From entourages to insane investments to luxury items, NBA players love to waste their millions — and it makes sense. Basketball pros are the highest-paid participants in American sports, with an average salary of nearly $7 million per year. The stats are somewhat skewed by mega-contracts from superstars like Stephen Curry’s record-breaking five-year $201 million deal, but in the era of shared revenue from massive TV deals, ballers are balling out.
NBA athletes would still be wise to exercise caution. As of 2016, players, on average, spent an eye-popping $42,500 a month, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. So here’s some simple math. The average career is less than five years, and nets each player around $25 million (via Business Insider). If you factor in a top US tax rate of roughly 40 percent, that number comes down to about $14 million. Given the spending habits, that’ll take care of about 27 years of expenses: if your average player enters the league at age 22, they could go bankrupt by age 49.
However, the truth is even worse. 60 percent of NBA stars go broke within five years of exiting the league, per Sports Illustrated. So you’re actually talking about hundreds of athletes who were millionaires by 25, flat broke by 35. Curry might not have this problem, but many will. Here are some of the ways NBA players waste their millions.
Shaquille O’Neal was financially Shaqtin’ a fool
The real key to athletes sustaining reckless spending is keeping the cash coming in, and after Shaquille O’Neal took business advice from Jeff Bezos by investing in Google, he "quadrupled" his net worth, the former Kazaam star told The Wall Street Journal. As of 2020, O’Neal is sitting on a cool $400 million. But allocating his cash wisely didn’t always come naturally to the "Big Aristotle."
The former Orlando Magic star admitted he made a good chunk of change go poof in less than an hour, after signing his rookie contract in 1992 — buying himself a $150k Mercedes-Benz, then matching luxury vehicles for his parents, among other expenditures. "The first thing I wanted to do was relieve my parents of their jobs," O’Neal told CNN. "I spent a million dollars in about 45 minutes, but it was well worth it."
O’Neal’s banker called him only days later warning he’d be flat broke if he didn’t slow his roll. "So after that I said you know what, I need to get me a business manager," O’Neal told Business Insider in 2017. But Shaq didn’t exactly box out his spending. In 2008, public records revealed O’Neal’s monthly expenses were a whopping $900k. But given his monthly income was still listed at over $2 million, Shaq is actually enhancing his wealth. Kazaam!
Michael Jordan is bullish on golf gambling
Shed no to tears for Michael Jordan and his $2.1 billion net worth. Before Kobe Byrant’s "mamba mentality," The Jordan Rules governed the NBA. If God exists, he played shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls, according to Jordan rival and Celtics legend Larry Bird. But MJ allegedly had a hard time turning off the insatiably competitive GOAT vibes outside the lines, and reportedly developed a nasty gambling habit, losing over $1 million dollars to a single golfing partner, according to frequent links interlocutor Richard Esquinas in his memoir, Michael and Me: Our Gambling Addiction… My Cry for Help (via CBS Sports).
In 1992, Jordan was forced to reveal his habit on the witness stand when a $57,000 personal check ended up in the hands of suspected drug dealer and small-time golf hustler named James "Slim" Bouler, according to the Chicago Tribune. MJ initially told reporters it was a business investment, but then admitted under oath the hefty check was payment of yet another golf course gambling debt. Teammate Scottie Pippen even revealed how Jordan once gifted him a set of golf clubs his rookie year in 1987. "That’s a nice thing to do. To give a rookie a set of clubs," the off-camera producer of The Last Dance prompted Pippen — with Pippen replying (via Golf Digest), "Yeah, he was trying to lure me in so he could take all my money."
Scottie Pippen dishes too many dimes
Six-time NBA champion Scottie Pippen was drastically underpaid during much of his hall-of-fame career after he signed "the worst contract in NBA history," according to CBS Sports. The deal was so bad for Pippen — and so good for the Chicago Bulls — Pip essentially refused to play much of the ’97-’98 season. Maybe that’s why he reportedly became known to friends as "no tippin’ Pippen." But the thrifty sports star got his, signing a massive $67.2 million deal in 1999 that put him $20 million ahead of Michael Jordan in career cash, earning $109 million in total NBA salary.
Pippen is also often listed among the most financially reckless players in NBA history, with false reports claiming the former forward was bankrupt. But it’s just one legendary loss that started this alleged notion: in 2002, Pippen bought a $4 million private jet that didn’t actually fly — then paid another $1 million to fix that minor issue. He won a hefty lawsuit over the flying fiasco and also filed a suit against media outlets that claimed he was broke. Apparently, another man also named Scottie Pippen had filed bankruptcy, per the Miami New Times, and a since-removed report from Arizona State University had started the rumor.
"Scottie never filed bankruptcy," the NBA player’s attorneys told to TMZ, saying Pippen’s net worth was approximately $40 million. Pippen ultimately lost his libel suit — but at least he didn’t lose his shirt, too.
Dennis Rodman didn’t marry (himself) for money
Dennis "The Worm" Rodman was one of the NBA’s all-time most colorful characters, getting as much attention for marrying himself, and his relationship with Madonna, as his historic rebounding prowess. The former Chicago Bull and five-time NBA champion raked in a modest (by modern standards) $27 million in career earnings and retired in 2000.
