"Most of my time is spent preventing the exploitation of athletes," says sports attorney Bob Woolf. "Getting money for athletes is not difficult; it's getting them to hang on to it that's hard." Given the easy availability these days of business managers, tax accountants and investment counselors, fewer athletes are going bankrupt, but for some, spending money is still an incurable disease.
"I don't know how long I'll be around this league, but while I've got the cash, I've got to make some splash," says Houston Rocket Guard Rudy White, who in three years splashed from a Chrysler, to a Cadillac, to a Mercedes. After Marvin (Bad News) Barnes signed his $2.1-million contract with St. Louis of the ABA in 1974, he spent $125,000 in six weeks. A silver Rolls-Royce, a diamond ring for each hand, a ruby necklace spelling NEWS and 13 telephones were musts for Barnes, then 21 years old.
White and Barnes are still earning ample sums in the NBA, but a number of other athletes who share their penchant for cash and splash are now out of sports and into bankruptcy or jail—or, in the case of sports' biggest spender, Derek Sanderson, trying to recover from a desperate slide into alcohol, drugs and thoughts of suicide.
In 1972 the Philadelphia Blazers of the WHA signed Sanderson to a five-year, $2.65-million contract. At $500,000 a year he was the highest-paid athlete in the world, but eight games into the season the Blazers bought back his contract for $1 million—or $333,333 a goal. Sanderson then bounced to six teams in six years. Last December he was hospitalized, ostensibly for burns suffered in a kitchen accident, but really to dry out from overuse of Valium, sleeping pills and alcohol. During his 10-year career. Sanderson grossed approximately $2 million. Now most of it is gone: $1 million to taxes. $100,000 to uncollectible loans to acquaintances, $100,000 to his agent, $32,000 for a Rolls-Royce, $35,000 for a single trip to Hawaii, $120,000 for his house in Fort Erie, Ontario, $45,000 for apartment renovation and thousands more on booze, broads and costly hotel suites. "In one year I spent $117,000 just living," says the out-of-work center, who figures he has simply "blown" $600,000. To be sure, Sanderson is self-destructive, but in the megabucks world of sports he has lots of company.
?In 1973 Johnny Neumann, once the nation's leading scorer in college basketball, earned $105,000 with the Memphis Tarns of the ABA, but he spent himself broke buying suits for teammates, a Jaguar sedan for his then-wife Carolyn and a "sophisticated" Ferrari for himself. In 1975 he filed for bankruptcy listing debts of $75,000. When the judge asked him if he ever thought about saving for the future, the 23-year-old Neumann replied, "Yes, sir, I did, but when I first started making the money, Carolyn and I spent it faster than we got it. We kept getting $20,000 to $30,000 in the hole and had to get advances and take out loans. We were never able to get out of the hole."
?In 1977 Joe Caldwell, a 10-year NBA and ABA veteran who once earned $210,000 a season, sat alone and destitute in his furnitureless apartment in Greensboro, N.C. His wife and children had left him, and the former All-Star forward spent much of his time watching films of his biggest plays. A movie projector was one of the few items not seized by his creditors.
?In 1972 Duane Thomas led the Dallas Cowboys to victory in the Super Bowl. Five years later, almost to the day, the erstwhile $100,000-a-year running back and his pregnant wife appeared in a Dallas court to file a voluntary bankruptcy petition, stating their assets at $4.66 and their debts at $26,979. "It was just one of those things that happen," said Thomas, who is now out of football.
?When he played for the Cowboys, Craig Morton was known as the Prince of Greenville Avenue, a Dallas disco area. He lived from day to day, spent freely—and went bankrupt. Now that Morton is happily remarried and resettled in Denver where he quarterbacks the Broncos, friends say he has gotten a grip on life—but he also has debts. Ten days before the Super Bowl he was tackled by a $34,635 Federal income tax lien and a $38,000 debt to a New York bank.
Careless, carefree spending is ruinous, but athletes are also easy marks for bad investment advice and crooked agents. Basketball players Jerry Lucas and Nate Thurmond lost $60,000 and $40,000, respectively, in a marina-hotel project in San Francisco. In 1976 Brooks Robinson lost $100,000 when a sporting goods store went into hock.
Last winter agent Richard Sorkin was given up to three years in the slammer for ripping off 50 athletes for more than $1 million. Islander Bobby Nystrom got hit for $145,000 and Ranger Ron Greschner for $86,000, and a $30,000 loss forced ex-Bullet Dennis DuVal into bankruptcy. "He took every cent I had," says DuVal, 25, who now works as a deputy sheriff in Onondaga County, N.Y. "The other guys can keep playing and earn some more money. He's ruined my life."