There is no way to sugar-coat the theme of the Providence Journal‘s story: It is about a fall from grace, or at least from a fall from the heights of professional sports success to one of those humdrum lives of quiet desperation the poets bemoan.
Vin Baker: NBA All-Star to Starbucks barista.
Baker played 13 seasons in the league, in fact, and participated in four All-Star Games. The 6-foot-11 product of Hartford averaged 15.0 points and 7.4 rebounds, enjoying his best seasons with Milwaukee (four) and Seattle (five). His career got derailed by alcoholism, leading to a quick churning through four teams (Boston, New York, Houston, L.A. Clippers) in his final four seasons.
He was out of the league at age 34, and apparently has lost much of his career earnings – nearly $100 million, according to basketball-reference.com estimates – through bad investments and regrettable decisions. Now he’s behind a counter in Kingstown, R.I., on Starbucks’ management track (with some time away at Bucks coach Jason Kidd‘s invitation to assist with that team during the Las Vegas Summer League).
Baker’s tale, as told by the Journal’s Kevin McNamara, includes details of his spiral out of the NBA and advice to the many, newly minted multimillionaires for ways not to follow in his sneaker steps. Here is a taste of the excellent, yet in its way all too familiar, story:
Now 43, newly married and with four children, Baker is training to manage a Starbucks franchise. He thanks CEO Howard Shultz, the former Seattle SuperSonics owner, with this opportunity. He’s also a trained minister who savors work at his father’s church in Connecticut. Most important, he has been sober for more than four years.
“In this company there are opportunities for everyone. I have an excellent situation here at Starbucks and the people are wonderful,” Baker says.
Hoop fans might shake their heads and view Baker’s life as a tragic, unfortunate fall from grace. Baker doesn’t see it that way. At all. He says his story is one of redemption, of conquering demons and searching for success in this next phase of life.
“When you learn lessons in life, no matter what level you’re at financially, the important part to realize is it could happen,” he said. “I was an alcoholic, I lost a fortune. I had a great talent and lost it. For the people on the outside looking in, they’re like ‘Wow.’ ”
Like all recovering alcoholics, Baker says every day is both a challenge and a blessing. He now clearly has the perspective of a middle-aged man, not a fresh-faced, 22-year old newly minted millionaire who’s the life of the party. He just wants a chance to keep bouncing back.
“For me this could have ended most likely in jail or death. That’s how these stories usually end,” he says. “For me to summon the strength to walk out here and get excited about retail management at Starbucks and try to provide for my family, I feel that’s more heroic than being 6-11 with a fadeaway jump shot. I get energy from waking up in the morning and, first of all, not depending on alcohol, and not being embarrassed or ashamed to know I have a family to take care of. The show’s got to go on.”