A 2009 Sports Illustrated article estimated that about 60% of former NBA players wind up broke within five years of retiring from the league. Most people will find this statistic insane, and rightfully so. NBA players make more money than most people will in their entire lifetime. Even those who aren’t starters easily pull in a million dollar salary (at least) for a season. Imagine what people who earn a normal hourly salary could do with the millions that these NBA stars take for granted. Pay off the house mortgage, take a dream vacation, put it in a savings account, and so on.
A large part of the issue is, for all their athletic ability, NBA players simply lack financial smarts. In a lot of cases, teams are handing tons of money to young players who have little guidance on what to do with it. The temptation to spend it is enormous, and this can lead to some dangerous behaviour if they aren’t careful. Gambling addictions are common, as is spending lavishly on unnecessary items. In fairness, taxes and payments to player agents also take up a cut of the player’s earnings.
The bottom line is this: several NBA players who most people would consider rich are actually broke not too long after they retire. Indulging oneself after signing a big contract is one thing, but indulging oneself too often can lead to major headaches for the player down the road when that paycheck isn’t coming in.
As shocking as it may be to realize that six out of ten NBA players will be essentially broke within five years, let’s take a look at 15 notable players who lost their fortunes through what can only be described as questionable financial decisions.
15 ALLEN IVERSON
Allen Iverson had one illustrious career in the NBA. He spent 14 years in the NBA, most of which was with the Philadelphia 76ers. The 1996 first overall pick ended up making over $200MM in his career, including endorsements. Iverson was financially irresponsible with his earnings; his descent included a number of questionable purchases. Among his most notable expenses, he had a 50-person entourage, a gambling addiction, legal fees and alcohol addictions. When Iverson’s wife divorced him in 2012, he argued that he was broke and couldn’t even afford a cheeseburger.
One thing Iverson does have going for him is that Reebok has a $30 million trust fund set up for him, but he won’t have access to the funds until 2030, when Iverson turns 55.
14 SCOTTIE PIPPEN
Scottie Pippen is easily a Chicago Bulls legend and probably could have been the face of the franchise had it not been for some guy named Michael Jordan. After his great career in which he earned approximately $120M, he was forced to file for bankruptcy. Unlike most of the other basketball players on this list, Pippen did not have most of those same vices. No drugs, no significant child support payments, nothing of that nature. Pippen was a very generous man, but he was too generous and it ended up being his downfall.
He financially supported as many as 70 friends and relatives with allowances that, of course, was never paid back to him at all. His generosity was in addition to the cars he purchased: two Bentleys, two Mercedes, a Range Rover, a Cadillac Escalade, and a Hummer! Pippen may have been a great basketball player but he made some very poor financial decisions.
13 EDDY CURRY
Eddy Curry is a former NBA star who just did not have any financial literacy at all. Despite earning millions in the NBA, Curry had to take out a personal loan from Allstar Capital. The loan was valued at $570,000 and carried a whopping 85% interest rate! He defaulted on that loan and was ordered by a judge to pay $75,000 a month to pay off the debt, even though Curry said that would be difficult to pay. His explanation for why it would be difficult? Curry told the judge that he already needed to pay $30,000 per month on household bills, $1,000 for cable TV, and $6,000 per month for a personal chef. It’s no wonder why the judge rejected his explanation when he included the personal chef as something he “needed”.
12 CHARLES BARKLEY
Charles Barkley is another legendary NBA player who found himself broke for a long stretch of time. Uniquely, Barkley blames his financial woes on his former agent, Lance Luchnick. Barkley previously claimed Luchnick gave him an allowance, while the rest of his fortune was “invested”. Barkley became broke only four years into his playing career! He was making millions playing basketball and should have had more than enough to live comfortably, but this was not the case. In fairness, not all the blame should be placed on his agent. Barkley also had a huge gambling problem. It got to the point where he estimated having lost over $10 million while gambling. While he blames this addiction to peer pressure, it comes across as though Barkley not shouldering the responsibility for his financial woes. It's a good thing Barkley seems to be doing much better nowadays – financially at least.
11 SHAWN KEMP
Shawn Kemp is another professional athlete who is so great at the sport he loves, but avoids condoms like the plague. As with many former NBA stars on this list, Kemp has to pay child support. At last count, Kemp has eleven children with nine different women! Now Kemp earned a solid $90MM during his playing days in the NBA, but he burned through all those earnings fairly quickly. Kemp also had his fair share of vices. He was arrested for possession of marijuana and cocaine in 2005, and then again in 2006.
Kemp repeatedly attempted to return to the NBA, probably to get a big enough paycheck to pay the hefty child support payments. He never made it back as a player, but hopefully he learned his lesson about being careful in his personal life.
10 GILBERT ARENAS
If Gilbert Arenas isn’t completely broke yet, he definitely will be soon! In July 2008, the Washington Wizards signed Arenas to an ill-fated 6-year/$111MM contract. He was out of the NBA altogether before the contract even ended, but still collected every last dime of it. All those millions would last most people for several years, if not for life. He has spent lavishly on ridiculous things, such as a personal shark tank (why?), 2,000 pairs of shoes, and a seven-bedroom mansion.
Arenas was made a very rich man but after all those exorbitant expenses, he is all but broke nowadays. In 2016, when his NBA contract expired, he claimed that he is so poor that he won’t be able to pay for private school for his children.
9 DENNIS RODMAN
Dennis Rodman made about $27 millionin his playing career, which included fourteen years in the NBA between 1986 and 2000. Although $27 million may not be much by today’s standards for NBA players, that is still a lot of money for most people and he is still a multi-millionaire. All that money went out the window when, in 2014, court documents filed indicating that he was extremely broke. Like many of the other athletes on this list, he has child support commitments. According to the 2014 documents, Rodman owed approximately $809,000 in child support although that number has almost certainly increased since then. Given the rockstar-type lifestyle Rodman has been known to have, it is not surprising that the 5-time NBA Champion is now broke.
