Jump shots and coffee shops: Vin Baker’s tale of loss and redemption

“Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom”

–          George S. Patton

Vin Bakers a BuckI read an article the other day that made me stop and think.  It made me think about life, addiction, consequences and how the things we don’t control can end up controlling us if we’re not careful.

Those of you who are younger don’t know who Vin Baker is.  Those of you who are closer to my generation remember him well.

Vin Baker wasn’t the greatest basketball player ever but he certainly wasn’t bad by any stretch.  He had enough talent to be selected eighth overall out of Hartford, a school not known for churning out NBA prospects.

At 6’11, 230, Baker was the ideal post-man for a team that needed a solid four-five.  The Milwaukee Bucks were that team.

Baker produced almost immediately.  His second, third and fourth years in the league, Baker was a solid 20 points and 10 rebounds a night guy.  Milwaukee had a big man to build around… except they still sucked.  C’mon, it’s Milwaukee.  They haven’t been relevant in decades.

Baker was later traded to Seattle where he played another five years, putting up respectable numbers.  Soon after that, he became an NBA journeyman, playing in Boston, New York, Houston and L.A.  His numbers diminished substantially as he struggled not only with weight and injuries but with alcoholism.

Twenty-two years after shaking hands with the NBA Commissioner on draft night and fifteen years after winning an Olympic Gold Medal with Team USA Basketball, Vin Baker now manages a Starbucks in Rhode Island.

How the mighty have fallen.

Don’t get me wrong.  I work in the service industry myself.  Far be it from me to demean anyone who busts their ass serving drinks for a living.  You just don’t expect to see a man who made $100,000,000 over his career serving you a latte.

J R RichardI remember a similar story from back in the day.  JR Richard used to pitch for the Houston Astros in the 1970s.  He was damn good too, a 20-game winner in 1976.  In 1980, Richard suffered a stroke and was never the same.  He ended up divorced and homeless.  At one point in his life, he was living under a Houston overpass.  This was a guy who once pitched in the All-Star Game.

I’m not sure things ever got that bad for Vin Baker but alcohol got the best of him, ruining his career and almost his life.

Both Baker and Richard have found salvation in religion.  Both have become ministers.  Both men have experienced immeasurable personal anguish and come out on top, putting their lives in order and earning respective chances at redemption.

These aren’t just faces on the front of a baseball card.  As fans, we can learn things from the sporting events we watch and the athletes who play them.  Far too often, we take life for granted, not stopping to smell the roses.  The apron-wearing Baker, now four years sober, realizes that.

Not long ago I wrote a post about getting older, about how all my movements and actions are deliberate.  I don’t mean to get all Kumbaya on you but not a day goes by that I don’t consider myself grateful and thankful for my health, family, friends and life.

It took Vin Baker 43 years to realize that.  I guess it’s better late than never.

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10 Replies to “Jump shots and coffee shops: Vin Baker’s tale of loss and redemption”

  1. I recall that Bucks squad had Ray Allen, Glen Robinson and Baker…Lots of promise, but ultimately fell flat.

    Us regular Joe working stiffs didn’t have the pleasure of burning through tens of millions of dollars before the day job was a necessity.

    Welcome back to the real world Vinny.

  2. Chris

    This story could’ve taken a variety of different turns , as we could be discussing Vin Baker being a a specialist in a certain type of Colombian product other than coffee . Medelin Cartel and some friends in Bogota would be proud to have the former Bucks’ player as an associate , if you know what I mean ? LOL,LOL,LOL !!!

    Your thoughts on the guys being inducted in Canton this weekend ?

    Tophatal …….

  3. OK – it’s been done a thousand times, but I would guess with the age / experience of the SC and his readers, you could start a pretty interesting “Where Are They Now?” recurring post (thread – whatever you call it) every few weeks. This post made me think of Vinnie Johnson, the PG with the Pistons who could fill it up back in the day (70’s? 80’s?). He happens to be a successful owner of some business up in Detroit as far as I know, but between us all, we could probably come up with some off-the-wall guys or girls to wax nostalgic about not matter where there fortunes have taken them. Let’s see – how about we start with Phil Jackson from the old Knicks franchise? Oh, never mind, I know how his life turned out. Have to find someone else.

  4. Vin Baker’s story…add it to the sad list of those who lost all their money. But indeed, also add it to the happy list of those who didn’t lose their desire to overcome overwhelming obstacles…even if self-induced.

  5. Bleed…
    Wasn’t that around the time that NBA teams thought they had found a big three formula? Turns out while that’s nice, they need a little more than that to win a championship.

  6. Moose…

    I wonder if Phil Jackson is regretting taking that Knicks gig. How much longer til they’re relevant or at least able to win a playoff series never mind make the playoffs. Will that ever happen with ‘Melo?

    I thought about doing a where are they now piece for the two championship Florida Gator teams under Urban Meyer… considering many of them are in lockup or suspended from the league.


  7. Burnsy…

    I guess what I’d like to know is how one blows $100,000,000 on beer.

    Switch to some Keystone Light or something. Make that money stretch, brother.

  8. PJD…

    On a considerably lighter (yet wetter) note, did you see your picture on that parkbench that was nearly floating away in the lovely Tampa weather we’ve been having?

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