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How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke
PABLO S. TORRE
March 23, 2009
Recession or no recession, many NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball players have a penchant for losing most or all of their money. It doesn't matter how much they make. And the ways they blow it are strikingly similar
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March 23, 2009

How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke

Recession or no recession, many NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball players have a penchant for losing most or all of their money. It doesn't matter how much they make. And the ways they blow it are strikingly similar

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Given all the pressures on a pro athlete's marriage, one safety valve might be the prenuptial agreement—something "very strongly" recommended by agent David Falk, who surged to prominence representing Michael Jordan (who did not have one). "The percentage of prenups amongst athletes is appreciably lower compared with nonathletes at the same economic level," says celebrity divorce lawyer Raoul Felder, who has represented the ex-wives of Patrick Ewing, Jason Kidd and Mike Tyson.

In 1994, when NBA center Dikembe Mutombo was engaged to Michelle Roberts, a med student, Roberts refused to sign a premarital contract the day before the wedding. Five hundred guests—including a large party from Mutombo's native Democratic Republic of Congo—had begun flying in to Washington. "[Roberts] never signed," Falk says, "and Mutombo never married the girl." Calling off the nuptials reportedly cost him $250,000.

It's no coincidence that the woman a pro athlete often chooses to marry—and often at a young age—is his hometown sweetheart. For that reason he can't envision a ruinous divorce. "That was how you could tell if she really liked you, if she knew you before you made it," says West. But when a player does make it? "The question [for the athlete] becomes, When you get off the farm and see Paris, so to speak, can you really go back to the farm?"

Children almost always complicate the issue. How to limit paternity obligations is a challenge for pro athletes. Former NBA forward Shawn Kemp (who has at least seven children by six women) and, more recently, Travis Henry (nine by nine) have seen their fortunes sapped by monthly child-support payments in the tens of thousands of dollars. Last month Henry, who reportedly earned almost $11 million over seven years in the NFL, tried and failed to temporarily reduce one of his nine child-support payments by arguing that he could no longer afford the $3,000 every month. Two weeks later he was jailed for falling $16,600 behind in payments for his child in Frostproof, Fla.

An aversion to family planning goes hand in hand with neglect of other forms of financial foresight, which can affect what happens to athletes' fortunes even after they die. Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas, who died at 33 following a January 2000 car crash, had ignored the urging of his financial adviser to make a will, and his entire estate was left for the court to divide, touching off a legal battle among the five mothers of his seven children. (Of the estimated $30 million Thomas had earned in the NFL, he had only $1.16 million in valued assets at the time of his death.)

"Derrick didn't care about meeting with his planner, and we tried to set him up to do it 10 times," says Steinberg, who was his agent. "The sad truth is that there was a certain group of athletes who actually believed that if they ever sat down to write their wills, they were going to die."

IV. GREAT EXPECTATIONS

THE THORNIEST question for a pro athlete, however, isn't how he handles himself and those closest to him. It's "how you handle the new people suddenly emerging in your life," says Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's DeVos Sport Business Management program. "They'll be expecting help or money or jobs. Often players don't know how to say no."

It's all part of that ossified notion of how a pro athlete should live and provide for those around him. If he isn't consuming conspicuously, then he hasn't made it. "When I was a young buck," says Hawkins, "I was trying to spend all my money. Now I try to preach to young guys in the clubhouse who are like that. I've got all this stuff from 10 years ago—jewelry, rims—that I think, Why the f--- did I even buy this?"

Two years ago Rockets forward Ron Artest had a similar change of heart. He dismissed six friends who were involved with his record label and doing odd jobs for him while they lived in a house he was leasing for $30,000 a year. This entourage's "level of helpfulness," said Artest's publicist, Heidi Buech, "was 50 percent." (The house they occupied had also been broken into while Artest was abroad.)

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