Athletes who lost all their money
Who didn’t grow up pretending to hit that game-winning shot in their backyard? Dreaming of being a sports star is as American as apple pie, but for some athletes, becoming one can turn into a real-life nightmare. According to Sports Illustrated, “by the time they have been retired for two years, 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.” And, no, it isn’t just the NFL, folks. “Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60 percent of former NBA players are broke.” Those are some pretty stark numbers, considering most of these jocks earns tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars during their careers. Let’s take a look at just a few of these broke ballers, and see what happens when the cheers fade and the bank accounts dry up.
Vin Baker was an NBA All-Star, an Olympian, and an addict. For much of his career he played completely drunk, lying to doctors and himself to keep his lifestyle going. According to an interview with WBUR, it got so bad that the 6’11” power forward found himself drinking Listerine before games to get buzzed without causing suspicion. He would eventually drink his way out of the league and out of the nearly $100 million fortune he earned playing in it.
According to the Providence Journal, a series of bad investments and a tendency to give money to the wrong people bankrupted Baker. His house was foreclosed on and he was forced to auction off his gold medal to pay the bills. With four kids, Baker told WBUR he knew he needed a job if he was ever going to turn his life around.
After getting sober, he reached out to an old boss, former Supersonics owner Howard Schultz. Schultz just happened to own another business, a little coffee franchise known as Starbucks, and offered Baker a job. That’s how this former basketball superstar became, of all things, a barista.
He’s since moved on, working with the Milwaukee Bucks as a commentator, but he told the Providence Journal at the time, “I get energy from waking up in the morning and … 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.”
William 'The Refrigerator' Perry
For those too young to remember, no one was bigger than William “The Refrigerator” Perry in the early days of 1985. And Perry was big all right, weighing 350 pounds his rookie year in the NFL. A defensive lineman who moonlighted as the heaviest player to ever score a touchdown, the Fridge was, as one Chicago Sun Times columnist put it at the time, the “best use of fat since the invention of bacon.”
But time has not been kind to the Super Bowl shuffler. According to a depressing profile in Sports Illustrated, Perry lives in a retirement home, his every decision dictated by his brother, who has guardianship over him. His fortune has been squandered, and his herculean body has been ravaged. He has severe diabetes and cognitive issues, possibly the result of CTE, which he denied, saying, “I didn’t get concussions. I gave ’em.”
To survive he auctioned off his Super Bowl ring, according to CBS Sports the largest ever made. These days he makes due on social security checks, earning just $13,921 in 2015.
Doctors have told him to stop drinking, but he can’t or won’t, instead spending his aimless days throwing back beers with an assortment of hangers-on. His old Bears coach, Mike Ditka, who rode the Fridge to a Super Bowl championship, told SI, “It’s tragic. I think he’s given up. And the question in my mind is, Why?”
Debi Thomas was once the most popular figure skater in America, an African-American trailblazer who changed the face of the lily-white sport. A bronze medalist at the 1988 Olympics, Katarina Witt once told the Washington Post, “She was the only one who could really beat me.” It seemed like nothing could stand in her way, but life doesn’t always go according to plan.
After retiring from skating, Thomas graduated from medical school and began practicing orthopedic surgery. But her attitude got in the way. Fellow doctor Lawrence Dorr said, “She wanted and expected to be treated like a star, but in orthopedics, she knew she wasn’t a star.”
She began bouncing from job to job, never lasting more than a year. She divorced and lost custody of her son. She tried starting her own practice, but was unable to make a go of it. According to the TV series Fix My Life, on which she appeared in 2015, she now lives in a bedbug-infested trailer with her fiance. Her medical license has lapsed and she has no real income, outside of selling gold bullion.
In 2012, she approached a police officer, saying she had a gun and that she planned on hurting herself. This led to a bipolar diagnosis, which she denies having. As Thomas told the Post, “I’m very misunderstood because I look at the world differently. You can call it the Olympian mentality.”
Kenny Anderson once held the world in the palm of his hands. And what hands he had, making him a star on the basketball court before he’d even hit puberty. But behind the facade of a hoops prodigy, Anderson hid a harder, more complicated life. As he told SB Nation in 2013, he was molested by two different men and spent his childhood in the shadow of his mother’s massive addictions.
