Former Boston Celtics player Antoine Walker was just 19 years old in 1996, when he was drafted by the NBA. Flashy endorsements and multimillion-dollar contracts followed. He’d “never have to worry about money again in his life,” then Celtics coach Rick Pitino said when Walker inked a $71 million deal with the team a few years later.Yet 2010 found Walker filing for bankruptcy. He’d burned through his fortune after a series of real estate investments failed and big-time purchases, such as luxury condos, designer watches, and a Maybach car, added up. Looking back on the financial decisions he made through his career on a recent visit to Bloomberg Businessweek, Walker said that given the chance to do so, he “would definitely get an MBA today.”
“I made a decision in investing without really knowing the market and not really understanding what I was getting involved in,” Walker says. “I think having some training on my own would definitely … help me make wiser decisions and understand [them] myself without people having to tell me about it.”
Recent accounts of athletes falling into financial distress have spurred some business schools to create specialized MBA programs for people like Walker. The University of Miami School of Business Administration, which announced earlier this week that it would launch an executive MBA program for professional artists and athletes in the spring, is the latest institution to get in on the game. Similar programs have been launched by the George Washington University School of Business and the Kelley School of Business. Both athletes and the administrators of specialized MBA programs say demand for athlete-oriented business education is strong.
“They’re all working with agents, lawyers, accountants, and the media, and they all have some kind of a personal brand to manage,” says Anuj Mehrotra, vice dean and management science professor at the University of Miami School of Business Administration. “We want to see that they are able to succeed beyond athletics after they retire.”
Perhaps ironically, Walker began his college education at the University of Kentucky studying business management. He just didn’t get to finish the program—after his sophomore year, he was swooped up by the Celtics in the 1996 NBA Draft.
Even before he went pro, juggling his undergraduate business studies with basketball practice was far from easy, he says.
“It’s so demanding in college, as far as working out and getting into shape and getting ready for the season. It’s a cultural shock for a 17-, 18-year-old kid, and sometimes you can get lost, not just in your finances but also in your schoolwork as a whole,” Walker says.
Citing a report that about 60 percent of former NBA players go broke within five years of retirement, Walker says teaching athletes—no matter what sport they play—how to manage their own money is a good step in bringing the number of debt-ridden athletes down.
“When you come into the league when you’re 19 years old, you’re not really trained … on business decisions and how to manage your money,” Walker says.
“We come across so much money so fast, we’re signing six-figure deals and lucrative deals for the rest of our life, so I think it can only help.”