Antoine Walker

Antoine Walker: The Anatomy of an NBA Trainwreck

There is no story more well-tread than the tale of an athlete wallowing in the wreckage of a squandered fortune.

It’s enraging and simultaneously humbling for me to watch winners of the genetic lottery – many of whom I grew up wanting to emulate – earn millions for playing a simple game only to blow it on coke, whores and the dizzying spin of the roulette wheel. It happens so often – or is simply a story the sports journos never tire of telling – that athletes are rivaled only by lotto winners for their skill in artfully blowing unthinkable sums of money. From  the agents, managers, hangers-on, snake suited businessmen with pitches for shiny new car dealerships and Orlando real estate to obligations toward a family tree that sprouts evermore branches, an athlete’s net worth is subjected to a barrage of insincere requests.

But it’s getting to the point of parody.

So, we can skip the part where I tell you Antoine Walker has gone broke, burning through approximately $108 million (in salary alone) on who knows what and is now shuffling his rotund frame around the battered, sparsely attended arenas of the Development League for, what is to him, peanuts.  In fact, you’ve probably already read it in an amazing Sports Illustrated piece last week. In a strange way, I always expected things to end this way for Walker.

Walker was a strange player, is probably still strange in a different way. I’m not talking about his personality – though I loved his hilarious shimmy and an expression so lethargic it’s usually reserved for the post-coital, possibly for the wrong reasons – but rather his basketball game itself.  To this day, I don’t know how to describe how Antoine Walker played. He defied description.

He was extraordinarily pudgy yet never seemed to tire, despite the quantity in which he sweat. Believe it or not, Walker played for more than 40 minutes per game for three years straight, leading the NBA in minutes played during the 2001-2002 season (3,406 minutes or 42.0 MPG). More incredibly, he only missed two games total in that stretch. I suspect his refusal to play defense or wander closer to the basket than the three point line had a lot to do with his endurance.

This brings me to my favorite part of Antoine.

He shot an unholy number of three pointers, this despite him not being very good at it. It was strange, watching him, it was almost as if his brain would short-circuit each time he caught the ball, forcing him to launch away. There was no specific context to his shooting. Down by 20, up by 40, clear path to the rim, wide open. It didn’t matter. If Antoine wanted to shoot, he was going to shoot. And that’s that. He led the league in attempts three times – once even launching 645 in a season.

A week ago, he sold his 2006 NBA Championship ring – no word yet as to whether David Stern and Tim Donaghy received a portion of the sale proceeds – for a little over $20,000 to help pay some bills. His ex-fiancée is now set to marry NFL player Chad Johnson. It all fell apart so quickly, frighteningly so, but I’m not surprised.

Once the money dries up, the friends and especially the women disappear. Now I’m sure his fiancée was a wonderfully talented and self-made woman (her website advertises her as an entrepreneur and philanthropist)  but, yeah, he should have seen that coming.

The most frustrating part about these self-destructions is how easily avoidable it all is, how every veteran in the locker room is a testament to what not to do. I understand one of the best things of the human spirit is convincing oneself that he or she is too smart or lucky to fall into such traps but that’s just it. Poverty, for the super-rich, isn’t a trap one suddenly falls into.

An athlete can watch as his monthly bank statement sink closer to zero, he can see that the car wash in Encino isn’t quite yielding the profits he was promised, and he damn sure knows that when a 19-year-old Dominican woman from the projects starts sexting him on Twitter, that possibly, with all his wealth and talent, he can do better.

The terrain I’m trying to get into here is why athletes, uniquely, appear so destined for destitution.

An NBA player  foolishly marries the groupie who follows the team bus from city to city; he endures four years of bitter fighting before she files for divorce, taking half his net worth and half of all future earnings. His teammates will not understand that ok, maybe those aren’t the girls I should be marrying and having children with? How many more times must an athlete like Antoine Walker go bankrupt before players understand that it doesn’t have to be this way?

Don’t worry Antoine. You’re not the first. And you sure as hell won’t be the last – Dennis Rodman will make sure of that.

Good luck.


6 Responses to “Antoine Walker: The Anatomy of an NBA Trainwreck”

  1. Daniel, I think that the union really needs to grab the bull by the horns here. It should make all rookies take league-sponsored courses on financial management, set up a network of FAs that it considers to be trustworthy and make each rookie sign with one of those FAs if he wants to be part of the union. It’s happened too many times for the union to not stand up and take action.

    Posted by E-Dog | April 10, 2012, 5:45 am
  2. what’s next edog? classes on how to speak proper english? food rationing for rookies? government sponsored healthcare? (oh wait, we already have that)

    these are grown men that need to take responsibility. we beat communism many years ago (trust me, i know)

    Posted by ronaldreagan | April 11, 2012, 10:22 pm
    • Mr. President, I’m not talking about the league itself mandating all this, I’m talking about the union doing it for its members. The union is supposed to look out for its members’ best interests, and I think that it is their place to set up a program like this for the benefit of its membership. You were a union leader once, remember? :-)

      Posted by E-Dog | April 13, 2012, 4:20 pm
    • I have to side with E-Dog on this. When you have a problem you design policies to fix it Mr. President. If hand-holding is necessary for the good of the players, then the union should seek to implement it.
      We can keep pointing at the players’ responsibility in this matter (and rightfully so) but that just doesnt fix the problem. This means you really need to address the root cause.

      Posted by Niamoro | April 18, 2012, 2:06 pm
  3. Naimoro, you must have voted for Carter. Well, we see how that went.

    What I react to is this idea from e-dog that we make players select from a network of pre-selected financiers. This is not how the free market works. You make my point exactly. Players will never get better at financial management if the root cause isn’t solved. That root cause is (1) lack of education in urban communities and 92) media idols who tout materialism and current consumption as values to be cherished. Instead of artificially solving the problem my forcing players to select from a limited selection of mediocre health care, er, financial options, let’s use their failures to create real change.

    Oh, and vote Mitt in ’12.

    Posted by ronaldreagan | April 18, 2012, 3:23 pm
  4. “grab the bull by the horns here. It should make all rookies take league-sponsored courses on financial management,”

    it is not about taking a class, it is about compulsive spending and gambling, a class is not going to come close to addressing that.

    Posted by scruffian | May 25, 2012, 8:42 am

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