Antoine Walker went broke.
The former Celtics and Heat star earned over $100 million in his career, but had nothing to show for it soon after his playing days ended. Walker would eventually file for bankruptcy, taking over two years to pay off his debts.
Walker is now using those experiences to help the next generation. The former Kentucky Wildcat has teamed up with Morgan Stanley Global Sports & Entertainment to offer financial advice to NBA rookies. Walker is an obvious choice to help those entering the NBA, serving as a living, breathing example of how things can go wrong—even after a successful career.
Drew Hawkins, a managing director at Morgan Stanley GSE, explained the program to SI, emphasizing how the financial giant hopes to surround athletes with the best possible team to teach them how the best manage their wealth. The sports-specific division caters to the unique needs of athletes and their finances.
“There couldn’t have been a better matchup for us than Antoine,” Hawkins said.
Walker was kind enough to chat with SI about his experiences with money, the worst purchase he ever made and more.
Rohan Nadkarni: How do you try to connect to rookies when you tell them your story? How do you get the message across?
Antoine Walker: What I can do is try to relate to them. I came into the league at 19, so I understand the pressures they are going through at a young age. The main thing I try to let them know is there are things I didn’t think about. I didn’t think at 19 what it would be like not to have money at 39 years old. I didn’t think about not being able to work for the rest of my life. I was so young and money was coming in every first and 15th and I thought it would never end.
That’s the hardest thing is to tell people, you’re going to be 30 or 40 one day and to make sure you put up money for yourself and your family. If you have kids one day, you want to make sure you have money to [support] them. The type of money that NBA players make, it’s generational wealth, you’re able to pass it down. We don’t think about that at a young age. I just try to share my story and be open and honest with them. Money can bring some good things, but it can also bring bad things. The money doesn’t last forever.
RN: Do you think the message works?
AW: It’s hard, I think the message does go through. I was able to amass over $112 million in my career. I made big numbers and things of that nature that kind of stand out. I think when they see an actual person in front of them, explaining to them and telling them, you can have a lot of money but it can go fast. It’s a combination of things that can hopefully keep their attention as opposed to a bunch of black and white finances.
RN: Did you have anyone helping you when you got into the league?
AW: No, we had nothing like this. We had a rookie transition program, but that’s four days of everything you could possibly go through. It’s really a crash course you get in finances. There was no one program we could go through. There definitely wasn’t a player involved going through their trials and tribulations. It was really, really basic as far as finances. They were talking about drugs, talking about sex, so many different things at the rookie transition program.
RN: How much pressure did you feel to help your friends and family financially?
AW: A lot. It was a lot. Obviously, the ones you do want to help you help them. You do want to make sure you take care of the people who helped you. Sometimes you do feel obligated. We try to teach people how to use the word “No.” It’s a hard word to use, especially to your mom or your dad, brothers and sisters. We try to help them deflect that pressure off. You’ll be better off down the line.
RN: Do you wish you had said no more often?
AW: Yeah, this is the reason why I’m doing this now. Obviously, I went through my bankruptcy in 2010 and I saw where all my money went, of course I wish I didn’t spend a ton of money on my family and friends. I gave them whatever they wanted without making them earn it. I didn’t hold them accountable for it. I look at that situation and think I should’ve said no. When I went through my bankruptcy, I really looked at how much free cash I gave away with no return for it in sight.
RN: If you could have one do-over, what would it be?
AW: Wow. The biggest thing for me would be investing while I was playing. I was invested in real estate, I had someone else run the business. I was out playing basketball, wasn’t watching the business on a day-to-day basis, and it ended up biting me. I end up losing $18 million in real estate. That was the one thing I wish I could have back.
RN: How difficult is the moment when you have to declare bankruptcy?
AW: It was very difficult. It was something that I never went through in my life. It’s one year of learning. You have a group of lawyers teaching you on the fly. Then you look at the big picture. I have to start over. You work so hard, I worked so hard in my career—13-year career—to build my wealth up so I would have enough for my life, but then I basically had to start over. It was very difficult for me. It was a learning process. It was scary but at the same time I had the right reps to lead me the right way. It took me two and a half years after filing bankruptcy to actually get my discharge and re-start my life. I’m happy to be in the place that I’m in now.
RN: Do you think players compete with each other when it comes to money? Do they try to outspend each other?
AW: Not necessarily me. But that’s a great question. I do think some guys get in a competitive state when it comes to making money. Sometimes guys making the league minimum are trying to do things someone making $6–7 million are doing. Whether it’s watches, cars or clothes, some guys do try to compete.
RN: Did you ever have a night where you competed too much?
AW: Maybe not at night, but I might’ve made a couple stupid purchases. Especially with cars. I had a car fetish when I was playing. 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.
RN: What was your worst purchase?
AW: Probably my Maybach. A Maybach Mercedes Benz. At that time they were pretty high-end vehicles. I paid like $400,000, $450,000 for it.
RN: I have to ask about the 2006 Heat. Shaq told this story recently—is it true Pat Riley stuck his head a bucket of ice when you guys were down 0–2 in the Finals?
AW: Yeah, Pat did a lot of things. That was one of them. We had this big bucket of 15 strong cards we would fill up. We would fill them up after every game. We were down 0–2, we were embarrassed, kind of like Cleveland got in Golden State. People kind us wrote us off. Pat Riley had a lot of creative things he did that year. One thing that was great about Pat, he was a great motivational speaker. We would talk for like 45 minutes to an hour before even taking the court.
RN: Shaq has also said you guys didn’t repeat in 2007 because you partied too much. Was that the reason?
AW: Well, in my opinion, we might have partied too much the year we won it. It was a very unique team. I would say this, I never partied and played basketball at that level in my life. That was the first time in my life [I did that]. We were a team that liked to have a good time. We enjoyed South Beach, I’ll just say that. I don’t know if that was the reason we didn’t repeat, but it was a big part of it. It played a huge percentage in it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.