreds of thousands of dollars on a piece of jewelry or a watch? Can leagues like the NBA set a limit on the number of people permitted in an entourage when they travel separately on the player's dime?

The truth is, the leagues can arm their athletes with financial educations and the best advice from the world's most sound financial planners, but they can't tell players how they can spend their money. That's why former NBA player Mychal Thompson, father of Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson, famously took control of his son's earnings and limited him to an "allowance" each week.

“Rent is $3K… Walking around money $300 a week…” Mychal Thompson said, per Bleacher Report. “That’s a lot of money to go to the movies and buy pizza."

Likewise, third-year point guard Michael Carter-Williams can't touch his NBA salary -- his mom has it put in a trust that the Milwaukee Bucks player can't touch for three years, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer.

Thompson and Carter-Williams are lucky enough to have involved parents who are looking out for their futures, and not every NBA player has that. But major sports leagues aren't parents -- they do their part, but for pro athletes to make sound financial decisions, they have to take responsibility for themselves.

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Sources: Sports IllustratedBelleville News-Democrat, NBC Sports, Philadelphia Enquirer, The Alert Investor, WKYT, Yahoo! News, CNBC, Sporting News, Bleacher Report / Photo credit: Keith Allison/Flickr

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