What Utah Jazz star Trey Burke can teach you about money management

Published: Monday, May 5 2014 11:40 a.m. MDT

Utah Jazz guard Trey Burke and his father, Benji, talk about his finances after practice at the Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz star Alphonso Clark Burke III, better known as Trey Burke, grew up in an average, middle-class family in "Middle America." Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, he describes his family life as fairly unremarkable.

His father, Alphonso Jr., who goes by Benji, and his mother, Ronda, were both professionals who provided a comfortable, “normal” life for their three children.

Benji said he worked hard to encourage discipline in his son when it comes to money, which, he admitted, was challenging considering the mindset of a young person who suddenly finds himself with a multimillion-dollar sports contract.

“For most 21-year-olds, this money is not real to them,” Benji said. “All he knows is that every two weeks, he gets a certain amount and I can spend a certain amount.”

Not everyone is equipped to handle the sudden responsibility of great wealth.

A Sports Illustrated article reported that 78 percent of NFL players face bankruptcy or serious financial stress within just two years of leaving the game and 60 percent of NBA players face similar circumstances five years after retirement.

And an ESPN documentary entitled “Broke” chronicled the disastrous financial meltdowns of many high-profile athletes who lost all of their millions through ill-advised investments, out-of-control spending and freeloading hangers-on.

The elder Burke said that learning the discipline of smart money management is an ongoing process for his NBA star son, as it would be with most young adults. Since joining the league, Trey has reached out to a few veteran players such as Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul to get guidance on how to lay a strong financial foundation for long-term stability.

What is revealed is that the lessons for the rich are the same lessons for those with fewer resources: “Once you get the good habits, then the rest is easy,” Benji said. “You have to (develop) the good habits now while you’re a rookie.”

A veteran's perspective

Being fiscally responsible can be a difficult lesson for a newly minted millionaire to comprehend. Just ask Jazz teammate and 13-year NBA veteran Richard Jefferson, 33, who has made tens of millions of dollars during his tenure in the league.

Jefferson grew up in a working class family in the Phoenix area, with his mother, stepfather and two other brothers. Coming from a humble background, he admits he wasn’t ready for the instant economic change that comes with that first NBA contract.

“You don’t understand how quickly it’s going to come. You don’t understand the management of it. It’s really monopoly money when you go from getting a $500 (monthly) stipend in college to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “No one is prepared.”

He said people joke about the “curse of the lottery” and how winners often go broke not long after they become rich.

“It’s no different than athletes, or child stars who make a ton of money right away,” he explained. “You make a lot of mistakes early. You’re buying things and don’t pay attention to (your spending).”

Jefferson recalled getting this first NBA paycheck, which was just less than $100,000. But, because of a six-month lag between the time he left school, getting drafted and eventually receiving his first season check in November, “You may already be at a deficit,” he said.

While the first few years of making exorbitant sums of money involved making some mistakes, the past several years have been a time of increased financial understanding and better planning for the future, he said.

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