Why NBA Athletes Go Broke

Why NBA Athletes Go Broke

A Sports Illustrated article reports that 60% of NBA players face serious financial hardships after retirement. So why do so many athletes wind up bankrupt?[1]

Statistics show that about 60-65% of NBA players go broke within the first five years of retirement. An average NBA player earned approximately $8 million for the 2021-2022 season. Given that their career in the NBA lasts for at least 4-5 years, their approximate earnings would be around $30 million – $40 million. Whereas a pro athlete plays for approximately ten years and can earn as much as $40 million or so per season.[2]

In professional basketball, NBA athletes often face a perplexing paradox. Their careers are filled with fame, glory, and substantial financial rewards. However, despite the significant earnings, many NBA athletes face financial distress after their careers end.

Despite earning multimillion-dollar salaries and achieving widespread fame, many sports stars encounter severe financial difficulties, some even going bankrupt post-retirement. This article explores the various factors contributing to this financial instability, offering insight into the challenges beyond the glamour of the basketball court. I’ll delve into why such prosperous careers can sometimes lead to economic downfall, shedding light on the less discussed side of professional sports.

The phenomenon of NBA athletes facing financial difficulties, even bankruptcy, after their careers is a complex issue involving several factors:

  1. Short Earnings Window: NBA careers are often short-lived, meaning players have a limited time to earn what might seem like lifetime wealth. When the playing days are over, the high-income stops, but the expenses often don’t.
  2. Lack of Financial Literacy: Many players come into the league young without much experience managing large sums of money. They may make poor investment choices without financial literacy or fall prey to scams.
  3. Lifestyle and Peer Pressure: There’s a culture of high spending in professional sports. Players must often maintain a particular lifestyle to fit in, including expensive cars, homes, and jewelry.
  4. Supporting Others: Athletes often feel responsible for financially supporting friends and family. This can lead to unsustainable financial burdens.
  5. Bad Investments and Business Ventures: Athletes may invest in high-risk ventures without proper due diligence or get involved in businesses they know little about, leading to significant losses.
  6. Lack of Planning for Post-Career: Many athletes don’t plan for life after sports financially and in terms of a second career. This lack of planning can lead to financial struggles once their playing days are over.
  7. Legal and Marital Issues: Divorces and legal troubles can significantly deplete an athlete’s wealth.
  8. High Tax Bracket: due to increased earnings, NBA players fall into some of the highest tax brackets. This means a significant portion of their income goes towards federal and state taxes. Without proper tax planning and management, they can lose substantial earnings, contributing to financial challenges post-career.

These issues are not unique to NBA athletes but can be seen across many professional sports. Education and early intervention in financial planning can help mitigate these risks.

Keep reading for a deeper dive into what causes many NBA players to end up broke even after successful careers.

1. The Fleeting Nature of NBA Careers: Understanding the Short Earnings Window

NBA careers are notoriously short. The average career spans just a few years; during this time, players must earn what they hope will sustain them for a lifetime. Transitioning from a high-earning player to retirement often comes abruptly, and many are unprepared for the sudden ending of their primary income stream. This short earnings window leaves little room for error in financial planning.

2. Beyond the Court: The Challenge of Financial Literacy for NBA Players

Many NBA players are drafted at a young age, missing the opportunity to gain financial literacy skills. Suddenly thrust into wealth, these young athletes often lack the knowledge to manage their finances effectively. This inexperience can lead to poor financial decisions, such as overspending or falling for investment scams.

3. Keeping Up with the Pros: Lifestyle and Peer Pressure in the NBA

There’s an unspoken competition off the court in the NBA – wealth and status. This results in extravagant spending on luxury items, expensive cars, and opulent homes. The pressure to maintain this high-end lifestyle, often beyond their means, can drain an athlete’s finances quickly.

4. The Financial Burden of Generosity: Supporting Family and Friends

Many NBA players come from backgrounds where financial success is rare. Once they make it, there’s an inherent desire or obligation to give back to family and friends. While generous, this can become a financial strain if not appropriately managed.

5. Risky Business: The Pitfalls of Bad Investments and Ventures

Athletes often invest in businesses or ventures to grow their wealth. However, without proper knowledge or advice, these investments can be risky. Many players have lost substantial money in ill-advised ventures or are not thoroughly vetted.