But by 2012, his off-court antics — which eventually included a budding friendship with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un — had depleted that tidy sum. Rodman was "broke" and "extremely sick," according to court documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, explaining how Rodman was unable to pay over $800k in delinquent child and spousal support. His attorneys revealed they were working pro-bono, while Rodman’s manager added that the rebounder’s "well-documented drinking problem, and all the stress from the divorce and not seeing his kids isn’t helping." After reportedly being scammed by a financial advisor, Rodman’s net worth had dwindled down to $500,000.
"I just give players advice like this," Rodman told Business Insider in 2019. "If you build yourself up to go and play a game that you love to play … What is left for you to achieve? You got the main thing you want: money … ‘I want to stay rich.’ Okay, great. Don’t we all?"
Charles Barkley chucks his net worth
NBA on TNT analyst Charles "Chuck" Barkley is a man of many appetites — and one of them is risking his $50 million net worth. If that sounds like a lot of cash, consider "Sir Charles" earned nearly $40 million in NBA contracts, was a pitchman for brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s (among many others), and reportedly earns $1.5 million a year for his work as an NBA analyst, which began in 2000. So, some of his millions are clearly missing.
The "Round Mound of Rebound" has admitted that it’s his penchant for high-stakes gambling that cost him, telling ESPN in 2007 that he once lost $2.5 million in a single six-hour sitting: "It’s a stupid bad habit. I have a problem. But the problem is when you can’t afford it. I can afford to gamble. I didn’t kill myself when I lost two and a half million dollars. I like to gamble and I’m not going to quit."
Barkley revealed that he briefly quit his expensive hobby, but said he always comes back to the table. "I hear all these people talk about, ‘You just like the action,’" he told Graham Besinger in 2016. "No, I like the money actually." However, by Barkley’s own estimate, he’s dropped the ball on nearly $30 million in Las Vegas casinos alone.
The sad ballad of Delonte West
Delonte West’s journey from starting alongside Lebron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers to allegedly becoming homeless is one of the most tragic tales in league history. Wild rumors he slept with James’ mother perhaps didn’t help extend his tenure in The Land. West was a promising talent, drafted 24th overall in 2004. He made $16 million in career cash but was released from the Dallas Mavericks in 2012 after a slew of legal troubles. By 2016, he was spotted walking around without shoes in the parking lot of a Houston-area Jack in the Box, looking haggard and dazed.
West was previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder after yelling at an official in 2008, but mental health was always a struggle. "I used to try to kill myself all the time," West admitted to The Washington Post. "The ugly head started to show itself again … It’s been haunting me my whole life." West briefly sought work outside the NBA, applying to Home Depot, but unfortunately never found his way. In January 2020, a horrifying video emerged of an unconscious West being stomped in the streets of Washington, D.C. A witness told TMZ that West allegedly struck first with a glass bottle. He is thought to be homeless, with the former millionaire’s net worth estimated at $1,000.
Allen Iverson answers debt collectors
Former NBA MVP Allen Iverson was widely reported to have spent the majority of his nearly $250 million in career earnings after stories surfaced in 2012 that a judge in Georgia had seized his bank account over a staggering $859,896.46 bill for jewelry. AI’s money troubles came from the usual suspects: his entourage and reckless monthly bills. But generosity may have also cost "The Answer."
In 1998, teammate Larry Hughes complimented Iverson’s new Bentley, saying, "Yo AI, I have to get me one of these." According to Iverson’s now-legendary account in The Players’ Tribune, he responded, "Bro, you can have mine," and simply gifted the $250,000 whip on the spot. Another famous story involved Iverson’s hatred of packing for road games — he’d reportedly buy new clothes at every stop and then give them away or leave the swag behind in his hotel room. However, reports of Iverson’s fiscal doom were apparently overstated. Not only does AI qualify for the NBA’s generous $8000 a month pension plan at age 45, but, according to the New York Post, Iverson set up a $32 million retirement cushion. Anonymous sources tell the outlet AI already gets $1 million a year from the fund and is prohibited from touching the principle until he turns 55 — in the year 2031.
Vin Baker spills a grande cash-uccino
Welcome to Starbucks, how may I help you? Those are words Vin Baker probably never saw in his future as the four-time All-Star raked in over $100 million in 14 NBA seasons — mostly with the Seattle Sonics. "I was an alcoholic, I lost a fortune. I had a great talent and lost it," Baker told the Providence Journal in 2015. "I have to pick up the pieces."
Baker’s substance abuse cost him a further $36 million in salary when he failed a drug test in 2003. By 2006, he was out of the league, after covering his alcoholism for years by drinking Listerine. "My struggle with alcohol began during my earliest days as a pro player and lasted until I hit rock bottom in 2011," Baker wrote in Guideposts. "By that point, I was broke and living at my parents’ house … drinking a gallon of cognac a day and waiting for the alcohol to kill me."
