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Former NBA Player Vin Baker: From Big Bucks to Starbucks

Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com
Vin Baker
"I don’t think I was the best person that I could possibly be when I was making $13 million a year."<br><em>Vin Baker</em>

Vin Baker, who grew up in Old Saybrook, was a four-time NBA All-Star player. He attended the University of Hartford and eventually became an Olympian. He went from relative obscurity to the big time in a flash. 

But that whiplash also meant Baker moved away from his church roots, and from his life where he grew up. He got lost, and he lost -- about $100 million. He became an alcoholic. His NBA contract was dropped.

But Baker rose again. He went to rehab, turned back to the church, and became a minister. He did not regain his wealth, but he said that what he regained is much more important: his sense of self.

That Vin Baker now works the coffee bar at the Starbucks in Old Lyme. He is writing a book about his life. He spent time recently contemplating his past and his future with WNPR's Colin McEnroe.

On Working at Starbucks

Once I got out of rehab four and a half years ago, probably nine months into my sobriety, I reached out to Howard [Schultz, Starbucks CEO]. The history of that is Howard owned the [Seattle Super] Sonics. ... And so I reached out to him maybe nine months into my sobriety and said “I need to work.” This sobriety is amazing and I’m in a great place spiritually, and it was interesting because on the phone that particular day when I spoke to him, the very first thing that he said was "You sound great."

We talked about the next level of it and the conversation came up: what about retail? … I did not know when I committed to this how hard the job was going to be. I didn’t know that everyone customizes drinks and that working at Starbucks wasn’t the easiest job. But it’s been great. I have the intestinal fortitude and the courage. I’m up for the challenge. But it’s just been a great opportunity for me. It balances me as far as going to work every day. I’m co-managing in East Lyme right now with another manager there. I’m learning so much about business things that I wouldn’t have learned.

I talked to Charles Smith, the former [New York] Knick, last week. We were talking about it and he said, “I don’t really think you understand. You are getting a business degree and you’re being paid for it, and this is amazing.” It was an encouragement that I kind of needed at the time. I’ve been there since June and I thoroughly enjoy it. I enjoy working with the people there at Starbucks. And I enjoy learning the company and the business. It’s a tremendous opportunity that I’ve been given and one that I don’t want to squander. I want to continue to get better at it and continue to learn the business. I’m probably at 15 drinks out of 90 right now so I’ve got some more to work on.

On Spending $100 Million

It’s hard to fathom. It’s much more in perspective now because I’ve changed my life. Here’s how to think about it, if you’re looking at it from that point. If you make $50,000 to $100,000, and that is your lifestyle and if you just thrust $50 million cash on someone you’d be like, I’d never spend this.

That’s because you’ve been living from $30,000 to $70,000. It’s all relative.

If you have a million, you’ll assume you can spend half a million of it. And then you’ll assume you can have an entourage, and you’ll assume you can buy this house, and that house, and you spend it. And add to that an addiction to alcohol, it’s a recipe for going broke.

It’s not mystical. I’m not the inventor of the wheel of someone who’s been given a lot of money and a lot of fame and fortune and have run into financial issues just not being responsible. …If you start adding it up and your contract gets terminated, there’s  a way it happens. ...

Everything doesn’t boil down to being wealthy, and having the biggest houses, and having the biggest cars. It boils down to what type of person you are, and what kind of effect do you want to have on your kids, and just society in general.

I don’t think I was the best person that I could possibly be when I was making $13 million a year. I like myself now as a person [more] than I did then. I would love to have that money with this attitude but I don’t know if they live, if they could possible live, in the same person.

On Being a Minister

When I preach on Sundays or teach on Wednesday nights at my father’s church,  it certainly helps that I can share five to six caramel macchiato stories with my congregation. It just all fits. It’s a place of humility. It’s a place of faith. It’s a place of belief. 

I think people identify from where I’m coming as far as talking about the church and talking about  I’m working and I was in Milwaukee and I was working with these kids and when you combine it all, it all helps the ministry.

On Where He Sees Himself in Ten Years

I think [in ten years I'll be] a pastor. I think the influence there would be more relevant. I’d have a chance to really change lives. I think there’s a portion of basketball and a portion of being an executive at Starbucks that kind of stops after the job stops.

But I think of being a pastor of church, you can have an everlasting, eternal place in somebody’s life. That’s what I’m shooting for. That’s what keeps me going -- having that eternal and everlasting place in somebody’s mind. or some kind of influence in their life.

Listen to the excerpts here: 

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