6. Planning for the Final Buzzer: Life and Finances After the NBA

Life after the NBA can be challenging, especially for those who haven’t planned for it. Players can struggle to maintain their lifestyle without a backup career or financial plan. Financial education and early planning for life after basketball are crucial but often overlooked.

7. Personal Fouls: How Legal and Marital Issues Impact Financial Stability

Legal and marital issues can also significantly affect a player’s financial health. Divorce settlements and legal disputes can be costly, taking a substantial portion of their earnings. Legal troubles can damage a player’s reputation, affecting their ability to earn through endorsements and other avenues.

8. Navigating the Tax Maze: The Impact of High Tax Brackets on NBA Players’ Wealth

An often overlooked yet crucial aspect of the financial challenges faced by NBA players is the impact of being in high tax brackets. With their multi-million dollar contracts, these athletes find themselves among the highest earners in the country, which naturally places them in the top tiers of the tax system.

The Burden of High Taxes

In the United States, the federal tax system is progressive, meaning that as an individual’s income increases, so does the percentage of tax they owe. For NBA players, this can mean facing federal tax rates of up to 37%. Additionally, state taxes can vary significantly, with some states like California imposing rates over 10% for top earners. When combined, an NBA player can surrender nearly half of their income to taxes.

Lack of Tax Planning

Many athletes, especially young players new to the league, may not be fully aware of the complexities of tax management. This lack of awareness can lead to inefficient tax planning, resulting in the loss of a substantial portion of their earnings. Players often have additional tax obligations related to their endorsements, investments, and other income sources, complicating their tax situation even more.

The Role of Financial Advisors

Effective tax management requires the expertise of skilled financial advisors. These professionals can help players understand their tax obligations and plan accordingly. Strategies like tax-deferred investments and strategic financial structuring can significantly reduce tax liability. Unfortunately, not all players take advantage of such expertise or may fall prey to unscrupulous advisors.

The Aftermath of Career Transition

Transitioning from a high-earning NBA career to retirement can be jarring, especially from a tax perspective. Players need to adjust to a vastly different income level, which requires a different approach to tax management. This transition can lead to financial difficulties without proper planning, as the habits and commitments formed during their high-earning days may no longer be sustainable.

The high tax bracket is a significant factor that impacts the wealth of NBA players. Without proper understanding and management of their tax obligations, players can find a substantial part of their earnings eroded by taxes. This, combined with other financial challenges, can contribute to many athletes’ difficulties in maintaining financial stability after their NBA careers.

Key Takeaways

  • Ephemeral Career Span: The brief duration of professional play means earnings are concentrated in a few years.
  • Financial Acumen Gap: Young players often lack essential skills in wealth management.
  • Peer Influence and Opulence: The culture of extravagant spending can lead to unsustainable financial habits.
  • Altruistic Obligations: The desire to financially assist relatives and friends can become overwhelming.
  • Investment Hazards: Inexperienced in business, players may make high-risk financial decisions.
  • Post-Career Readiness: Insufficient preparation for life after basketball can result in economic hardship.
  • Impact of Legal and Relationship Issues: Personal disputes and legal battles can drastically reduce wealth.
  • Complex Tax Obligations: NBA players face intricate tax requirements due to their high income, often resulting in substantial tax liabilities. Without savvy tax planning and an understanding of various state and federal tax laws, players can see a significant portion of their earnings diminished by taxes, exacerbating their financial challenges.


The financial instability of NBA athletes is a multifaceted issue rooted in the transient nature of their careers, a problem with understanding how to manage newfound wealth, societal pressures of living a lavish lifestyle, the noble yet financially taxing practice of aiding family and friends, ventures into risky financial territories, the lack of foresight for life beyond the court, and the detrimental effects of personal disputes.

Addressing these challenges requires a holistic approach, focusing on education and strategic planning during and after their athletic tenure. Athletes can better transition from their peak earning years to a more sustainable economic future by cultivating financial prudence and long-term planning. These issues require a concerted effort in financial education and planning, starting from the early stages of an athlete’s career.