Even as he rose to the top of the NBA earning over $63 million, his demons remained. He described his life to Mashable as chaos: “I wasn’t happy. I didn’t even know what happiness was. You don’t know who’s in your corner because there’s a lot of leeches and a lot of fake love going on.”
His lifestyle, which included numerous mansions, 11 cars, and eight children by three different mothers, took a toll on his wallet. He filed for bankruptcy in 2005, the year he left the NBA. As he explained to Forbes, “I wasn’t a gambler or a drug addict, but I did foolish things.”
That’s where the 2017 documentary Mr. Chibbs came in. Anderson spent years documenting what it meant to lose so much, at one point saying, “I’m a walking mistake.” While Anderson says he “lives comfortably” now, his main focus is being a better parent to his many children. As he told Mashable, “Basketball was simple for me. It’s everything else that was hard.”
Mack Brown, Vince Young’s college football coach, put it bluntly when talking to Sports Illustrated. His former star QB was “obviously one of the best to ever play college football.”
It’s a notion hard to dispute, based on his performance in the 2006 Rose Bowl alone. Many fans consider it the best game ever played. It bought him a ticket to the NFL and a chance to achieve his dreams. Unfortunately, despite winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and earning two Pro Bowl appearances, Young struggled as a pro.
Clashes with his coaches, and what some called a bad attitude, saw him play his last NFL game in 2011. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. A suicide scare and a DUI turned him into tabloid fodder, and a lifetime of ignoring his finances led to bankruptcy in 2011. As SI documented, Young somehow invested $600,000 in a famous actor’s restaurant that he’d never heard of. He also was far too generous, notoriously spending $15,000 for one meal at a Cheesecake Factory. Can you even imagine how many Buffalo Blasts you’d have to order to make that happen?
In recent years, Young has righted his financial ship and taken a job at his alma mater, the University of Texas. Still, the football dream hasn’t died. He tried to catch on with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL in 2017 before an injury forced him to retire, most likely for good this time.
There’s no easy exit strategy from the fight game, something Evander Holyfield found out the hard way. Despite earning what the BBC estimates to be $230 million over his career, including a $33 million purse for fighting (and feeding) Mike Tyson, Holyfield has spent a decade battling financial collapse. With a lavish lifestyle that saw him a regular in the casinos of Vegas and Atlantic City, and having sired 11 children by five different women, Holyfield found that even a fortune can disappear when everyone’s coming for it.
From the heights of Olympic glory, and heavyweight championships, ESPN reports that Holyfield found himself unable to pay $3,000 alimony checks. His house was foreclosed on, and all his sports memorabilia was put up for auction. Bleacher Report noted there were no holds on anything, from his Olympic medal to the gloves he wore in his famous “bitefight.” Everything had to go.
This massive debt forced the pugilist to hold on long past his expiration date, fighting and losing matches into his 50s. “These are difficult days,” Holyfield told the Independent in 2012. “Dealing with all the mothers of all my kids –- there ain’t no winning here, man, no winning at all. I’ve had no money to pay lawyers and had to fight on my own in court and that ain’t easy.” He finally retired in 2014 at the age of 51.
Bernie Kosar, the former NFL All-pro QB and one-time mullet enthusiast, earned millions over the course of his career. And yet when he filed for bankruptcy in 2009, according to court documents, his checking account had all of $44 in it. That kind of cash wouldn’t even get him a table at the Kosar Wood-Fired Grill, the Cleveland restaurant that bears his name.
It really shouldn’t have been that way for Kosar, who seemed to excel as a businessman when he first retired from football. At one point, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he held a 6 percent stake in a company that would go on to sell for $500 million. But bad investments, a bad divorce, and a willingness to lend to the wrong people turned his life upside-down.
Kosar explained that financial advisers mismanaged his money, and too many people came looking for handouts. He estimates he gave out over “eight figures” to ex-teammates, plus another eight figures to friends and family without ever seeing a dime repaid.
According to the ESPN documentary Broke, Kosar’s father was the first to get greedy, siphoning off money for mortgages and car payments. Lawsuits and tax troubles followed. If it could happen, it did happen to Kosar, who at one point owed millions to both his ex-wife and his ex-team, the Browns. Talk about making it hard to move on.