In 2008, Baker’s $3 million home in Durham, Conn. went into foreclosure. Six years later, he auctioned his gold medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He also alleged that a shady financial advisor mismanaged his cash. When he eventually got sober, Seattle Supersonics owner and Starbucks billionaire Howard Schultz helped him start over. "I have an excellent situation here at Starbucks," Baker told the Providence Journal. "And the people are wonderful." As of this writing, he’s an assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks and mentors MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
J.R. Swish coughed up serious bricks
J.R. Smith — a.k.a. "J.R. Swish" — was the Robin to Lebron James’ Batman for years in Cleveland … if Robin later became known for devastating mental errors that let The Joker get away clean. Still, Smith’s athletic prowess made him a streaky shooter, who racked up over $90 million in career cash. But the "clown prince of basketball’s" juvenile antics taxed him, too. He was fined $50,000 in 2014 for repeatedly untying opponents’ shoes during games. He also once reportedly ordered $3,000 of room service and simply piled up the uneaten plates, just because, according to Yahoo! Sports.
It was the former Cavs guard’s cavalier attitude that cost him most, though. When he signed with the Knicks in 2012, despite having earned $25.6 million in NBA salary at that point, he was supposedly flat broke, per ESPN. So broke he went abroad during the 2011 NBA lockout becoming the highest-paid player in Chinese basketball history, inking a single-season deal for nearly $3 million. But Smith’s behavior in China was apparently just as erratic. He reportedly skipped practices and was even accused of faking a knee injury. The team clawed back over $1 million in fines after repeated warnings, according to New York Daily News, but Smith reportedly responded, "Whatever. If you’re going to take it, then just take it."
Latrell Sprewell goes on a spending spree
Latrell "Spree" Sprewell had a savage explosiveness that made him one of the most exciting players in the game and netted him $97 million in NBA earnings. But the athlete was maybe better known for allegedly choking coach P.J. Carlesimo during a practice in 1997. Sprewell minimized the attack, later telling 60 Minutes, "I wasn’t choking P.J. I mean … he could breathe." The outburst cost him over $6 million of his Golden State Warriors contract.
In 2005, Sprewell infamously turned his nose up at a generous $21 million three-year extension from the Minnesota Timberwolves at the relatively ancient NBA age of 35. "I’ve got my family to feed," he supposedly uttered in earshot of a Sports Illustrated reporter. Sprewell never played professionally again, and three years later, his Milwaukee-area mansion was in foreclosure, according to ESPN. Unable to pay his relatively pedestrian (by NBA standards) $2,593 monthly mortgage, a federal marshal also seized Sprewell’s custom $1.5 million Italian yacht off the coast of Manitowoc, which was sold at auction to pay the $1.3 million he still owed on the sinking ship.
Sprewell did land a Priceline ad in 2018, where the former hoopster poked fun at himself, saying, "Success is just failure that hasn’t happened yet." But no amount of self-awareness could make up what Sprewell lost in NBA earnings. His net worth is now estimated at just $50,000.
Tim Duncan gets spur’nd
Tim Duncan, a.k.a. "The Big Fundamental," is not the kind of personality you’d expect to waste away his jaw-dropping $242 million in career cash — all with the San Antonio Spurs. And to be fair, this time around it wasn’t the NBA pro’s fault. In 2015, the 6’11” 15-time All-Star filed a lawsuit alleging his financial advisor lost more than $20 million of his hard-earned money. At the time, that amounted to nearly 15 percent of his post-tax earnings, according to ESPN.
Duncan, however, remained resolute. "Luckily I had a long career and made good money," he told Bloomberg (via ESPN). "This is a big chunk, but it’s not going to change my life in any way." He then methodically outlined how the shady financier allegedly forged his signature, intentionally mismanaged his assets for personal gain, and straight-up stole nearly $7.5 million — which Duncan was able to recover when he won that portion of the suit in 2018, according to San Antonio’s mySA. His former financial advisor was eventually sentenced to four years in prison.
Gilbert Arenas may trigger an audit
Gilbert Arenas was briefly among the best ballers on earth. "Agent Zero" made three All-NBA teams and built a rep as a cold-blooded phenom who came through in a clutch. But Arenas’ career ended in serious controversy. The increasingly eccentric hooper had been illegally storing guns in the Washington Wizards’ locker room and then brandished a firearm during an argument with a teammate over a gambling debt in 2009, per Action. Oddly, Arenas wasn’t even active at the time. In 2007, he’d torn his MCL, but Washington still signed the injured Arenas to a 6-year $111 million deal — a contract Arenas admitted might be the worst team-deal in NBA history. He played only 21 more games in DC and never fully recovered.
Arenas cashed his last NBA check in 2016 and told TMZ he was so broke his kids would have to transfer to public schools. The star made over $163 million in the NBA, but his spending was also legion. Court documents obtained by The Washington Post included line items like a $6,500 a month "shark budget," $5,000 a month for housekeeping, and luxury purchases like a $40,000 toy train set for his children. However, Arenas may just have been keeping his finances undercover. He took to Snapchat in 2016, appearing to show off huge stacks of cash while taunting his ex-wife in their ongoing court battle over child support.