8 KENNY ANDERSON
Kenny Anderson had a 14-year NBA career that saw him earn approximately $63MM. Unlike many of the other NBA players on this list, Anderson should be recognized for actually having a budget. Yes, he really allocated himself $10,000/month as “hanging out money”. There is no real idea what Anderson meant by this, but one can only assume it was for partying, drinking, or anything else that Anderson deemed appropriate at the time. Sadly, this monthly allowance was not enough to keep him afloat financially. Anderson also had to pay $40,000 a month in child support payments for his seven children!
On the positive side, Anderson is at least trying to be productive in his retirement. He got a degree in organizational leadership from St. Thomas University in 2010, in an attempt to turn his life around.
7 LATRELL SPREWELL
Three-time NBA All-Star Latrell Sprewell had his share of controversies while he was in the NBA. Spewell had the courage to reject a $21 million/3-year contract offer from the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2005. In explaining his decision, Sprewell said “I’ve got a family to feed.” Almost everyone would have taken that contract offer and be able to live off that $21MM quite happily, but not Sprewell. Rejecting that offer marked the end of Sprewell’s playing days, but he still made ‘only’ $100M in the NBA.
In retrospect, Sprewell should have taken that offer as he is now behind in payments and faced foreclosures on mansions he owned. Sprewell has repeatedly shown he has a history of making poor financial judgements. First he is offended at a $21M offer that most people who take in a heartbeat, and then he quickly allows his earnings to vanish because of lavish expenses.
6 ROBERT SWIFT
Robert Swift was drafted in 2004 by the Seattle SuperSonics, with the expectation that he would develop as a star center for the team. That never came to fruition as Swift, who was drafted out of high school, proved to be way over his head in the NBA. Perhaps all the sudden fame, money, and level of competition was too much, way too soon for Swift. According to an article published in Sports Illustrated, Swift was immature and lived like he was hard-partying college student.
Swift did not present himself like a professional athlete should, which was a huge red flag. Swift did earn $10M in his injury-shortened career (4 years), but his home foreclosed in 2013 – 5 years after he retired. Swift battled addictions to heroin and ran into legal troubles, both of which cost Swift a lot financially.
5 RICK MAHORN
Rick Mahorn is probably considered a legend in Detroit, having spent parts of eight seasons with the Detroit Pistons. He helped lead the Pistons to an NBA Championship in 1989 and returned to the city after his playing days ended. He served as a coach for the WNBA’s Detroit Shock for a number of years, where they won two championships. Mahorn became a broadcaster in Detroit and even made some property investments in Detroit. Despite earning $7M in his playing career and earning six-figure sums a year in broadcasting and coaching, Mahorn filed for bankruptcy in 2010. He cited failed investments, the declining value of their Detroit home, and the $200,000 owing to the IRS as reasons for his bankruptcy. Despite having made millions, Mahorn and his wife had monthly expenses ($12,763) that far exceeded their monthly income ($6,161).
4 DERRICK COLEMAN
Similar to Mahorn, the reason why Derrick Coleman went bankrupt is yet another sad story. They always say how it is important to give back to your community, well Coleman certainly did just that. Coleman’s problem was that he far too generous with his money, and pretty much gave all his life earnings away. He invested heavily in the struggling Detroit economy to try to help turn the city around without much success. He developed real estate and went to great lengths to create jobs, but the poor state of the economy was just too much.
As a result, Coleman filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and apparently owed about $20M to loan companies. Coleman did, and still does, a whole lot of good in the community and deserves a lot of credit for that, but it is sad when he goes bankrupt because of his generosity.
3 DAVID HARRISON
David Harrison had a relatively short career compared to some of the other players on this list. He only played for the Indian Pacers for four seasons, but he managed to earn about $4.4MM. That is still a lot more than most people will earn! Harrison’s major difficulty was that he was trying to live the life he was while a player. As could be imagined, Harrison blew through those millions pretty quickly. Without earning any income after his basketball career, Harrison found himself with no money quickly. He did not have a college degree so he was basically forced to find any job. In 2015, Harrison admitted that he briefly had been working at a McDonald’s. That is quite a fall from someone who was a first round pick, nine years prior to that.
2 JASON CAFFEY
Not only does Jason Caffey need a lesson in financial management, but a lesson in contraceptives. Caffey has 10 children across eight women! While we know that he has certainly kept himself busy, Caffey is also not believed to be involved in his children’s lives. Having all those children inevitably means having to pay a lot in child support. Even though he signed a $35M contract with the Golden State Warriors in 1999, Caffey was still forced to file for bankruptcy in 2007 because of his expenses. While he may still be remembered fondly for helping lead the Chicago Bulls to two championships, Caffey has had to serve time in jail for failing to pay child support. He has been taken to court by several of his partners for failing to pay child support, so hopefully he figures out some way of paying for all those children he fathered!
1 ANTOINE WALKER
The $108MM that Antoine Walker earned in his career should have been more than enough to set him up for life. It took him all of two years of retirement to burn through all that money he earned during his playing career that lasted over a decade (1996–2009). Walker filed for bankruptcy in 2010 after having spent lavishly on himself, but also his family and friends. He had debts over $12.7M and unable to pay mortgages on his homes. He was sadly forced to sell his NBA Championship ring to help get out of debt. In August 2013, Walker became debt-free and has since made a point of educating other about financial literacy. He acknowledged that he learned his lesson too late and wants to help other college athletes and pro rookies avoid the mistakes he made.
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