World of Sport

NBA star who blew $105m auctioning off Olympic gold medal

World of Sport

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Vin Baker gets his medal (Getty), and a close-up of the medal now up for auction (Gray Flannel Auctions)

In 1993, when he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the years before rookie-scale contracts, Vin Baker signed a 10-year agreement with the team. That deal included an opt-out after the sixth season, by which time Baker had made nearly $17.3 million.

He then signed a seven-year, $86.7 million contract with the Seattle SuperSonics, though he chose to negotiate an opt-out settlement after five years in order to make himself a free agent, strangely negating the final two years of the deal.

The smaller contracts Baker played on over his final few seasons put his official career earnings at nearly $100 million, while with his other various endorsements he collected along the way meant that by the time of his retirement in 2006 he'd earned $105 million playing basketball.

That's over £62 million. But a combination of fast-living and alcoholism, a string of bad investments and some bad financial advice (that ended up in court) saw him stripped him of almost all his cash - so much so, it seems, that he's even selling his Olympic gold.

Even during his career, things weren't always plain sailing. Half the time Baker ended up disappointing his teams and various fan bases, as he struggled with weight issues and an admitted alcohol problem. Though he made four consecutive All-Star teams from 1995-98, Baker’s confidence tailed off in the 1997-98 season (especially at the free-throw line), and his weight ballooned extensively in the lockout months following that campaign.

Baker was still held in high enough regard in 2000 to be awarded a spot on Team USA’s men’s basketball entry at that year’s Summer Olympics. Though the team isn’t as fondly remembered as other recent Olympic outfits, it still earned a gold medal in the tournament.

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USA's Vin Baker dunks the ball

According to Grey Flannel auctions, via Sports Illustrated, Baker has decided he doesn’t need his medal any more, and he’s deciding to put it up for auction. From the Gray Flannel description:

The gold-plated silver medal weighs 6.85 oz, is 5mm thick and measures 68mm across. It is attached to a 39” turquoise-blue ribbon embroidered with “SYDNEY 2000” in silver. The medal features a design by Australian designer Wojciech Pietranik; it depicts Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, seated above the stadium and chariot along with “XXVII OLYMPIAD SYDNEY 2000”. This translates to “Games of the 27th Olympiad Sydney 2000”. The artist’s initials “WP” appear at the bottom of the design in relief. The verso of the medal features the Olympic rings along with an image of the Sydney Opera House and an Olympic torch. “BASKETBALL” and “MEN” have been engraved along the perimeter. The medal is in MINT condition and comes in a white leather case.

The minimum bid starts at $35,000 - £21,000 - and the auction runs until August 20.

Whether Baker is selling the medal because of financial constraints is anyone’s guess, but we can at least try to make an educated one. Baker still has lawsuits pending against his former business advisers, seeking eight figures’ worth of reimbursement from one Daniel Brodeur. From the Hartford Courant in 2012:

According to the lawsuit filed earlier this month in Superior Court in Middletown, Baker says Brodeur and the accounting firm "advanced their own interests to the detriment of mine, and breached their fiduciary responsibilities, obligations, and duties imposed on them by engaging in … dishonest, disloyal and immoral conduct."

According to Baker's application for prejudgment remedy, Baker says that "virtually all of my earnings were spent and/or my investments lost all or nearly all of their value, such that my home in Durham was foreclosed and I was forced to liquidate substantial assets for little or no value, leaving me without resources to meet my financial obligations and living expenses."

Brodeur on Thursday called Baker's allegations "unfounded." Brodeur said he worked closely with Baker's parents throughout the years and that his firm was "just one aspect" of Baker's financial team.

"He had other business advisers," Brodeur said.

It was in a recent New York Daily News interview that Baker professed his career earnings were around $105 million, which gives us further insight into the uncounted amount he received in his 2004 buyout. In that same interview, Brodeur is quoted as saying that Baker lost “in the neighborhood of $16 to $17 million” in his settlement with the Boston Celtics, a pretty steep price to pay for wanting to work for another team.

That decision may have been clouded by drinking. As of the Daily News interview from 2013, Baker claims to have been sober for two years, and it features him doing volunteer work at his local church, while studying to get a master’s degree in divinity at a theological school in Manhattan. In the same interview he claimed to be financially "comfortable" - though that claim jars with his decision to offload one of the few treasures that money simply can't buy.

It’s unclear as to how much Baker’s medal will fetch. It certainly is a rare artefact, but a memento from a somewhat-disgraced player working on a rather unloved Dream Team entry (Saturday Night Live even produced a parody ad to mock the team’s endless mean-mugging) isn’t exactly the hottest buy around.

Which is a shame. We hope better things turn up for Baker, starting with this auction.

Kelly Dwyer, Yahoo!

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