Upon retirement, many NBA players stick around the game of basketball, whether as coaches, executives, announcers, or businessmen with an interest in the sport. Vin Baker, however, didn't have an opportunity to stick around the highest levels of the game. In 2006, Baker retired after 13 seasons in the NBA, during which he made four All-Star teams and won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Yet, despite these accomplishments, he left the game on bad terms due to struggles with alcoholism.
Now, Baker is turning his life around, and he's doing it with the help of basketball. But while many ex-NBA athletes get high-profile coaching jobs, Baker is plying his trade in Connecticut as the ninth-grade boys coach at Old Saybrook High School, his alma mater. As you can see in the video above from SLAM Online, the team takes its halftime speeches in a converted storage closet with folding chairs and a decades-old television. It's a far cry from a top-level facility.
But, if you watch this four-minute halftime speech, you'll see that Baker is taking this job as seriously as any other coaching gig. He implores his kids to play for the team, not themselves, and he's as passionate about it as a coach at any other level of the game.
The video itself is part of a larger SLAM feature on Baker. The piece includes delves into the pressures of the stardom that hit him the hardest as he was traded from the underdog Milwaukee Bucks to the championship contending Seattle SuperSonics in the fall of 1997. Though Baker had a career year in Seattle, the pressures of performing in the playoffs (then-coach George Karl, by all accounts, wrecked Baker's confidence by having him guard Shaquille O'Neal(notes) in the postseason) and an impending massive contract got to the All-Star big man.
"The worst thing to happen to him was going to Seattle," agrees Allen. "As much as Seattle is a great city, I think the company he kept with him in Seattle wasn't good for him. He was playing at such an All-Star caliber level. He went from being the best forward in the League at that time-even with Karl Malone in the NBA-to just being non-existent. You know, he was still a young man, and any nightlife activity that he was partaking in, the consumption of alcohol, you expect that to go along with the lifestyle. He was making great money, traveling to so many cities. That's a part of [being an NBA star]...I think there was a point where he just let it consume him."
Baker was never the same after 1997-98. He gained significant weight during the 1998-99 lockout, lost his confidence at the free throw line, and let off the court demons get to him.
This SLAM piece, however damning of his past, is a welcome burst of good news regarding Baker's fortunes.
- Vin Baker