How God Helped Former Olympian and NBA All-Star Vin Baker On Sobriety Journey

Photo from Vin Baker’s Instagram

How God Helped Former Olympian and NBA All-Star Vin Baker On Sobriety Journey

By Movieguide® Staff

After a 13-year professional basketball career, Vin Baker earned millions of dollars, four NBA All-Star appearances, and helped the United States win gold at the 2000 Olympics.

However, despite his on-court success, Baker revealed that he struggled with an alcohol addiction that cut his time in the NBA short in 2006.

“I was cut from the last team I played for in 2006, after it became clear to coaches that I couldn’t get a handle on my drinking,” Baker wrote in an article published to Guideposts. “My struggle with alcohol began during my earliest days as a pro player and lasted until I hit rock bottom in 2011.”

“By that point, I was broke and living at my parents’ house in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, drinking a gallon of cognac a day and waiting for the alcohol to kill me. How did I sink so low?”

However, Baker revealed that a job at Starbucks in 2015 and God’s faithfulness helped to overcome his addiction and return to the NBA as an assistant coach.

“How did serving gourmet coffee help me climb back? The answer to those questions is a God story, pure and simple,” he wrote. “You could make a case that the best job I ever had wasn’t related to basketball at all. That was the year I spent as a barista making lattes and macchiatos at a Starbucks.”

“I have no excuses for the addiction that wrecked my basketball career,” he continued. “I had a happy childhood in a stable home. My father worked as a mechanic and as a Baptist minister. My mom worked for a cosmetics company. My loving, faithful, no-nonsense parents didn’t even push me into basketball.”

However, at 6 feet, 11 inches, Baker was a top prospect for the NBA and, in 1993, got drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.

Unfortunately, Baker’s anxiety increased “under the glare of the NBA spotlight.”

“It didn’t take me long to discover the cure for my on-court nerves and off-court shyness,” he said. “It probably will not surprise you to learn there is a widespread party culture in the NBA. Many players are young, insecure and thrust into a world of sudden wealth, fame and public scrutiny. They deal with the pressure by drinking, smoking marijuana and throwing around money at clubs.”

“I was a faithful, churchgoing Christian through college. Those habits began to break down as my basketball career took off. Soon I was joining other guys on the team for postgame all-nighters, drinking and smoking weed at clubs,” he added.

Baker’s exploration into the NBA party scene turned into an addiction to alcohol and a false sense of freedom from his anxieties.

“I discovered I actually played better while buzzed (or so I thought). So I drank before games. Soon I was drinking every day, just to stave off the agony of hangovers and withdrawal. I was a hard-core alcoholic,” he said.

Baker’s addiction led to gambling, children out of wedlock, and in 2006, the Minnesota Timberwolves cut Baker from the team.

“So where does Starbucks come in? I entered rehab for the fifth time in 2011. My father drove me. There was no reason for him to hope. Except this time I had begged God for help,” Baker recalled.

“And God answered. I found a commitment to sobriety I’d never experienced before. I returned to my childhood church—my dad was still a pastor there—and threw myself into Bible studies and volunteer work,” he added. “There was just one problem. I needed income. And now that I was reaching out to my children and trying to repair the relationships I had destroyed, my financial obligations were growing.”

Baker reached out to Howard Schultz, the founder, and CEO of Starbucks. Howard also previously owned Baker’s former team, the Seattle Supersonics.

“He was someone I admired who could give me advice about my future,” he said. “Howard gave me more than advice. First he set me up with Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He was friends with Dr. Calvin Butts, the pastor. I worked as a youth minister while attending Union Theological Seminary. I had thoughts of going into ministry, though I wasn’t sure.

“After returning to Old Saybrook as a licensed minister and marrying the mother of my children, I once again needed income. And once again Howard Schultz came through,” he explained. “I was mystified by his offer: train to become a Starbucks manager. My previous attempt at business—the restaurant I opened—was a spectacular bust. I’d never worked behind a counter in my life. And I knew nothing about coffee. But I needed a job, so I said yes.

“It was the best decision I ever made,” he said.

During his time at Starbucks, Baker said that he learned to embrace the reality of working with a team to serve others.

“Working at Starbucks was the hardest job I ever did. I loved it. All I had to do was win the day,” he said. “I loved waking up early—and sober—and heading to work like everyone else in the world. I loved being part of a team that was working to serve other people. ‘Look, I know I’m supposed to be your boss,’ I told employees when I took on more management duties. ‘But I realize you know more about this place than I do. Let’s just help each other out and work together.

“Help each other out. Work together. On my best days in the NBA, life felt like that. But I didn’t have many best days in the NBA,” he said. “Mostly I was so lost in my own insecurity, so weighed down by vanity and ambition, I sought release in all the wrong places.”

He concluded: “Working at Starbucks showed me that a life of service—the life Jesus wants us to live—can happen anywhere. In the NBA, I’d been the fantasy Vin Baker, the basketball star pouring alcohol into an inner void. At Starbucks I was just Vin Baker. And I loved it. I needed it.”

However, after working at Starbucks, Baker returned to basketball with a new perspective.

“Eventually basketball came calling again, and John Horst and Mike Budenholzer, the general manager and head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, gave me an opportunity to be on the staff of my first NBA team,” he said. “It was a God-given chance to take what I had learned at Starbucks and in recovery and offer it to young players in desperate need of a veteran’s hard-won wisdom.”

“I’ve been sober for seven years now. I thank God for every sober day I live,” he added. “I thank him for the many opportunities I’ve been given—especially the opportunity to live again after so much self-destruction. To live at last in the realness of God.”