Vin Baker seemed to have it all.
Incredible basketball player making lots of money. The adulation of his peers and fans throughout the NBA. All of those things can either make or break someone.
A college star at little known Hartford, Vin Baker seemed perfect for the NBA. He could score, but was also a defensive presence, averaging 27.6 points per game, 9.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game his Junior year, and won the America East Player of the Year in 1993, his Senior year.
The downtrodden Milwaukee Bucks took notice of Baker's two-way abilities, and made him the 8th pick of the 1993 NBA Draft. In just his second season with Milwaukee, Baker made the All-Star team, grabbing 10.3 rebounds a game and 1.4 blocks. The next season, his scoring prowess jumped to 21.1 a contest (up from 17.7 the year before), all the while remaining one of the best defensive players in the game.
Although Baker was clearly one of the best players in the NBA, the Bucks did not improve, and in 1997 they shipped him off to Seattle in a 3-team trade that sent Shawn Kemp to the Cleveland Cavaliers. With a lineup that included Baker, Gary Payton, Detlef Schrempf and Hersey Hawkins, the Sonics were one of the favorites to come out of the West that season.
However, it wasn't to be.
The Sonics, who finished with a 61-21 record, were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers. The disappointment of losing after such a great regular season record, mixed in with the frayed relationship between coach George Karl and GM Wally Walker, ultimately cost Karl his job. He was replaced in 1998 by former Suns coach Paul Westphal. The change was a total flop, as the Sonics finished 25-25 in the strike-shortened 1998-99 season.
Baker's game also suffered as a result. His points per game dropped off significantly after 1999, and he wasn't quite the defensive power he had once been, with his rebounding and blocking averages falling by almost half. He never made the All-Star game again. Baker also experienced weight troubles at this time, soaring to nearly 300 pounds.
After five uneventful seasons with the Sonics, Baker was traded to Boston in 2002. His offensive and defensive production continued to fall off, and one night, coach Jim O'Brien smelled alcohol on his breath. The team suspended him, and then released him. He then signed with the New York Knicks, where he played a limited role.
For the next few years, Baker shuffled around the NBA, playing for the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers before retiring in 2006.
The last couple of years have been interesting for Baker. He lost most of his fortune he accumulated during his career, which totaled over $100 million dollars. In 2007, he was arrested for drunk driving outside Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.
He was even part of the contingent of former professional basketball players accompanying Dennis Rodman to North Korea for a goodwill trip mixing politics and basketball.
Baker had his reservations about the journey.
"You know, hindsight is 20/20," he told the Huffington Post, "and I think, for the most part, most of us who went would've given it a second thought and wouldn't have gone".
From the Milwaukee Bucks to North Korea, Vin Baker has had a pretty interesting life, but his next venture is almost as surprising.
He's training to be a manager at Starbucks.
"I was an alcoholic, I lost a fortune. I had a great talent and lost it. For the people on the outside looking in, they’re like ‘Wow.’ For me, I’m 43 and I have four kids. I have to pick up the pieces. I’m a father. I’m a minister in my father’s church. I have to take the story and show that you can bounce back."
In an interview with the Providence Journal, Baker thanked his former boss, ex-Sonic owner and current CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz for the opportunity.
"In this company there are opportunities for everyone. I have an excellent situation here at Starbucks, and the people are wonderful," Baker told the newspaper.
Known as a dominating power forward during his days in the NBA, Baker could bring a fresh perspective to the coffee chain. He could bring his basketball experience into play, and maybe show his army of baristas how to work harder during crunch time.
For a man who seemed to have it all, then lose it, it's a tale of redemption, and how you can change your life around.
Vin Baker is doing just that.