Former NBA All-Star Vin Baker’s Redemptive Journey Home

When straight paths turn to winding roads – the hope is that the journey brings a return.  Vin Baker’s basketball odyssey has!  Vin believes that “you can always come home! I’ve been well traveled, but Full Gospel Tabernacle in Old Saybrook, Connecticut has always been home for me. It just reminds me of my beginnings – spiritually! My earliest memories are singing in the choir at nine years old.  And so it’ll always remain special to me! It is the Prodigal Son, I have returned home and I’m happy to have come home to a feast!”          

What does Old Saybrook still bring him? Vin says, “I see people that I grew up with, went to high school with and they’re all wonderful people. I have great friends here. People that I know differently. Here I’m not Vin Baker! I’m just – Vinnie!”

Vin had a distinguished collegiate and NBA career, recalling, “The University of Hartford, being the leading scorer there. All-American! Drafted, 8th pick, Milwaukee Bucks, 1993. And of course having so much early success. NBA All-Star, All-NBA, Olympian, my own brand Jordan shoe. So, really a lot of wonderful things that basketball brought me. In my first year in Seattle, 1997-1998, we won 61 games and the number one seed going into the playoffs. I went from being an All-Star to the next level! I won! So that changes your whole title – you become a winner.”

But the NBA opportunities also brought a lifestyle. Vin says, “If you’re not capable of having discretion, then you’ll fall into it. I didn’t come from a party background. But once I started to drink and hangout and party it went from casual fun to ‘I really need to drink’. Now I have to do it to survive because my body is not responding without one. So it got really bad!”

So bad, Vin drank during games, saying, “Yeah, there were times when I had to! “I think the pressure of maintaining this level of basketball made me anxious.  I would have withdrawls, the shakes, the noise of the crowd, that I would drink during games to maintain an even keel otherwise I would be anxious, my body shaking! Maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was because I hadn’t realized I had become an alcoholic.”

Vin was traded to the Boston Celtics where his alcoholism was exposed. He was suspended before getting released, eventually losing his career and everything that came with it. Vin remembers, “The name Vin Baker at that time wasn’t good. All the stories, all the rumors, all the money loss, I couldn’t fight it at that point, I was already humbled - He knew I was broken!”   

What did rock bottom look like? For Vin, “I was just spiritually empty! Losing everything that I had gained and worked for wasn’t rock bottom. The rock bottom part was when I didn’t feel connected to Christ. I just felt there was no one I could turn to including God.  I had done so much wrong with alcoholism and some of the choices I had morally made was against God and everything I had stood for and everything He wanted me to be”

He was in and out of rehab centers. The last one was different. He told them he’d be out in a week. Vin explains,  “I had a real conversation with the Lord! ‘I need you now and I cried out! Going to rehab all I needed was get physically well so I wouldn’t have seizures. But my spirit was made up! And I knew the maintenance was going to be coming to the Lord and coming to Church and prayer!  Usually these stories end in death. But the awesome part is you can change the ending of the story around.  The only way to face that head-on, the only way to turn that around is through Christ!”  

To get back on his feet, Vin reached out to one of his former NBA owners – Starbucks Executive Director – Howard Schultz.  Vin says, “I consider Howard family and a close friend. He did take a chance on me and I’m grateful for that opportunity that he gave to me to come in here and put this green apron on and to wake up in the morning to open a store for 4:30, A lot of peace! Coming out of recovery I needed a place where I could grind and work – literally and figuratively. I had a lot of things I was going through spiritually and this is where I find that place at Starbucks!”  

When asked which brings more pressure, shooting at an NBA free throw line or taking the drive through, customized multiple orders – Vin laughs, “I would say taking the customized orders. A caramel macchiato can be very difficult to make when its rush hour.”

Does unconditional love look different to him, now? Vin emphatically answers, “Oh gosh! It means everything to me because at one point I thought I was not loved. By anyone! I was in such a bad place I didn’t think I could be loved.  And that’s when I found out His love was unconditional. The Bible says new mercies every morning. So I wake up every morning needing new mercy. I have six years of sobriety but I need you today. I have a healthy fear of my past and a great adoration and respect for the Lord.”  

Vin is now ordained. His recent book, God and Starbucks, offers a raw and honest account of his NBA life and redemption. Vin says “It’s been a wonderful and beautiful process coming back home to my wife and my children, My son signed with Boston College, a scholarship to play basketball there. Now I’ve had the opportunity to go back and do broadcasting with Fox and the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s part of the redemptive process. They took a chance on me and I’m just truly blessed to be back in Milwaukee.”  

Vin maintains the perspective that there was purpose, even in the worst of his journey to find redemption, saying, “I’m convinced that everything that happened to me in the NBA had to happen in order for me to get a God perspective, in order to change my life.  And more importantly help other people change their perspective on addiction or help to save lives. It went from a ‘why me’ to ‘why not me’? And when you get to the ‘why not me’, big changes can happen! I knew there would be joy in it - running back to God and running back to a forgiving father!”

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