by ALEXA SCHMIDT & SAMANTHA WALLA, Asst. Editors
Vin Baker had it all. An $86 million contract, a shoe deal with Michael Jordan, trajectory to a Hall of Fame career and a substance abuse problem.
On Feb. 8, the former NBA star visited Manhattan College to share his story. Students, coaches and faculty filled the conference room in the Kelly Commons to partake in the discussion. Baker’s story of redemption, which takes him across the country, is different than most recovered alcoholics.
Baker began the evet with a playful crack at his coffee cup; his memoir, “God and Starbucks”, recounts his recovery with the help of a managing position at Starbucks. He pointed to his cup and said, “Starbucks would be proud of this product placement.”
Baker emphasized his desire to open a dialogue between him and the students as opposed to a traditional lecture, encouraging students and faculty to ask him questions at any point during his narrative.
Baker was the son of a preacher coming from humble beginnings; he was not widely scouted by colleges and his basketball career didn’t take off until his junior year of high school when he began averaging around 20 points a game.
At this time, Baker first began experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
In 1993, Baker accepted a 10-year, $18 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. His career was taking off, but so was his exposure to substances like marijuana and alcohol. In the first four years of his career, he was a three-time NBA All-Star.
It was after being traded to the Seattle Supersonics that Baker’s addiction became noticeable. He would drink or smoke before practices and games. He mentioned that his teammates and coaches would smell it on him, but wouldn’t say anything because it was all about the game.
Baker attributes a couple of things towards becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol.
“There’s a lot of things that made me stay under the spell of addiction, my competitive nature of relationships,” said Baker. “The pressure, that was a big thing for me too, the pressure of staying was crazy. Because I wouldn’t have drank or at least I don’t think I would’ve before games if I didn’t have the pressure of a getting another contract and wanting to be an All-Star. I should’ve been checking into rehab. Instead, I was worried about my next check.”
“So I’m faced with a tremendous dilemma,” said Baker. “Not only was I to be one of the top 20 players in the NBA, my contract was coming up and I just figured out I’m an alcoholic.”
Baker was traded to the Boston Celtics on a contract that hinged on his sobriety.
“This is a miracle that you guys are watching,” Baker reminded the audience at this point in his story. “I don’t want you guys to get too caught up in this, having this conversation about a hundred million dollars.”
Despite the high stakes, Baker was not able to stay sober and was let go from the team. Baker said that this was one of the lowest points in his life.
“Not only had I lost my way with addiction and alcoholism, I lost everything,” said Baker.
He went on to lose his house and his restaurant. He was left with no hope, money, friends or family.
Baker realized he needed to change his life around, and not just temporarily, but for good. He described his moment of revelation.
“And so one day I lost so much weight and I went to the mirror and I literally looked in the mirror and with my background of growing up in the church, I said, my only hope was God, I need your strength,” said Baker. “Change the situation around, I need your help. I’ve gotten nothing. I went to this detox and my spirit and my mind was made up.”
“I have nothing but the one thing I can do which is to try to save my life. That was all I have left and I went into rehab for that. I was in there for four days now as much as I was drinking, I should have been in there for probably four years. But I went in for four days and that was April eleventh.”
In April, Baker will have been sober for seven years, and he was given a round of applause for achieving such an accomplishment.
After his struggle with alcohol abuse, he decided to start from the ground up again. He got a managing job at Starbucks through his connection with the owner, and that experience made him realize he needed a steady job.
In retrospect, Baker understands it was never about the money. It was about becoming a better person and sharing his story about how he got his life back.
“Today is not about the hundred billion dollars last,” said Baker. “It’s about the life that was saved. I was telling the guys all the bad. It’s kind of like when I have conversations with people in. A lot of people want to attach themselves to the story, but they always ask me about the money.
“It would be similar to me asking you if you just got a new car, a Mercedes and your family was driving and you happen to have an accident. The first thing somebody asks you about was, ‘How’s the car?’ Right? My life was saved. But coming here to tell you guys to save yours, still make the same mistakes that I’ve made, thinking that drinking and smoking is casual. Eventually it will get you. Eventually it turns into something else. I lost my entire fortune, but I gained my life.”
Recently, Baker returned to the basketball world by working on the broadcast team of the Milwaukee Bucks. Just two weeks ago, he was made an assistant coach. Baker also commented on the irony of life, as his son, Vin Baker Jr, is currently playing basketball at Boston College.
Not all attendees of the lecture were basketball fans, but they learned just as much from his story. Christina Harney, a sophomore English major, learned about the event through the Student Engagement Instagram.
She said, “from Baker’s story, it became clear to me how much control we have over our own lives. Baker didn’t blame anyone else for his alcoholism, he took full responsibility for his actions and knew he needed to make a change in order to regain control.”
She took away a lot of life lessons, which is what Baker wanted to convey to his listeners in this event.
“Baker’s continuous belief in himself reminds me to keep encouraging myself and to be my biggest supporter every day—especially through life’s unexpected hardships,” she said.
Vedawattie Maraj, a junior accounting major, attended the program because her friend told her about it.
She said, “I thought this event was very inspiring and informative for students.”
Baker ended his lecture with just two simple tips.
His first piece of advice is to completely abstain from any kind of alcohol or drug consumption.
He said, “ask yourself, if you just watched the guy talking about losing $100 million in building his life from the ground up, everything because of alcohol and drugs, ask yourself, can I not do this today?”
His second piece of advice is simple: just believe in yourself.
“If you believe in you and you trust the things that I’ve told you about, about pitfall, what can happen? Sky’s the limit,” said Baker. “It’s not mystical. It’s not mystical. The sky’s the limit. Just believing in yourself and trusting in your ability and making the right choices.”