Sessions: Antoine Walker's story
For Sessions, a new regular feature, ESPN.com's Scoop Jackson sits down with the big names in sports for an in-depth interview about life beyond just the game. In the new documentary film, "Gone In An Instant," Antoine Walker exposes how he went from NBA All-Star and champion to the new poster child of how to lose $100 million. Scoop went to Walker's home in Chicago to talk about the film (which Scoop is in), how difficult it was for Antoine to finally face his truth and how losing everything forced him to discover who his real friends were.
Scoop: Is there a bigger message to this film than what you've been through, than it just being "the story of Antoine Walker?"
Walker: I think the bigger message honestly is that we all as athletes, myself and probably 80 percent of the league, come from the same walks of life. We all come from poor backgrounds, and when we make it, we all have that same mentality of what's important to us once we get our hands on some money. It's crazy, from my generation to the younger generation, we all -- the first thing we want to do is get the big house.
Scoop: Even if it ain't for you!
Walker: Yeah [laugh], we want to get the big car, we want to get the nice watch. So those things are all things that we think about and create into our lifestyle automatically. Things that are very expensive, things that are going to eat up our income right away. We have to change that culture, that way of thinking. We can get those [material] things, but let's build. Let's wait until we have $10 million sitting in the bank before we go out and get a $50,000 or $100,000 watch. When we sign for a million, we don't need a $100,000 watch, but we do it backward. I think my story and this film will show them that, "Yeah, you are going to have access to all of those things, and those things are nice," but one day, it can add up and be very detrimental to you in the end.
Scoop: And you aren't the first person or the last athlete who is going to go through this.
Walker: There's a time and place for it. There's a time period where we all go through this first. We need to save early. It's different now. Contracts are not guaranteed, [NBA players] are only two years in guaranteed money. We're really like football players [without the signing bonuses] until you can get that max deal or that next big deal. And that's for basketball, but what I'm saying is for all sports. Start slow, build before you go out and spend. You can't spend it and get it at the same time. It's tough to do it that way.
Scoop: So to you this is beyond just a cautionary tale; it's time to learn because really situations like yours have been going on in sports too long.
Walker: Yeah, but the thing is, we are already in that mindset. Take, for example, I remember when I started going through my situation, I'm buying a house, I'm buying a Maybach -- $350,000 to $400,000 for a car. That's a home! But at least [the] house, it holds some value and I can maybe make some money back off of it. The Maybach, once I drive it off the lot, is worth about $250,000 [Walker laughs]. That's $100,000 gone. Money I can't ever get back. So it's just the small things about us being educated on that we don't really think about. I think we are being told but we are competitive and always trying to outdo each other. And those things add up to us making these bad decisions. I been through it all, I've seen it all. I'm kinda the expert in the field; I know how this goes.
Scoop: With that said, do you believe that all of the things that have happened to you happened to you for a reason?
Walker: Yeah, I mean, at times. You know, in the beginning, you always say, "Why?" You always try to re-evaluate you life, and you take it a little deeper and you are like, "Damn, why does this have to happen to me? What am I doing wrong in my life?" But I really think God puts us in places and situations that we must handle. So yeah, I do believe that there's a reason this all happened to me. Even going through this process, you learn that it's still about quality of life. You know? Now don't get me wrong, the kind of money I had was good, and you want to be set for the rest of your life, you never want to have to work, but the quality of life -- kids being healthy, you being healthy, still being able to fight through this, having the education about this to now teach others how not to go through it.
Scoop: Your mom and I were talking, and I'm going to tell you like I told her: I'm a big believer in getting "in front" of your own story. Is this, like, a part of you trying to or finding a way to get "in front" of your own story and having some control of how in the end it's going to be told? That way, you're not allowing the media to just run wild with information that is never always the full story?
