One of my favorite musicals is “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tevye is the main character who works hard as a milkman with one cow, having his traditions challenged daily while wanting the best for his five daughters. He struggles, day in and day out, with being poor and having outside influences encroaching upon his family’s lives. In his barn he asks God, “Who would it hurt if I were a rich man,” then he sings a song where he fantasizes about being wealthy and all the things he would do with the money and the lifestyle.
So what’s this got to do with sports? Actually quite a bit. I was reading recently about Allen Iverson, one of the NBA all-time great guards, who had his Wells Fargo Bank account garnished by the court because he owed Aydin and Company Jewelers $859,000 for trinkets. That’s right — bling! This is a guy who over his 15-year NBA career earned over $154 million in salary alone, not to mention the multiple millions for endorsements which included a $50 million lifetime contract with Reebok.
Now he is broke — that’s right, on the skids. How could this happen? Easy. To hang on to your money you have to be educated on how to conservatively invest and learn one simple little vocabulary word, “No.” Like Tevye, these sports figures, celebrities and music moguls are usually from poor beginnings. They dream of all the things they would do with their seemingly vast and never ending fortunes and end up literally squandering their wealth away. It’s a poignant ending to a growing problem.
Iverson’s love for jewelry, as made obvious with his not-so-small invoice from the Georgia jewelry store, is just the tip of the iceberg. He also loved to buy bling for his mother and his friends. He had a 50 member posse of family, friends and acquaintances traipsing all over the country with him for support. We’re not talking about free game tickets here, we are talking about air fares, expensive hotel rooms, food, local limo fares, night clubs, entertainment, you name it, they got it. Heck, Iverson even had his own hair dresser at his beckoned call.
Now his entourage is running for cover. It reminds me of the Blood Sweat and Tears, song called, “God Bless the Child,” which has this line, “When you got money, you got lots of friends, hanging around your door. But when the money’s gone and all that spending ends, they won’t be round anymore. No, no, no…”
Unfortunately, Iverson isn’t alone. Mike Tyson lost $400 million, Derrick Coleman trashed $87 million, Lenny Dykstra squandered $60 million, Michael Vick gambled away over $50 million, Sheryle Swoopes flittered away $50 million as well, and Nicholas Cage blew $94 million — so you get the idea. Their sorrowful tales include expensive cars, lavish mansions, bling, bling and more bling, bad investments, gambling, drugs, crime, divorce, taxes and lots and lots of “friends.”
Why didn’t a friend step up and say, “Hey man, this has to stop. Let’s take half of this money and invest it and then you can blow the rest of it.” Where was that friend? Better yet, where was the NBA, NFL, MLB, Hollywood and the music industry making these young kids take annual mandatory financial planning and retirement courses? These cash-loaded industries take these kids out of poverty, pay them unworldly amounts of money without any thought or perceived responsibility to teach them how to use it, save it or invest it, and just turn them loose out into the world. Unconscionable.
I’m not deflecting blame here. Ultimately it’s Iverson’s responsibility to educate himself and get help, as it is with all the other broke celebrities to act responsibly, be smart with their money and to just say “NO” to everyone trying to spend it for them. But seriously, can’t the cash cows throw in an annual course in finance along with all the other perks and bonuses?
Now Iverson is desperately looking for work, and trying to talk anyone in the NBA into giving him another chance to play. He has already stooped to playing in Turkey, and has been offered a paltry stipend to play in Puerto Rico. Heck, Iverson even has an offer to play soccer for the Rochester Lancers. It’s all a sad and shameful cessation for an 11-time NBA All-star and MVP who was one of the most talented and intrepid guards to ever play the game.
In Fiddler on the Roof, Perchik warned Tevye, “Money is the world’s curse!” Tevye responded, “May the Lord smite me with it! And may I never recover!” Be careful what you pray for. I’ll see you from the sidelines.