- LZ Granderson, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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Save your money.
That's what Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings said he was told by NBA veterans as the season wore on and a lockout seemed imminent.
Save your money.
Seems like common sense, right?
But it's not.
In 2009 Sports Illustrated -- pulling in numbers from athletes, agents, players' associations and financial advisors -- found that 60 percent of NBA players end up broke within five years of retirement. If you think that's bad, in the NFL -- the pro league with the most roster spots and biggest payroll -- nearly 80 percent of the players are flirting with bankruptcy within two years of their careers ending.
In the NFL, the lowest-paid player made $295,000 last year. Baseball just upped its minimum pay to $414,000. When juxtaposed to the $180,000 needed to be considered among the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, it's difficult for many of us to understand how so many professional athletes can end up cash poor in such a short period of time.
But then many of us have no idea what's it like to skyrocket from working poor to millionaire before we're old enough to rent a car. Many of us have no idea what's it like to see five, sometimes six figures automatically deposited into our bank accounts every month. Many of us have no idea what's it like to be thrust into a world of excess after a childhood of just getting by.
"Save your money" is easy to say but how do athletes learn to do so when they have never been taught to, are too young and naive to value the scarce advice that is given, and are intoxicated by the immortality of youth and the sensation that they'll be making this kind of money forever?
Well, life in the lockout is a good place to start.
While I don't want to see the NFL or NBA seasons delayed or canceled altogether, giving young players like Jennings an opportunity to see what life will be like when the money stops coming in would be a silver lining to the squabbles. A financial advisor or agent can tell an athlete everything he knows about wise spending but nothing can teach life lessons better than experience. Perhaps these weeks and months of financial uncertainty will encourage these pros to be prudent when things return to normal.
Still, "Save your money" should not be advice linked to lockouts but to life.
Mike Tyson famously blew through more than $350 million. Among his purchases: a $2 million bathtub.
Evander Holyfield, en route to losing much of his $250 million, bought a house with 17 bathrooms and had to pay the landscaping bill for 253 acres.
In his autobiography, John Daly estimated he lost between $50 million and $60 million gambling.
When an athlete is young and riding high, depreciating assets such as the air-conditioned dog house that came with the $10.6 million Miami home Dwyane Wade purchased last year, are fun ways to celebrate that hard-earned success. And certainly there are plenty of examples outside of the world of sports where millionaires and billionaires spend frivolously on toys.
The difference is the window for peak earning is so much smaller for athletes than it is for, say, a Hollywood actor or hedge fund manager. Johnny Depp reportedly owns a 45-acre private island. He also made $100 million last year at the age of 47. I don't care how great an athlete is, they are not going to be paid a nine-figure salary to play at 47. They'll be lucky to be playing at 28 given the average length of an NBA or NFL player's career is under five years.
These are lessons that are hard to see when living life in the fast lane because, well, it's all a blur -- the parties, the applause, the pressure, the money. It's all fleeting and the reason so many pros end up broke is because they don't take the time to slow down and think.
These lockouts, if nothing else, have forced these young men to consider their prospects. The paychecks have stopped coming. They are not allowed to use team doctors. They have to pay for COBRA out of their own pockets. For example, the combined $31 million in mortgages Miami's Big Three racked up last year in new home purchases still have to be paid, along with the property taxes, electric bills, car notes, etc.
Scottie Pippen lost much of his $120 million in earnings. Among his purchases was a $4.3 million corporate jet. I bet if he had a chance to do it all over again, he'd fly commercial.
When you're in the midst of the parades and confetti, you don't think about that stuff as much. When the checks stop coming, that's all you can think about.
At least one would think.
But many of us will have no idea what these athletes think and feel because we'll never have access to so much. Or know what it's like to squander so much.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Save your money." Seems like common sense, right? But it's not for athletes. A possible silver lining to these lockouts: Maybe pros will more carefully consider their future.