By: Dick Gabriel
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What would YOU do with $100 million? Sock most of it away? Spend like a drunken sailor? Maybe a little bit of both. And why not? There’s no WAY you could spend all of it. Right?
Antoine Walker did. Over the course of his NBA career, the former Wildcat burned through $112,000,000. Walker spent 12 years in the league and one day found himself bankrupt. All that money, it seemed, was gone in an instant.
In fact, that’s the name of the 90-minute documentary which chronicles the former All-Star’s financial tumble. The producers unveiled “Gone In An Instant” Monday night at a private screening at The Movie Tavern in Lexington.
An audience that included John Calipari and former basketball Wildcats Winston Bennett and Ravi Moss, as well as former UK quarterbacks Jared Lorenzen and Tim Couch and his brother, ex-EKU quarterback Greg Couch, saw the story of a man with big talent and an even bigger heart who just didn’t know when to say “no.”
The movie quickly takes us through Walker’s adolescent years, when he was a rising superstar in the Chicago high school and AAU ranks, the kind of talent who plays in packed gymnasiums every night. College coaches flocked to see him, as well as one of his teammates, Donovan McNabb, who went on to find stardom in the NFL.
Walker, of course, signed with Rick Pitino and Kentucky, helping the Wildcats win the 1996 national championship. Calipari appears in the film a few times, including a sound bite early when he assures the audience that the toughest matchup problem on the ’96 Cats was Walker.
Every opponent who faced Kentucky no doubt shared Calipari’s opinion. Walker played on the perimeter during his early days in Chicago, favoring the outside jumper. Pitino explained that Walker became a dominant player once he arrived in Lexington and began to work on his inside game. A 6-foot-9 forward who could handle the ball, hit the outside jumper AND take it strong to the rim?
He had Superstar written all over him, although that capital “S” soon was replaced with a dollar sign.
Walker left UK after his sophomore season in 1996. The memory here is, that was no great shock, although broadcaster Kenny McReynolds, described in the film as a mentor to Walker, said he was surprised by the decision, figuring Walker would spend another year at UK.
Instead, Walker was off to the fame and riches of the league, where he was taken with the overall number 6 pick in the draft and signed with the Boston Celtics. With the stroke of a pen, he became everybody’s best friend. He was an instant millionaire.
Walker first made sure his mother and siblings were taken care of. The family that had grown up in one of the toughest parts of Chicago soon moved to a new, $400,000 home. He told his mother to quit her job and bought clothes and cars for everyone. Eventually, they moved to a house that cost $4 million.
Walker also launched the Antoine Walker Foundation, staging summer basketball camps for youngsters – and none of them were charged a dime to participate. He worked tirelessly on the camps, striving to make sure as many kids had experiences and opportunities that he only dreamed about growing up.
But Walker also spent money – big money -- on fun. Luxury vehicles, clothes, shoes, jewelry – if he wanted it, he bought it. One of his estimated 17 watches cost more than $200,000.
And then there was the entourage. They cashed in as well, accompanying Walker to high-end stores where they also expanded their wardrobes. They traveled, sometimes 50 at a time, jetting to Miami, Atlanta, Puerto Rico – first class, all the way, often in a private plane with limousines awaiting their arrival.
There’s also a segment on his former fiance’, Evelyn Lozada. According to the documentary, when Walker met her, Lozada was riding the bus to a clerical job, trying to support her daughter. Walker began a relationship with her, eventually bought her a BMW and home and lavished her with jewels and clothing.
Their relationship became rocky when, Walker said, she caught him cheating on her. After 10 years they split up. He estimates he spent more than $2 million Lozada, who went on to marry former Bengals’ receiver Chad Johnson, then divorced him and recently had a child with Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford.
The movie goes into detail about Walkers partying, always surrounded by “friends,” most of whom disappeared when the money likewise vanished. At a Q&A session following the screening, Walker said some of the men who appeared on screen, decrying the hangers-on who had little interest in anything more than his money, were some of the problems themselves.
Gambling debt was what initially brought Walker’s financial despair to the public eye, when a Las Vegas casino went after the former NBA star because he owed more than $800,000. But Walker explained, both on film and in person, that what really took him down were bad real estate investments, which he made at the behest of a Chicago businessman named Fred Billings, who eventually was charged with fraud.
Walker, who said his total earnings after taxes were more like $65, estimated his real estate losses at $20 million, nearly a third of what he actually made in the league. But it was the gambling problems that made the headlines.
Kentucky fans might recall that Walker and Pitino sometimes clashed, but that he never was a problem child in Lexington. Friends and former teammates, including NBA All-Star guard Gary Payton, described him the same way on camera – as a man with a big heart who never hurt anyone, except himself.
The film was produced by a company called It’s The Comeback Kids, spearheaded by former Georgetown basketball player Anthony Holt (who wrote and directed the doc) and ex-Louisville and NFL defensive back Kerry Rhodes.
Holt currently is looking for a distributor for the film. He’s hoping to find an audience either through ESPN or Showtime. When he does, viewers will see for themselves that it IS possible to go through a sum of money that most professional athletes never realize, much less people like you and me.
There’s a lesson in the moral of the story, one that Walker now is sharing with athletes and entertainers all over the country. The first thing he should do is cue up the video and make them watch it. They will realize, well before the 90 minutes are up, that everything they have can be gone, truly, in what seems like an instant.