Antoine Walker earned his money, all $112 million of it. A champion in college and the pros, Walker told CNN Money, “I thought I was set for the rest of my life. My story is sad. It’s sad to see other guys work so hard throughout their life — and then they just lose it.”
Just two years after his retirement from the NBA, in 2008, Walker found himself declaring bankruptcy.
There were the investments in real estate, which went belly up during the Great Recession. There were the loans he made to friends and family that were never repaid. And there were the cars. So many cars. “I had a car fetish while I was playing,” he told SI. “I would always keep six, seven cars. If I would see a guy pull up in the lot with a new car, I would maybe say I like that and go get it.” According to the Las Vegas Sun, it got so bad that Walker was convicted of passing bad checks to casinos. A plea agreement kept him out of jail and served as a wake-up call.
These days, Walker is helping other athletes, serving as a consultant for Morgan Stanley. An expert on what to do (and especially on what not to do) with money, Walker counsels NBA rookies on how to not end up like him. First rule? Contrary to Walker’s beliefs in his playing days, you can wear the same suit more than once.
Despite earning $17 million in prize money over her 17-year career and another $40 million in endorsements, Spanish tennis star Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario told a judge in 2015 that she was “in ruins,” according to The Olive Press.
Considered one of the premiere players of her era, she won 14 Grand Slams and became only the second woman ever to be ranked No. 1 at the same time in both singles and doubles. She should have been set for life.
“My parents left me with nothing,” the icontold Spanish magazine La Otra Conica, “and now I am indebted to the [tax authorities] and I will not be quiet.”
And she hasn’t been, suing her father and her brother for restitution. According to her lawsuit, while Sanchez-Vicario was living on €1,500 a month, her family was living extravagantly, thanks to offshore accounts and duplicitous dealings. “My father explained that I had to be calm, that what I had earned would be enough for me, my children and two more generations to live,” she recalled in court. Sadly, while blood may be thicker than water, it doesn’t pay the bills.
“I’ve never shared this like this,” Delonte West told the Washington Post in 2015, “but I used to try to kill myself all the time.”
While most NBA fans know West as a former running mate of LeBron James, the problematic point guard’s story off the court is far more interesting, and at times disturbing. While he earned $16 million over his eight-year career in the league, by 2012 he was using space heaters to keep his Maryland mansion warm because he couldn’t afford to heat it. For many, West’s bipolar diagnosis seems to be the reason for his struggles.
From being arrested carrying loaded weapons, to an incident in which he was filmed wandering outside a Jack in the Box in a hospital gown, when West pops up in the news, the stories are often concerning. During the 2011 NBA lockout, he got a job at a furniture store, and told ESPN he was hoping to get another at BJ’s selling knives.
In recent years, West seemed to turn a corner. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban helped him put his finances in order, and he even got another shot at playing basketball through the D-League. Unfortunately, with West, everything seems to be two steps forward and one step back. He was photographed in 2017 panhandling, sparking rumors that he was homeless. While he denied it to Media TakeOut, it can be hard to tell truth from fiction with this former NBA fan favorite.
For Lenny “Nails” Dykstra, one of the gutsiest ballplayers of the ’80s, drugs, sex, and steroids were just a starting point. As court filings would one day lay bare, Dykstra had been taking a cocktail of Dexedrine, Adderall, and Vicodin since his playing days, often washing it down with a liter of vodka. According to Newsday, retirement actually seemed good for the hard-living outfielder at first, turning a car wash empire into a private jet and a mansion built by Wayne Gretzky. Sadly, it wouldn’t last.
Despite knowing nothing about the magazine business, Dykstra tried to start his own, a financial glossy geared toward his fellow athletes. But, according to Kevin Coughlin, who got a job with Dykstra and later documented his experience in GQ in 2009, Dykstra was in over his head. Eight issues in, unpaid and unhappy, the entire staff walked out. Dykstra was forced to declare bankruptcy.
That’s when the many legal troubles began. 2011 saw him arrested for grand theft auto, possession of narcotics, federal bankruptcy fraud, and indecent exposure. Nails slid into rock bottom like it was home plate. Later that year, he was in jail.
Since his release in 2013, Dykstra has continued his up and down ways, trying to start new businesses, but also claiming to Howard Stern that he was a paid escort. As to what went so wrong, Dykstra told the New York Times, “I became addicted to money. Money was my drug, and a few other ones, too.”