Truth Of The Matter Is, For Black Athletes, Money Is Always An Issue

By Gregory Moore
Updated: May 17, 2005

J.R. Richard and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

SAN ANTONIO – Okay who are we all fooling in the 21st century? The racial divide for African American athletes is still very much a chasm when it comes to trying to get out from under a stigma of being nothing more than dumb jocks who, for the most part, have no ambition to use their given talents and acquire wealth to go further than the playing field. Very few, if any, real success stories of athletes in the ‘now’ generation have become true success stories. What is the definition of a success story when it comes to a Black athlete these days? Believe it or not but it is the same formula that is used for Caucasian athletes. That formula is very simple: has the athlete taken his current state of financial affairs and he has been able to duplicate his success off the field into the business world.

Now many African Americans may think that athletes of this caliber shouldn’t even really think about such matters but there are a far greater number who would disagree with that stance. After a while, Aunt Poochie, Uncle Ray Ray and Cousin June Bug need to find their own way in the world and stop sponging off of the millionaire family member. If there is anything that holds back our young athletes it is the family members of these athletes, many of them who are determined to latch on to the gravy train because they ‘were there when we were all poor”. Ironically this is just a microscopic version of happens when anyone, whether they are Black or any other color in the ethnic spectrum, comes into wealth. Believe the hype when I say that on this subtopic, it has nothing to do with ethnicity but everything to do with the almighty dollar. That is why it is so imperative for these young millionaires to really start looking well beyond their playing days and start looking into some ventures that would set them up for life.

Truth be told for a moment, the inspiration for this op/ed came from actually reading an article in HOOP Magazine about Jimmy Jackson and how he has been able to take a 13-year career in which he has played for seven teams and metamorphosis his chances a small business empire. Jackson hasn’t made the really big money in his career like a LeBron James or even a Kevin Garnett but what he has been able to do was take stock at what his opportunities were and he has maximized his earnings potential into something that will be perpetuated when his playing days are finally over. Jackson isn’t the only NBA star who has done such actions. Michael Jordan, Larry Brown, Isaiah Thomas, Ervin “Magic” Johnson and others of the glory days have all become quite wealthy in their lucrative business ventures in a wide range of businesses from retail to corporate conglomerates. Some of the younger guys like Shareef Abdul Rahim understood that principle and early in his career he set up his business empire to include investments and acquisitions services.

But what of the young athlete who is getting ready to experience a rush of “millionairism” in the next coming months? Top draft picks in the NFL and NBA are going to get some serious coinage thrown at them and the question invariably is can these young men handle it or are we going to hear some horror stories that equal the Stephen King novels so many horror fans love to read. When it comes setting up for the future, are the African American young men who will be fortunate to be a part of this financial windfall be in position to not only have a pleasurable professional career playing a sport they love, will they be in a position to truly enjoy the fruits of their labors later in their 30s, 40s and beyond?

LESSONS OF THE PAST NEED TO BE REMEMBERED NOW Last week many of you will remember that I wrote an editorial in which I took issue with LeBron James not keeping his former agent as an advisor for the Four Horsemen, as he likes to refer to his friends and himself. I took issue with it because at 19 years old, James hasn’t lived life long enough to understand some of the ramifications of being in command of such wealth. None of his friends can say they have either. Sure they may surround themselves with the likes of a Jay-Z or Russell Simmons but what James and his friends may not realize is that they will be perceived as the rich spoiled brats of the financial stratosphere. Why would I make such a statement? Because many times those who made their millions through trial and error, success and failure, do not like the professional athlete; especially the Black athlete who attains such a lofty goal. Then there is also the fact that James and anyone else like him could be easily preyed upon by what may seem as ‘righteous’ friends or associates when in turn these individuals are only after lining their own pocket books. Does this happen even to this day? It probably does but maybe what these young guns like James should remember are just two names from the past: J.R. Richard and Kareem Abdul Jabar.

Richard and Jabar both became victims of unscrupulous agents and other folks who wanted to use the money of these players for their own foolish and very costly expeditions. I remember the Richard story quite vividly because Richard was probably the first $1 million pitcher in baseball history. He was a star for the Houston Astros in the late 1970s but in 1981, Richard suffered a major stroke while playing an innocent game of catch. He was never the same again. Twice divorced, almost penniless because of bad business investments and all of the vultures that could be termed for many attorneys and agents who don’t care about the people they represent, contributed to him becoming homeless in 1994. Today Richard is a minister in the greater Houston era. For Jabar, a Hall of Famer, bad business ventures almost cost him his status as being a great ball player. There have been stories of agents just fleecing him even during games and how he almost had to declare bankruptcy because of those actions. Yet Jabar has been able to now make a good living in the coaching ranks and a few business ventures did pan out for him.

These stories are not uncommon but they are definitely very heart wrenching because they could fit anyone who is a star athlete today and the ramifications could be monumental compared to what many may have thought back then. Losing $100,000 in a business deal in 1981 may actually be equivalent to losing $1 million to $5 million today in the same venture. The risks are higher and the stakes are higher still. Today’s young superstars need to arm themselves with some of the best people who are in the business of perpetuating wealth for their clients. Today’s players need to surround themselves with professionals who understand the dynamics of the game of finances and the helter skelter world of high finance. Unless Cousin D’Shorty has a BA degree from a respected college, these ball players shouldn’t be trusting their millions in current and potential earnings to the family.

The athletes of today need take heed of the lessons of the past and be willing and ready to accept the fact that just because the ‘in’ thing is to surround yourself with your crew doesn’t necessarily mean it is smart business practice. These athletes need to realize that they are conglomerates themselves and that while they may be players of a sport that pays them millions of dollars on a particular day or week, the bottom line is that unless they learn to manage their finances, they could be in some situations that no one would have ever dreamed of; right back at the bottom where they started just a few years ago.