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A wealth manager to star athletes is hearing more now from clients – 'Are we good? Are we prepared?'

·Senior NFL writer
·7 min read
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For the better part of a month, the phone calls, emails and texts have been flooding into Joe McLean’s iPhone.

Some of this is simply a product of his trade. As the managing partner of California-based Intersect Capital, he manages the wealth of nearly 50 athletes from the NFL, NBA, MLB, PGA and NASCAR. It’s a tally that includes stars like Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies, Sergio Garcia of the PGA Tour and Whitney Mercilus of the Houston Texans.

So sure, under normal circumstances, with millions of dollars on the line, most of his clients are all too willing to call and ask him questions about the best ways to use their money. Prior to early March, some weren’t.

“I think every young person, whether they’re an athlete or not, has that sense of invincibility,” McLean recently told Yahoo Sports. “That’s what makes them great, but that same personality trait is also detrimental when it comes to their money.”

McLean hasn’t had much difficulty reaching any of his clients recently, due to the nationwide uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in over 10,000 deaths in the U.S. and the loss of millions of jobs because of the economic shutdown.

“[Clients are] checking in like, ‘Are we good? Are we prepared?’” McLean said with a chuckle. “It forces them to pay attention.”

McLean says he even had one client who recently traveled to China and got a first-hand view of how that country is handling the virus.

“They literally grabbed him and put him in quarantine for 14 days — he had no idea where he was, sitting in a hotel somewhere in China,” McLean said. “And now he’s just getting out, and people are in the parks, playing. It’s interesting; they handled it way differently than we did [in America]. They were ripping people out of their apartments in the street. There was nobody having spring break in China.”

Klay Thompson signs autographs for fans before an NBA game in December of 2018. (Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
Klay Thompson signs autographs for fans before an NBA game in December of 2018. (Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

Here’s what athletes are asking

McLean insists the first inquiry he has gotten from most of his clients revolve around the same question:

“Like, NBA guys are asking, ‘Am I going to get paid?’” McLean said. “‘What happens if we don’t play another game? What does that mean for my money?’”

McLean has been surprised at how quickly the conversation with multiple clients has also turned to what they can do to help the people who serve them in an arena. Klay Thompson, for example, sent out thousands of chess boards to kids in Oakland. He’s also setting up a channel to teach kids to play the board game. Others are setting up food programs, too.

“I can honestly tell that 100 percent of all the guys that called have asked about that, [asking] what’s my budget? What can I give to them?” McLean said. “All of them. There’s not one that hasn’t.”

Fortunately for NBA players like Thompson, McLean says they get 24 checks over a 12-month period — the best format for athletes to manage their cash flow. Not all of McLean’s clients are so fortunate. And for them, his first piece of advice has centered on one major tenet:

“The first one is control what you can control,” McLean said. “That’s your spending, your behaviors. You can choose each day what your mindset is going to be.” One of McLean’s clients is “ordering a Peloton, a Tonal and trying to find a home gym somewhere so [he] can get up shots.”

The alternative, McLean says, is you can let the fear from the news “get ahold” of your emotions. In his estimation, those willing to hang tough in these uncertain times should be positioned to weather the financial storm thanks to the three “buckets” — or financial concepts — he built his company around.

What else can players do?

McLean’s first core tenet is the safety and security bucket.

“Every single player should have two years of cash in their accounts to make sure they can keep up with their costs,” said McLean, who encourages players to save at least 60 percent of their salaries. “Bottom line, you have to have that. Be defensive and prepare for the winter.”

At the same time, he said, be prepared to play a little offense in periods of uncertainty. That’s where the “growth” bucket comes into play. This is where McLean encourages clients to invest in safe avenues that produce income over time.

“When most people are running and selling, this is when you could potentially be buying,” McLean said. “They all begin to understand that this is my life after sports money, which will be working for me and I’m not going to be working for it, whether it’s tax-free bonds, dividend-producing stocks or managing real estate.

“All these things are getting hit right now ... however, if you’ve done the work up front to make sure that you’re prepared for the unknown, these are the times where you can take advantage of it.”

The “dream/entrepreneur” bucket consists of the business clients always wanted to start or the dream home or car they’ve wanted. But because these things are high-risk, this bucket is the least important, though some can afford to be more aggressive than others.

“I just took a call from [Orlando Magic forward] Aaron Gordon, and he was getting ready to get on a call with a venture capital team to talk about what he’s doing with his entrepreneurial bucket,” McLean said of Gordon, who is 24 and can afford risk since he has many more prime earning years ahead.

What can regular folks do?

Much of McLean’s advice for non-millionaires is the same, starting with “controlling the controllable.” One of the first things you can take charge of, beyond your attitude, is how closely you monitor your cash.

If you can’t hire a financial planner, you have to make corrections to how you’re spending or investing. But you cannot do that if you’re too scared to know how much the uncertain economy is hurting you now.

“Quite often when things get bad, we just put our head in the sand and we don’t want to look at it,” McLean said. “If you don’t start keeping track and identifying, sooner or later, whether you’re winning or losing, you’ll spend seasons of your life not even knowing that you’re losing, and quite often wake up and realize that it’s too late.”

McLean also encourages people to review their expenditures regularly and make sure they’re living within their means.

“We ask our guys every January: Do you know what it costs to be you? What number?” McLean said. “And when you know what the number is, ask the next question: How do I make it cost less to be me?”

It’s a nod to the importance of having a detailed eye on finances in these uncertain times. Because whether you’re in the 1 percent or are in the middle, all you can do is control what you can control until this pandemic wanes.

“We’re all experiencing something that we can’t control the outcome to,” McLean said. “That’s why I think there is going to be a celebration in the future. Because whether you make $10,000 a year or $10 million, we’re all the same.”

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