The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Vin Baker lost $100 million, but he’s found happiness as a Starbucks barista

Vin Baker played in the NBA from 1993 to 2006. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

Toward the end of his 13-year NBA career, Vin Baker was battling alcoholism and on his way to blowing over $100 million in earnings. However, these days, no one needs to tell him to wake up and smell the coffee.

The four-time all-star, who spent the bulk of his career in Milwaukee and Seattle, is now in a much happier place, albeit one where he has to be much more careful about how he spends his money. Baker, four years into an alcohol-free existence, is working as a Starbucks barista, and he described himself to the Providence Journal as being in an “excellent situation.”

Baker isn’t just making Macchiatos, he’s training to eventually manage a Starbucks franchise, an opportunity for which he thanks the company’s CEO, Howard Schultz, who owned the SuperSonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder) when the big man played for them. Here is what he told the Journal:

“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.”

Baker knows that he is a cautionary tale for current NBA players, especially young ones who have recently been handed dizzying amounts of money. He doesn’t want them to go down his road, although he is a living example that there can be light at the end of almost any tunnel.

“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.’ I would also say be able to monitor every single dime that comes out of your accounts as if you’re a Starbucks barista. My check here I know exactly where my money goes. Don’t trust it with an accountant or a family friend. Make sure you’re aware and be responsible because next thing you know people are stealing from you.”