Allen Iverson and other bankrupt athletes – what can we learn from them?

The latest to join the ranks is Allen Iverson. After earning roughly $154 million in the NBA and even more through sponsorship deals, Iverson is now in a precarious financial position. A judge recently ordered Iverson to pay a jeweler about $860,000, but once he revealed that he couldn’t pay, the judge ordered his bank accounted seized.

Not only was Iverson reckless with his money but he was reckless with his life. He was known for his run-ins with coaches after refusing to train and numerous missed practices, and his troubles off the court proved embarrassing and costly. He was arrested in 1997 for carrying a concealed weapon and later in 2002 for making terroristic threats, trespassing and other charges.

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Later, he had to pay $260,000 to a person who was assaulted by Iverson’s body guards and suffered numerous injuries. After a lengthy trial and unsuccessful appeal Iverson was out more than a quarter million, plus the attorney fees that came with losing the case and the appeal.

Still, his legal bills were relatively inexpensive compared to his NBA salary and endorsements. Reebok gave him a $50 million lifetime endorsement and others were lining up to jump on the bandwagon.

His real financial troubles came in the form of missed child support payments and a reported gambling problem which, combined with the 50-person entourage that accompanied him, served to bankrupt Iverson.

But recent reports indicate that Iverson isn’t as broke as recently thought. A person concerned with Iverson’s financially destructive lifestyle reportedly opened an account worth $32 million that Iverson can’t touch until he turns 55. In the meantime, he receives $1 million each year and at 45, he is eligible for NBA pension payments worth around $8,000 per month. (Also see top athlete pension plans.)

Others not that lucky

College football fans know of Raghib “Rocket” Ismael, the presumptive NFL No. 1 draft pick who played for the National Football League as well as the Canadian Football league. Ismael earned more than $20 million in his football career but lost all of it due to a string of bad investments that included phone-card dispensers, a movie, and cosmetics.

Marion Jones was a three-time gold medalist making more than $7 million per year until she was indicted on check fraud and IRS forgery charges among other problems. She lost all of her medals and later filed for bankruptcy after serving six months in jail.

Finally, who was once worth up to $400 million and later had less than $700 to his name? Mike Tyson. After spending time in jail for rape along with a wealth of other charges and problems, Tyson has slowly recovered but is still worth a fraction of what he once was.

According to Sports Illustrated, 78 percent of NFL players who are retired for only two years file for bankruptcy or are under financial stress, and after five years of retirement 60 percent of NBA players suffer the same fate. Why have so many athletes and celebrities who were once financially well off later find themselves bankrupt and more important, what can we learn from their falls from financial grace?

Small earnings window

This Nov. 21, 2010, file photo shows Allen Iverson, of the Besiktas Cola Turka basketball team, reacting on the bench during their Turkish basketball league game against Fenerbahce Ulker in Istanbul, Turkey.

Athletes have a unique problem that many other professions don’t: The earnings window is small. While the more traditional careers may allow a person to work 30-50 years, a professional athlete will work only a fraction of that time. This leaves the retired athlete with the job of managing what they have to last for the rest of their life with only a fraction of their old salary being earned.

Although most people aren’t in that situation, the lesson to learn here is that our income is never guaranteed and living within our means while putting money away for the unknowns of tomorrow is a necessity.

Lack of financial knowledge

According to Sports Illustrated, most athletes lack the financial knowledge to manage the large sums of money they’re earning. Allen Iverson is one of the many athletes who lived a lifestyle based on his peak earnings yet failed to think about the money he would need later in life.

Even worse, some like Rahib “Rocket” Ismael, trusted his money to attorneys and other advisers who steered him in to overly risky investments that later left him bankrupt.

Regardless of your net worth, you have to play an active role in the management of your financial affairs. Even the best money manager won’t care about your money as much as you do and for that reason, you have to be the final and most important decision maker and those decisions have to be made based on your financial knowledge. If you know very little about managing money, it’s not too late to change that.


Warren Buffett may be one of the richest men in the world but you may not know it by looking at is modest home and relatively simple lifestyle. He chooses a modest lifestyle because he knows that the accumulation of “stuff” is contrary to good long-term money management. Many of the athletes who find themselves bankrupt overspent on extravagance only to find their possessions nearly worthless later in life. Regardless of your level of income, live a lifestyle that doesn’t stretch your budget. Not only will it set you up for financial freedom, it’s far easier to sleep at night when you’re not worried about the next paycheck.


Take a cue from the many athletes who have found themselves bankrupt later in life. Spending, rather than saving, is a losing proposition regardless of how much money you have.

Updated Wednesday, Mar 7, 2012