Few Starbucks baristas can say that they played basketball at the professional level. Even fewer can say that they have done so at an All-Star level, one that even garnered U.S Olympian status in 2000. I think it’s safe to say the words “few” and “fewer” are vast overstatements because Vin Baker is very likely the only one.
Vin Baker’s story is one that is all too common among professional athletes; one that resulted in the loss of over $100 million of his NBA fortune and baffles the average person as to how it is even possible. It’s fair to express that disbelief as $100 million should be enough to last most people 100 lifetimes. Yet, Baker isn’t the first to squander his career earnings nor will he be the last.
An eighth overall pick out of small school Hartford, Baker made a name himself in his early years with the Milwaukee Bucks earning All-Star honors in three of his first four seasons with the team. As far as All-Stars are concerned, Baker was about as boring as it got and that is not an insult. He dunked with two hands. He shot mid-range jumpers. He got position in the paint. He played with his back to the basket. He wasn’t flashy, but he had surprisingly strong handles for a big guy. It was basically like playing your dad if your dad just happened to be 6’11”. He had some serious “dad” game.
Coming off a career best season in which he averaged 21 points and just over ten rebounds per game, the Bucks sent Baker over to the Seattle Supersonics in 1997 where he made the All-Star game for the fourth straight season. However, things began to fall apart after the 1998-99 NBA lockout as he gained a substantial amount of weight and no longer was playing at an All-Star level. His play still earned him a seven year, $86 million contract in 1999 from the Sonics though — one that ended up being a disaster for them. After two mediocre seasons, Baker was traded to the Celtics and was unable to ever regain his form. He admitted to the Boston Globe in 2003 to being an alcoholic after being suspended by the Celtics for smelling of alcohol at practice. He was eventually released and played his last game for the Clippers in 2005-06.
Baker’s immediate post-playing career was just as rocky as the end of his playing career. His alcoholism continued and he had reportedly lost over $100 million of his NBA earnings due to his alcoholism, poor investments, and trusting the wrong people. Here’s what he told the Providence Journal in 2015:
“I would insist [to NBA players]that you surround yourself with the person you trust the absolute most,” Baker told the Journal, “someone who can tell you, ‘You’re wrong, don’t buy that, don’t go there, that person’s no good.’
Baker’s tale could have ended in disaster, but — now 45 years old — Baker has found happiness and has been sober since 2011. With the help of Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz, who owned the Sonics when Baker played for them, Baker secured a job working as a Starbucks barista in Rhode Island and was most recently training to be a manager.
“In this company there are opportunities for everyone. I have an excellent situation here at Starbucks and the people are wonderful,” Baker says. …
“When you learn lessons in life, no matter what level you’re at financially, the important part to realize is it could happen,” he said. “I was an alcoholic, I lost a fortune. I had a great talent and lost it. For the people on the outside looking in, they’re like ‘Wow.’ For me, I’m 43 and I have four kids. I have to pick up the pieces. I’m a father. I’m a minister in my father’s church. I have to take the story and show that you can bounce back. If I use my notoriety in the right way, most people will appreciate that this guy is just trying to bounce back in his life.” …
“For me this could have ended most likely in jail or death. That’s how these stories usually end,” he says. “For me to summon the strength to walk out here and get excited about retail management at Starbucks and try to provide for my family, I feel that’s more heroic than being 6-11 with a fade-away jump shot. I get energy from waking up in the morning and, first of all, 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.”
Rather than one of despair, Baker’s story has turned into one of redemption and that’s what he hopes inspires others.
“When people ask me if I’m OK, am I $100,000,000 OK?” he says. “No, I’m not. I’m never going to be $100,000,000 (OK). But I’m comfortable financially,” Baker told the New York Daily News in 2013. “‘I have to take the story and show that you can bounce back. If I use my notoriety in the right way, most people will appreciate that this guy is just trying to bounce back in his life.”