Hawking Up Hairballs

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Man Fallen

I've vowed not to write about sports in this blog, but this item is about sports or, should I say, a sports figure. Lattrell Sprewell had a fairly long career in the NBA. He played until well into his mid-thirties. He was a controversial figure for sure. There was the well-publicized incident where he choked his coach in practice. Many commentators held him up as everything that was wrong with professional athletes when he turned down a three-year $21 million contract. At the time, he stated that the money wasn't sufficient because he had a family to feed. You get the picture. As a public figure, Sprewell wasn't easy to like.

Now, after being out of the league for only a few years, it turns out that Sprewell is in financial trouble. His yacht has been repossessed and auctioned off to pay the $1.3 million still owed on it. His home is in foreclosure, though it isn't an extravagant dwelling, at least not given the money he was making. He bought it for a bit over $400,000 in 1994 and the payments were $2600 a month, chump change for somebody making millions a year. One wonders why he didn't just buy the house outright, but whoever was advising him probably assumed that Sprewell wouldn't want to keep living there in Milwaukee after he retired, so he might as well get the tax benefits that come with a mortgage.

Sprewell made about $95 million in the course of his career. How does one blow through that kind of money in the course of a ten or fifteen year career? Did he have a problem with gambling? I've read of certain high rollers losing a million bucks in a single evening at one of the Vegas casinos. Was he one of those characters? I don't know, but $95 million and now he's broke! I just can't wrap my mind around it. Perhaps he got some bad financial advice, or some downright shady financial advice, but wouldn't he notice the losses? At some point, any reasonably sensible person would realize that something was wrong.

My first thought was that Sprewell just isn't very smart. Perhaps he isn't, but I think it goes farther than that. There have been many professional athletes of limited intelligence who have managed to hold onto their money. I'm led to wonder if Sprewell isn't one of those unfortunate African-Americans who have internalized the negative racial stereotype, the one that says that blacks are inherently inferior, great at athletics, but not too smart, and unable to hold onto their money. It would certainly explain his behavior, the choking of his white coach, and the smart-ass public persona. Perhaps he was acting out of his felt inferiority. Those who are so motivated are often self-destructive, often to the extent that their behavior is incomprehensible to others. I'm inclined to believe that something of the sort was going on with Sprewell. It wouldn't excuse his ungracious behavior, but it just might explain it. If that is the case, then Sprewell's current troubles aren't just sad, but tragic.


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