A sea of athletes in Maryland gear flooded the Stamp Grand ballroom last month for a financial literacy workshop. Thoughts of budgeting, building credit and investing are far off in the minds of student-athletes, and Aaron Harding along with Antoine Walker, former pro-basketball player, make it their mission to bring financial literacy to the forefront. Partnered with Morgan Stanley Global Sports & Entertainment, these two men travel to colleges across the nation with the goal of preparing these students for their financial future.
Walker shared a personal anecdote of his professional athletic career and his subsequent downfall. Walker grew up in Chicago and attended the University of Kentucky. He went pro at the young age of 19, being introduced to all of the vices and virtues of the athletic world. Walker had a notably successful basketball career. He was drafted 6th overall for the Boston Celtics, played for the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, and Minnesota Timberwolves, and won the 2006 Championship with Miami Heat. Walker is a 1996 NCAA National Champion and a three time NBA All-Star. With endorsements and his paycheck, Walker found himself living an extravagant life.
The glamor of cars, watches, fashion clothing, houses, and gambling soon became a normal part of Walker’s life. In 2003, he started Walker Interest, a real estate company that ran successfully for 5 years. It owned 150 properties, most of which were undeveloped. As soon as the recession of 2008 hit and the housing market collapsed, Walker Interest lost all of the properties, and Walker himself had to pay back eighteen million dollars to the banks. Due to his excessive spending and failed investment in real estate, Walker was forced to file bankruptcy and start from scratch.
In light of his financial downfall, Walker filmed a documentary detailing his story -from rise to fall- which highlighted his lack of financial education as the cause of his misfortune. He became an avid promoter of financial literacy and founded “The 8 Foundation,” and became a financial education consultant.
Addressing the Maryland student-athletes, Harding stated, “the principles that you adhere to are the same, regardless of the amount of money that you make.” To stress the importance of laying the foundation of a sound financial plan, he first had the audience play a game to assess their financial priorities. With the options of planning and budgeting, owning shares in a company, investing in real estate development, repaying debts, establishing an emergency fund, and buy insurance, students were expected to order them from least to most important. As the answers were revealed one-by-one in the order of correct prioritization, the number of students with the proper order dwindled to an astonishingly small population.
Aaron Harding alerted the students that they should have already started the process of financial planning. Athletes receive a “Cost of Attendance” stipend which is supposed to cover travel expenses, school supplies, and necessities. Harding asserted that it is important to start budgeting this stipend right away in order to establish good habits. In addition to getting a head start on budgeting, he suggested that they periodically check their credit report and have an understanding of their score.
Harding and Walker left the audience in stitches after having volunteers up on stage face-off with each other in a game that tested their current financial knowledge. Ending on a high and humorous note, Harding and Walker concluded their presentation having shared the importance of investing in one’s future and being financially literate.