People dream of being famous and making millions of dollars. However, many of those that do make it to the top eventually find out that there are much more important things in life.
After his basketball skills made him an all-star NBA player, Vin Baker thought he was set for life. However, it wasn’t until a battle with addiction that left him at rock bottom lead him to his true purpose…
A Happy Childhood
Former NBA player Vin Baker had was raised in a happy stable home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. According to Baker, his father worked as a Baptist minister as well as a mechanic. His mother worked for a cosmetic company. Both were very active in Baker’s life.
A College Athlete
“I had a happy childhood in a stable home,” Baker told Guideposts. “My loving, faithful, no-nonsense parents didn’t even push me into basketball.” After high school, Baker attended the University of Hartford and played for the small school’s basketball team.
A Talented Player
Despite the school being so small, Baker’s talents on the court made him stand out and caught the attention of coaches at a professional level. In 1993, Baker ended up being drafted in the NBA and was the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick that year.
A Difficult Transition
“I was 22 years old. Six feet, 11 inches. A center and power forward,” Baker explained. Unfortunately, the transition into the NBA wasn’t easy for Baker. He wasn’t used to receiving so much attention or being a public person and struggled with anxiety.
Struggles With Anxiety
“The swagger of some athletes didn’t come naturally to me, especially under the glare of the NBA spotlight,” Baker said. Before long, however, Baker found what he thought was the answer to his anxiety, nerves, and shyness while partying with his teammates.
According to Baker, partying is so prevalent in professional sports because many players are young and insecure. To deal with the pressures of professional athletics and the sudden wealth, fame, and scrutiny that accompany it, many cope by drinking, smoking marijuana, and being frivolous with their money.
An Anxiety Cure
Like many others, Baker fell into the partying trap as a way to deal with the stress. The first time I drank hard with the guys, I made a wonderful discovery,” Baker explained. “My anxiety disappeared! I became the life of the party. I came to the conclusion that alcohol and marijuana were perfectly acceptable ways for a pro athlete to relieve the stress of a high-pressure job.”
New Bad Habits
“I was a faithful, churchgoing Christian through college. Those habits began to break down as my basketball career took off. Soon I was joining other guys on the team for postgame all-nighters, drinking and smoking weed at clubs,” Baker said about the early years of his basketball career.
A Full-Fledged Addiction
However, it wasn’t long before the occasional partying turned into a full-fledged addiction. According to Baker, he started drinking every night and even drank before games as he believed he played better with a buzz. “Soon I was drinking every day, just to stave off the agony of hangovers and withdrawal,” Baker said.
A Downward Spiral
“I was a hard-core alcoholic,” Baker said. As a result, his career as a basketball player suffered. The four-time NBA All-Star and gold medal Olympic athlete started getting traded from team to team. He was sent to rehab, suspended, and reinstated. At some point along the way, he picked up a gambling habit and also became addicted to anxiety pills.
Jobless And Broke
“One Xanax-fueled night in Las Vegas, I blew $100,000 at blackjack,” Baker said. Throughout his career, Baker made millions but by the time he got kicked off the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2006, he had almost no savings left. “A disastrous restaurant venture left me essentially broke.”
After his house was repossessed, Baker moved back in with his parents. Although that still wasn’t rock bottom. That came in 2011 after Baker spent his days at his parents’ house drinking a gallon of cognac a day waiting for the alcohol to kill him.
“I entered rehab for the fifth time in 2011. My father drove me. There was no reason for him to hope. Except this time I had begged God for help,” Baker said. “And God answered. I found a commitment to sobriety I’d never experienced before. I returned to my childhood church—my dad was still a pastor there—and threw myself into Bible studies and volunteer work.”
A Call For Help
After getting sober, Baker started repairing his relationships with his kids as he had been an ‘absentee’ father. By doing that, he also had to face his financial obligations and knew he had to start making money. Not knowing what to do, he called Howard Schultz, the founder and CEO of Starbucks, for advice.
More Than Advice
Schultz owned the Seattle SuperSonics when Baker played for them and Baker had always admired him. “Howard gave me more than advice. First, he set me up with Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He was friends with Dr. Calvin Butts, the pastor. I worked as a youth minister while attending Union Theological Seminary,” Baker said.
A Life-Changing Opportunity
After becoming a licensed minister and marrying the mother of his children, Schultz offered Baker an opportunity to train to become a Starbucks manager. “I’d never worked behind a counter in my life. And I knew nothing about coffee. But I needed a job, so I said yes,” Baker said.
The Hardest Job
It ended up being the best decision Baker ever made. For about a year, Baker trained and worked as a barista and eventually a manager. “The work exhausted me. I had no idea there are so many variations on coffee. I had to learn them all. How to make them and customize them. How to work the register and keep the store supplied and clean,” Baker said. “Working at Starbucks was the hardest job I ever did. I loved it. All I had to do was win the day.”
A New Purpose
“I loved waking up early—and sober—and heading to work like everyone else in the world. I loved being part of a team that was working to serve other people,” Baker said about the humbling experience. “In the NBA, I’d been the fantasy Vin Baker, the basketball star pouring alcohol into an inner void. At Starbucks, I was just Vin Baker. And I loved it. I needed it.”
Back To Basketball
Eventually, Baker returned to his love of basketball as a staff member of the same team that drafted him out of college. This time, however, he had a solid foundation to succeed. “It was a God-given chance to take what I had learned at Starbucks and in recovery and offer it to young players in desperate need of a veteran’s hard-won wisdom,” Baker explained.
A Second Chance
“I’ve been sober for seven years now. I thank God for every sober day I live,” Baker added. “I thank him for the many opportunities I’ve been given—especially the opportunity to live again after so much self-destruction. To live at last in the realness of God.”
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