In this excerpt from his memoir, former NBA star Vin Baker shares how his faith fueled his journey through addiction into recovery.
- Posted on Dec 4, 2018
I can see it on their faces sometimes. They walk into the store, heavy lidded, distracted by thoughts of the upcoming workday, looking for nothing more than a jolt of caffeine to shake off the morning cobwebs. They peck away at their smartphones or fumble with their wallets, oblivious to their surroundings, until suddenly, there they are, at the front of the line, looking up—way up—at the world’s tallest barista.
Some feign cool indifference, but most can’t help themselves. I grew up in Connecticut, played college ball at the University of Hartford, and spent part of my career—a rather notorious part—with the Boston Celtics. So here, at a Starbucks in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, there’s no place to hide. First of all, I don’t look like an ordinary guy. I’m a giant in the back there. I mean that literally—I’m six foot eleven, 275 pounds. You see me frothing up your cappuccino, and at the very least you can’t help but wonder, What’s going on here? He must be . . . somebody. Others know exactly who I am: a guy who made, and lost, more than $100 million in his NBA career, a career wrecked by alcoholism and depression and spectacularly bad business decisions. These are the people who stare hard, then suddenly avert their eyes, the sadness nevertheless evident on their faces.
I know what they’re thinking: How the hell does a four-time NBA all-star, and an Olympian, end up shouting “Tall decaf cappuccino!” from behind the counter at Starbucks? Given half the chance, I’ll disarm the customer with a smile and a few friendly words. I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable when they walk into our store, and I sure don’t want anyone’s pity. Trust me when I say this: I’ve been through worse. Much, much worse. There’s no shame in work. The indignity comes from not working, from losing your way through ego and weakness and addiction, and finding yourself tumbling into a bottomless pit of despair and helplessness.
Want to know what that looks like? Okay, here it is.
I was a first-round NBA draft pick (the eighth choice overall in 1993) smoking weed every day to alleviate my anxiety, until repeated trips to the emergency room, with my heart racing uncontrollably, prompted me to find another way to self-medicate.
I was an NBA all-star, drinking after games, and then before games, and eventually at all points in between—draining anywhere between a pint and a fifth of liquor a day—using alcohol to end my career and nearly my life. Make no mistake, that’s what alcoholism is: slow and deliberate suicide.
I was a man running from responsibility, fathering five children with two different women, and selfishly bouncing back and forth between families and relationships, because money gave me leeway and freedom that others were not afforded. Money, after all, is like a “get out of jail free” card—until it’s gone, and with it the patience and tolerance of those you’ve hurt, and the enabling of those who never really cared about you in the first place.
I was a former millionaire driving my mother’s Mercedes (the one I bought her with my rookie contract) to a pawnshop, with four old tires stuffed into the backseat and trunk. I sold the tires for eighty bucks, bought a few bottles of liquor, and drank myself into oblivion, until all the pain was gone— the ache in my lower back that signaled a failing liver, and the ceaseless cloud of loneliness that hung over every day.
That’s how bad it got for me.
By comparison, working at Starbucks is a walk in the park.
I’m not bitter. I’ve been sober for six years now, and in that time, with spirituality as the foundation, I’ve rebuilt my life one brick at a time. I married a longtime girlfriend, and together we are raising our four beautiful children. I am a licensed minister and assistant pastor at the same church in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, where my father is the head pastor, and where, as a boy, I knew nothing but peace. I’ll probably never be a millionaire again, but that’s fine. Life is good and full of possibilities.
That’s the point I’d like to get across: that life is worth living, no matter how bad it might get at times. Obstacles can be overcome, demons can be conquered. I’ve been speaking to youth groups both in and out of church, and I’ve done some work with the NBA, helping provide a cautionary tale to young athletes who likely aren’t even remotely prepared for the ways in which their lives will change when staggering wealth is heaped on them. This book is part of my mission. Maybe, by telling my story, I can provide inspiration and hope to those who are facing all manner of hardships, and who are trying to figure out how to pick themselves up and start over again.
As I tell the parishioners at my church: God doesn’t measure how far you’ve fallen, but he will be there when you’re ready to rise.
From God and Starbucks: An NBA Superstar’s Journey Through Addiction and Recovery. Copyright © 2018 by Vin Baker. Reprinted with permission by Amistad, a division of HarperCollinsPublishers.