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How Ex-NBA Star Antoine Walker Keeps Young Players From Repeating His Money Mistakes

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Picture basketball superstars LeBron James, Steph Curry and Chris Paul giving investment tips to other professional athletes at get-togethers about how to handle money.

Well, that’s just what happens in virtual sessions where Antoine Walker, an NBA all-star for 12 seasons and now a consultant with Edyoucore, a financial education company, helps players achieve financial literacy and avoid money pitfalls, as he told ThinkAdvisor in an interview.

Walker knows about such perils from bitter experience: He made $108 million during his playing career, but two years after he retired, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Although it’s tough for players to talk about their money, Walker revealed, they open up when veteran NBA stars “they look up to” share stories about successfully handling their own finances and make suggestions regarding how players can do the same.

Walker, who played for the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and University of Kentucky Wildcats, hopes to also help college athletes now that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is allowing them to make money from commercial use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) in endorsements, for example.

“They need to get in the right state of mind. A lot of the top athletes that are going to get million-dollar deals probably will be professional athletes in a year or so and will continue making money at that level,” said Walker, who is also a basketball analyst with Fox Sports’ FS1.

Walker, who is 6-foot-9, was drafted by the Celtics at age 19. He had a spectacular career, but extravagant spending and a terrible real estate investment sent his finances into a tailspin two years after he retired.

Warnings from his financial advisor went unheeded because he was “just living in the moment,” Walker told ThinkAdvisor in a 2019 interview.

For several years, he has been educating players on financial basics. He was initially a consultant to Morgan Stanley’s Global Sports & Entertainment division.

Then, when GSE founder Drew Hawkins left to start Edyoucore in 2017, Walker aligned with the new firm.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Walker, who was speaking from Chicago, his base. Gearing up to go to Las Vegas to speak at the NBA’s in-person rookie transition program, he outlined his plans:

“I’ll talk to the rookies and try to get them started in the right direction. I’ll share stories — what I went through, the mistakes I made.

“And then I’ll take them through some of the things they have to look out for and what they need to embark on as they get into the league.”

Here are excerpts from our interview:

THINKADVISOR: Has the pandemic caused pro athletes to pay closer attention to their finances?

ANTOINE WALKER: With the pandemic, the world was changing, and guys wanted to know what was going on. They were worried. 

Through the [National Basketball] Players Association, I’ve been working with the athletes to help with financial education. First, we did it in person, and for about the last year-and-a-half, we’ve done it virtually.

What is the most challenging aspect of finances for the players?

It’s really hard for them to talk about their money. It’s, like, a pride thing. It’s weird, but a lot of guys just don’t like to exchange that type of information.

Everybody likes to think they’re doing the right thing, that they have the right people [advising them] and are making all the right decisions.

Do they ever help one another at the sessions?

They can “steal” ideas from each other. One guy may say, “I’m having a terrible time taking care of my family,” and another guy will say, “I do it this way.” That’s valuable. 

So the guys have been sharing these types of stories and are starting to communicate more with each other.

What really makes for a productive session?

When veteran superstar guys like LeBron James, Steph Curry and Chris Paul speak up and help bring home how important finance is, we have great conversations.

It helps so much because those guys are the ones that the other guys look up to. And you get them talking about some of the things they’re doing — they have great ideas. They share stories that help the guys out. 

Someday they may be investing. So they give them investment tips. Try this or that out. It’s been tremendous. We’ve finally started a dialogue.

The players are more open and receptive to getting the information they need to understand their finances and take a more personal approach. They’re getting more involved in trying to educate themselves.

What do you think of the National Collegiate Athletic Association now allowing student athletes to earn money off their name, image and likeness (NIL)?

I think it’s great. The players should get paid [for that], especially when you think that the NCAA is building a billion-dollar operation and the [big] fan base of collegiate sports. 

The players are talented and are like professionals. They put on a show. People enjoy it.

When you were playing college basketball, did you think it was unfair that players couldn’t get paid for use of their NIL?

I never thought it was unfair. I was one of those guys that really appreciated the opportunity to get a scholarship. 

I valued that scholarship as much as I would have getting paid to play, especially being a kid from the inner city.

My mom wouldn’t have been able to send me to a major division school out of pocket.

So you never wanted to have your name or image on something commercial?

I never thought about that. My friends, especially other players, and I were all excited about going to the best colleges.

That was how I looked at it. I was super-super excited to get a free ride to [college].

Some of the college athletes of today are reportedly already getting million-dollar NIL deals. Should they be hiring financial advisors?

It’s not so much that they need a financial advisor at first. What they need is help about the process of making money — money like they’ve never seen before — and getting them in the right state of mind.

What would that be?

A lot of the top athletes that are going to get million-dollar deals probably will be professional athletes in a year or so. So they’re going to continue to make money at that level.

[Therefore,] the NCAA should reach out to someone like me or to a financial institution and set up a program to help these guys.

For example, they need to understand that if you get a million-dollar deal, that doesn’t mean you have a million dollars. If they’re getting money at 17 or 18, teaching them the basics would be great.

You had some rough times with money when you were playing, right? You were young and were spending extravagantly, for one. And you had to pay a big price for making some bad decisions.

I went into the league at the age of 19 and became a millionaire at 19, which is what a lot of the guys now are going to do. I had a lot of [financial] trials and tribulations.

In light of the new NIL laws, have you approached the NCAA about helping them teach financial literacy to college athletes?

I have to find out the right person to pitch to and hope that the NCAA wants to help. By starting to let the athletes get paid now, hopefully, they would want to help.

You’re speaking at the NBA rookie transition program in Las Vegas held in person coming up this month. What’s your role?

I’ll talk to the rookies and try to get them started in the right direction. I’ll be sharing stories — what I went through, the mistakes I made.

And I’ll take them through some of the things they have to look out for and need to embark on as they get into the league.

Such as?

Tax information, making sure they’re putting together a team — picking the right CPA, financial advisor, lawyer — not having their eggs in one basket. 

[That is], making sure they’re diversifying their team and having different people work together to make sure they’re doing the right things with their money. Also, getting on a budget.

How will they find a financial advisor?

Their agents usually help figure that out, but the Players Association is there when they need help. They’re not going to pick the person, but they help you. And I can help them know the right questions to ask their financial advisor.

Do you have an FA at present?

Yes. I had one when I played, and I have [a different] one now.

I remember that you didn’t take your FA’s advice when you were making mega-bucks playing, and you wound up filing for bankruptcy later.

Do you have a team that’s helping you now?

Yes, including someone that does my taxes and someone that helps me with investing. 

Over the years, because of my personal experiences, I’ve been able to create my own budget. I understand these things now.

You used to invest in real estate. Do you own any at present?

I would like to get back into real estate, but right now is not a good time given that it’s a seller’s market, and so many things are going on — evictions and all that stuff.

I’m waiting for the world to get back to normal in some capacity.

Antoine Walker. Photo: Getty Images