Walker: For me that was very important because of the gambling situation and jail time being attached to that way I was being portrayed -- people were beginning to think that I was a criminal. Naw. I went through some financial troubles, I had an incident in Las Vegas that if I didn't clear it up, it could have produced jail time -- people weren't understanding that. It just got really heightened and out of control, so I really wanted to get in front of the story and tell my side of the story in a really raw way, the right way, the proper way. There were enough things written already where I could be very open and candid about my situation. I felt: The bad is already out there and people are already thinking the worst, so I might as well give it to them in the raw and let them understand what the real story is. I wanted people to know that I can own up to my story. I'm taking full ownership of it. It's a lesson learned, man. It's a tough lesson learned, because obviously through finance, that's how we take care of our families, that's how we live, but it's not everything. I can still read, write [laugh], you know. I'm a halfway educated man, and I can always make money. Now, whether I make $100 million again in my life? That doesn't happen twice, or three times, in our lives.
Scoop: But was it hard to get to that point where you could tell it? Where you were comfortable even dealing with this publicly?
Walker: Yeah, it was very difficult because I lost a lot of trust in a lot of people. You know, when you are friends with so many people, whether it's professional athletes or other friends, I wasn't so much worried about a phone call, like "Hey, I need some money," I was more worried about, I didn't get the "Hey, 'Toine, you all right?" Because when I was playing, the phone was ringing. I had three cellphones! All of them ringing. So it's disturbing sometimes when that becomes your reality. Look, when you are a giver, you're a giver. You know what I mean? I didn't give to go through this and say to people, "Now it's time to kick back to me." It's about [that phone call], "Man, let me call to check on you to see how you are doing." I know how I would carry it if a friend of mine was in the same situation that I was in. And sometimes in life you have to learn that everybody doesn't care like you. That's the one thing I learned in this process over the last two and a half, three years of going through this. People sometimes just don't care like you do, and you can't expect people to do things the same way or care the same way that you do. And I've learned to download those situations for later on in life.
Scoop: Yeah, me and the person sitting next to me [in the film screening] noticed how a lot of those "wes" in people's conversation turned into "hims" when things got bad.
Walker: And they need to see that. That's the one thing that [director] Anthony [Holt] and I fought about. He wanted to make sure it was OK for some of my friends to see themselves that way. I told him, "We need to let those people see that." People with a good ear, with a good eye, they'll see that, they will pay attention to the "wes," they are going to catch the "wes" and when they turn to "I's" and "hims." People have to understand that, that that's their way of thinking. So when that's their way of thinking of me as a person, I have to download all of that. Now that doesn't make any one of them bad people, but I have to know that that's just the way people think sometimes. You just have to evaluate the level of friendship you want to have with them.
Scoop: Does it hurt to find out who your friends aren't?
Walker: It hurts because I'm for the most part genuine. I consider myself to be a loyal person, especially when it comes to a friend. I look at friendship as a very serious thing, so yes, it hurt. A lot of close friends of mine, a lot of people in the documentary, I've questioned them at times. Just the fact of being pure as far as, like, a casual phone call. Because when I was in the league, the phone calls came every day, every other day, all of the time. You know, "What we doing? We kicking it?" and that's disheartening sometimes, but those are the things you have to deal with as an individual and as a person when you look at yourself in the mirror and say, "God damn, ain't nobody true."
Scoop: Did you ever reach a point where you were afraid at some point this issue -- money and you losing it -- was going to be a bigger part of your life's story than basketball?
Walker: I didn't think that way. In 2005-06 when I signed with the Heat, I was put in such a great situation to play with Shaq [O'Neal] and [Dwyane] Wade, and you know after you win one, you -- I -- still had an opportunity to play. Now that situation kind of down-spiraled a little bit, but I never started thinking like that toward the end. But it all happened so fast. That's why it was important to have the basketball side in the film, so that people can see my career and what I did as a basketball player. Because sometimes you can get overlooked. Something you worked for for your whole life. And you hope that's what people remember you for. You hope they say, "He was a great player, and when he got to the league, he played well." You hope that's the last part of the conversation. I don't want the first part to come out be "Oh, he had financial troubles" and the basketball part get taken out of context.
The second part of Antoine Walker "Sessions" will run Tuesday. Where they discuss in detail how it all went wrong, the public misconceptions, the difference in having a wife and having a girlfriend in situations like this, and what needs to be done to make sure his situation never becomes another athlete's story.