Vai's View: Vai's View: Financial advice for NFL first-round draft picks

Published: Friday, April 27 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell. (Marcio Sanchez, AP) Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell. (Marcio Sanchez, AP)

A new crop of 32 one-percenters has been anointed.

That's the number of new first-round draft picks selected by the NFL last night. Lesser-known and lower-paid draftees will be added this weekend.

The clubs have done their due diligence in scouting the players, including a battery of psychological tests to help determine a player's proclivity to go haywire once he's in the pros. Truth is, with some it's just a crapshoot.

One of the biggest question marks that neither team executives nor psychics can foretell is what a man will do, how he'll act, once they direct deposit $10 million into his bank account.

Steve Young was known to have kept stacks of unendorsed paychecks in his apartment and continued driving his beat-up college car for years, though he was a multimillionaire.

The Oakland Raiders wished JaMarcus Russell hadn't pulled both hamstrings getting to his ATM everyday after they awarded him a $61 million-dollar deal, $32 million of it guaranteed. He was famous mostly for being overweight, sleeping through team meetings and his arrest for possession of codeine, for which he didn't have a prescription after the Raiders made him the first overall pick in 2007.

Milwaukee Buck Junior Bridgeman (2) reacts as Boston Celtics Larry Bird, right, makes contact as he drives to the basket during first period NBA playoff action at the Boston Garden, Thursday, May 17, 1984, Boston, Mass. (AP Photo/David Tenenbaum) (David Tenenbaum, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Milwaukee Buck Junior Bridgeman (2) reacts as Boston Celtics Larry Bird, right, makes contact as he drives to the basket during first period NBA playoff action at the Boston Garden, Thursday, May 17, 1984, Boston, Mass. (AP Photo/David Tenenbaum) (David Tenenbaum, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

At least Russell played in 2007. Adam "Pacman" Jones missed that entire season and part of '08 as a Tennessee Titan for famously "making it rain" in a Las Vegas strip club with the $80,000 he brought in trash bags. But that's not why he was suspended. It was the shooting that left a man paralyzed stemming from Pacman's confrontation with a bouncer when dancers and patrons pocketed his money that he threw in the air, "making it rain," which he said was only for "visual effect." Brilliant.

Armed with teams of psychoanalysts and shrinks, you'd think it would be easy for teams to detect stupidity. The Golden State Warriors once drafted a phenom named Chris Washburn in the mid-'80s. He scored 420 on the SAT, using just 20 minutes to take the test because North Carolina State had already admitted him. He told friends it would've taken less time if he could've circled the answers rather than filling in the bubbles. Team officials had to have felt a little queasy when Washburn declared at his introductory press conference, "I just want to make the city of Golden State proud." Rut row.

Washburn blew through millions in drugs, cars, expensive homes, and legal and court fees.

Sadly, there are more Chris Washburns than Magic Johnsons and Junior Bridgemans. Magic, of course, headed a group that recently purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 billion. He improved his net worth after his playing days with savvy business decisions like building movie theaters in impoverished black neighborhoods and owning a load of Starbucks cafes nationwide.

Junior Bridgeman didn't have the career Magic had, which makes his post-NBA financial success even more impressive. He was a journeyman player for 12 seasons in the '70s and '80s for the Milwaukee Bucks and L.A. Clippers. As his NBA career was winding down in 1987, Bridgeman bought a Wendy's franchise to generate income while he planned his next career move. His only business experience came from being the treasurer for the players union for a few years during his career. Bridgeman learned the fast food business by working 12- 14-hour days flippin' burgers and working the cash register at the drive-through window. He flipped one store into two, then, three, four and five.

Today, Junior Bridgeman owns 161 Wendy's and 118 Chili's restaurants in five states, employs more than 11,000 managers, cashiers and cooks. Forbes estimates his net worth at $240 million, listing him among the top 20 richest black Americans.

Equally impressive as his business empire, is Bridgeman's family. He didn't have pre-NBA, NBA and post-NBA wives — only Doris, his wife of 34 years, with whom he raised three children who all work in the business. Two sons have MBAs and their daughter is working on hers. His kids say they worked in their father's Wendy's in high school, not managing or even as cashiers, but cleaning and scrubbing toilets. Seems to have kept them grounded.

No one expects the NFL's new millionaires to do what Steve Young, Magic Johnson and Junior Bridgeman have done.

Nor do we like seeing anybody follow in JaMarcus Russell, Chris Washburn or Pacman Jones' lives, either.

Frankly, the vast majority of the 32 draft picks from last night will be largely anonymous in 10 years, if not less.

Few ever do it, so the one or two who may follow this advice will be grateful they did — whether it comes from parents, a pastor, a good financial advisor, a friend or spouse.

Buy a modest home. In a modest neighborhood. With good schools. A neighborhood with swing sets and tree houses. Where families walk together and play together. A place where you can afford the property taxes and living expenses when you're a regular schmoe. You'll want to raise your kids in such a place rather than in a gated community. Be as vigilant in protecting your children from the trappings of wealth and affluence as you would against poverty and homelessness.

Pay if off so you don't carry a mortgage. Buy nice cars, but slightly used, using cash.

Give 10 percent of your earnings to your church or a charity. Save 10 percent; more if you can. Live on 80 percent or less if you're able.

It's a simple formula, but few use it.

In my experience, that's how you make the game work for you and not the other way around.

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