“When you make the kind of money that I’ve been able to make throughout my career,” Antoine Walker reflected, “it should last you forever.”
That’s what one would think, at least. $110 million worth of career earnings? To an average guy like me, that type of money would last — what do you think? –somewhere around 20 lifetimes?
But not Walker. Walker barely made it to the end of his NBA career before succumbing to the lifestyle he led, losing a fair share of his money to gambling and literally giving the rest away. He spent on cars — Benzes, Hummers, Bentleys. He spent in casinos — craps, blackjack. He spent on family — a mansion for his mother, monthly child support totaling $7,000. He spent on friends — 50 of them, in all, who he supported.
Why did Walker spend so much? Generosity, for one. “In the beginning of my career, I kind of thought it was my obligation,” he said. “I thought it was kind of my calling. ‘Okay, I make this amount of money. My job is to give back.’”
The generosity is admirable. If I got rich, I’d want to give back to the people I care for, too. But Walker took it too far. He would have eight or nine friends travel with him everywhere he went. “That’s eight, nine rooms,” he pointed out. “That’s eight, nine flights.” And eight, nine meals. And probably eight, nine nights out on the town.
The money added up. $4.1 million for his own downtown Chicago condo. $3.1 million for his house in Miami. $2.5 million for his mother’s Chicago mansion. Friends wanted loans to start business ventures. “Then I never hear from them,” Walker explained.
The more money he made, the more he gave away. With such a large amount of income, Walker felt it was his duty to help his family and friends. “It was very hard for me to say ‘no’ to people when they come ask me for something,” he says. And so the spending continued.
Michael Jordan didn’t help matters. Walker spent the 2001 offseason training with Jordan, but their training didn’t end on the basketball court. Cedric Maxwell says Jordan was one of the biggest influences on Walker’s gambling addiction.
“It was like a father and a son going someplace and the son’s watching the dad go and spend money and the son’s saying ‘OK, it’s fine,’ but not knowing that the dad got a revenue stream and that you don’t. Antoine ain’t making that kind of money! He’s not the ‘Swoosh Guy.’”
“I was a big gambler,” Walker admits. “I mean, I would bet a couple thousand dollars a hand playing blackjack. I betted big. I won big at times and I lost big.”
But never as big as Jordan.
“I would never bet what MJ bet,” Walker said. “Michael would have smacked the shit out of me if I did that.”
Jordan should have smacked the shit out of Walker for spending money he didn’t have. As Walker’s gambling debts got bigger (“I had a credit line up to half a million dollars,” he said, “so you got a chance to lose a half a million dollars, and sometimes they would increase the half a million to 750 [thousand]. Like anybody else when you’re in a competitive mode you ask for an increase to chase your money and it gets to a point where it gets out of control, until they cut you off.”), his basketball skills diminished.
Soon, the bills he once paid for with his fat NBA contract went unpaid. As Walker’s NBA career came to a crashing halt, his debts increased. Suddenly, he owed money to a lot of different people. There was $600,000 to his agent, $1 million in bounced checks to casinos, and debts to Illinois financial institutions totaling somewhere in the vicinity of $7 million.
And then there’s the nearly $1 million Walker owes the city of Chicago. The city of Chicago, you ask? That’s for fines accumulated when Walker’s apartment buildings were “run into the ground,” violating building codes in the process. Walker says he left his $10 million Chicago investment portfolio in the hands of Fred Billings, “a part of [Walker's] crew.” It was Billings, Walker says, who let the apartments get so horrible. “Everybody knows I love the city of Chicago, and I never want people to think negative about me and think that I don’t care.”
But Billings apparently didn’t care too much for Walker’s beloved city. He didn’t pay mortgages on the investments. He hired untrained workers to do jobs they weren’t equipped to handle. He has been charged with 13 felony counts of fraud, forgery, and theft.
You thought Walker’s fall from grace was the decline of one man, huh? That it was all about Walker gambling away a few dollars and forking over a few too many Benjamin Franklins to his buddies? But it wasn’t only Walker who was affected.
People were hurt in Walker’s Chicago apartments, the ones run by Billings. Kywanna Leftridge’s apartment was flooded by two feet of raw sewage in October 2008. She says she lost everything she owned, and that she and her son lived in a homeless shelter for two months while looking for new housing.
“It’s hurt me. Hurt my reputation,” Walker said about the miserable conditions in his apartments. “People have mixed feelings about me in a place that I grew up.”
Mixed feelings, about Antoine Walker? I know about that all too well. But my mixed feelings were because one play he’d go coast-to-coast for a move no other power forward could make, and the next he’d lazily jack up another three-pointer. My feelings never had anything to do with seeing two feet of raw sewage ruin all my possessions. If Walker is being honest about having no idea Billings would mistreat his apartments so badly — and I’d like to think Walker is — then it was still his fault for entrusting his portfolio to a shady man.
In the end, Walker’s story is all about trust. He trusted his friends not to take advantage of him. He trusted Fred Billings with his portfolio. He trusted MJ to teach him the ropes of gambling.
Now, his friends are nowhere to be found, Billings will soon be in jail, Walker’s portfolio is nothing but a few tattered apartments in violation of plenty of building codes, and MJ — instead of helping his friend scrape his way out of debt — just spent $275 million to buy the Charlotte Bobcats.
“One thing I did is I helped a lot of people that can’t help me,” Walker said, “and that’s huge for younger guys that’s coming into the league. It’s OK to help people, but you can’t help everybody, because a lot of people can’t help you.”
While he was in the middle of trying to help everybody, Walker forgot all about one person.
(Quotes for this piece were taken from ESPN.com)