As an NBA all-star forward earning mega-bucks, Antoine Walker refused to heed his financial advisor’s warnings: The young player’s lavish spending habits would lead to a grim outcome when his basketball career ended.
Sure enough: Two years after he left the League in 2008, deeply in debt as a result of a spectacularly bad real estate investment, Walker filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, as he tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.
Now the former champ, who during 12 seasons played for the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and the Kentucky Wildcats, making about $108 million, declares: “A financial advisor can be, like, your best friend.”
For the last six years, Walker, 42, an analyst on Fox Sports Network and ESPN’s SEC Network (Southeastern Conference channel), has, on the side, been teaching financial literacy to NBA and NFL athletes and potential pro stars.
His initial effort in the role was as a consultant to Morgan Stanley’s Global Sports and Entertainment Division. Now he’s a consultant with the newly launched Edyoucore Sports & Entertainment, founded by Drew Hawkins, a former Morgan Stanley complex manager who created and ran its S&E unit. He left the firm in 2017.
The 6-foot, 9-inch Walker was drafted by the Celtics at age 19. From modest means, he knew zero about managing money. Hence, the suddenly rich player indulged in over-the-top spending: a $400,000 car, a slew of pricey jewelry, multiple homes — and more. Then, too, there was what turned out to be that crushing real estate investment.
In cautioning young athletes about avoiding financial pitfalls, Walker teaches basics about saving, credit and generational wealth, plus to be wary about whom to trust when it comes to business ventures.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the Chicago-based Walker — who contributes to ESPN radio’s “The Locker Room” and hosts the podcast “SouthSide Heat” — on the phone from Charlotte during the June NBA draft.
THINKADVISOR: Why do you teach financial literacy to young pro athletes and potential sports stars?
ANTOINE WALKER: I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I made. I tell them about my trials and tribulations so they’ll think twice about what they’re going to do with their money.
Why do they need such guidance?
Most players come from humble beginnings, like I did. So you don’t think a lot about money growing up. But all of sudden you get hit with a lot of money and don’t know what to do with it. You don’t understand taxes and about purchasing things or about stocks and bonds.
What’s the biggest financial pitfall?
Trusting other people with your money. I’m talking about business ventures, whether it’s a restaurant, a club, a bar. This is where you hear a lot of horror stories about guys getting beat out of their money. It’s trusting other people to run these [businesses] for you and not waiting till your career is over when you can be hands-on.
Any other big perils to beware of?
Aggressive spending on things you don’t really need or that don’t hold value. A lot of guys, for example, buy jewelry. If it cost 20 grand, is it worth 20 grand, or is it only worth eight grand?
What did you do with your money when you were playing ball?
I had some aggressive spending habits and lived a very expensive lifestyle. I had some fetishes, like, I had a lot of cars, including a [Mercedes] Maybach that cost $400,000. That was a bad investment. I had three homes. I had a lot of nice jewelry — till I got robbed at gunpoint in 2007.
Did you have a financial advisor when you were in the NBA?
Yes, but [back then] you don’t know who’s good or who’s bad [when choosing one].
To what extent should a rookie athlete depend on a financial advisor?
He can become, like, your best friend, to a certain degree. A financial advisor should be somebody that’s going to show you how to invest in the stock market and make sure you preserve your money down the line. A financial advisor should be the guy that takes you on a financial journey so you’ll be set for the rest of your life.
In view of the money difficulties that you suffered, it sounds like your advisor didn’t help you much.
I wouldn’t say that he didn’t help me — I was the one who was handling the money. I didn’t think about life after basketball. There’s a disconnect between you and the financial advisor because he’s trying to put you in a position where you can have money for the rest of your life, but the player that’s earning it is doing a lot of unnecessary spending.
What’s the main reason for that?
You’re a little stubborn in the way you want to spend your money. You’re young and playing ball — things are going great, and you’re just living in the moment.
Did your advisor invest any of your money in stocks and bonds?
I did some stock market investments. But my biggest mistake was being in the real estate game. That was the thing that took me under.
Who put you in real estate?
A friend in Chicago created a real estate company, and I became a part of it. The first three years were great: We were buying a bunch of properties. But the guy mismanaged the company and didn’t tell me about a lot of things that were going on. We got caught in the [real estate crash] of 2007-2008 and borrowed a lot of money through banks. I was the personal guarantor, which was the biggest no-no.
Because when the [crisis] hit, I was on the hook to pay that money back. The banks were very stubborn: They wouldn’t try to negotiate.
Is that when you filed for bankruptcy?
Yes. [In 2010] I chose to file Chapter 7 because I didn’t want to be in debt the rest of my life. I was still a young man with the potential to earn money, and I wanted a fresh start to pretty much start my life over.
But the following year, you reportedly pleaded guilty to giving bad checks to three casinos to pay large gambling debts. Is that so?
I never wrote a check. When you have a credit line at a casino, your bank account is attached. The bank account I used in 2000 wasn’t active later on. So when the casino tried to get their money back, they went to an account that was no longer open. It looked like I wrote a bad check, but I never wrote them a check.
What happened with the case?
[The bank] went public with it, which caused me embarrassment. I went to court and took a payment plan with them.
How did all that affect your life?
I think it played a huge part in me not getting back into the NBA. It happened at the same time I was going through the real estate situation. I tried for three years, but I was never able to get back into the League. I don’t think it was because of my basketball.
What was it, then?
It was a lot of negative press. We all make mistakes, but it was almost to the point where they made me feel like I did something illegal — like me losing my money was illegal.
Do you talk about this when you teach financial literacy?
Yes. I want it to be a learning tool for kids to not make the same mistake. I want to be a living example for them.
What’s the most important lesson that you teach?
To make sure the guys are going to have money when their career is over. Maybe they’re stuck with three or four homes and paying big taxes, and they have all the upkeep on them too. It’s a big transition coming from playing ball, and there’s all this time left to live.
Besides overspending, giving money to family and friends becomes an issue when players make lots of money. How did that show up with you?
I was the oldest of six; we grew up very poor. My mom was a single parent, and I had two kids of my own. So [when I was earning big money] I took over the responsibility of trying to get my family better living conditions. I probably wouldn’t change that. I’m always going to take care of my family.
But you advise young athletes to have someone else at hand to say “no,” when appropriate, to folks’ requests for money.
There’s nothing wrong with helping family and friends, but they’ll drain the well dry if you don’t put a stop to it. So, at some point you have to put the word “no” into your vocabulary. If you get somebody, maybe your financial advisor, to be a buffer, you kind of weed out [some requests] because you need to make sure you have money when your career is over.
What’s the best way for a young athlete to find a financial advisor?
They can lean on college coaches for recommendations. I’m not saying they know all the best financial advisors, but they can help you. Your agent can give you recommendations too. [If you’re in the NBA] you could also lean on the League and the Players Association [union]. They have a team that comes in for a week to talk to guys about finances [among other issues]. But it’s tough: You may have to go through a couple of advisors.
At this juncture, what are your career plans?
I’m trying to figure out what to do next. I’m going to try to stay in TV. It keeps me connected to the game [basketball], which I love. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do this forever.
I assume you no longer have six cars and three homes?
No, no, not at all. I’ve downsized tremendously, on purpose, to simplify my life. I don’t want to be out there trying to live a life I can’t afford.
But — do you still like jewelry?
[Laughs] I never attempted to buy jewelry again after the robbery. It put a bad taste in my mouth.
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