Long fall from riches to rags for ex-NBA player Vaughn
David Vaughn knows the adulation of NBA crowds. He also knows the humbling task of maneuvering his 6-foot-9 frame into his Chevy Impala to sleep.
Less than a decade after the end of a four-season NBA career, the former power forward spent six months on the streets of Orlando, Fla., having run through the $2.2 million he earned in the league. These days, the 36-year-old Vaughn is looking for a job in Orlando, where he spent two seasons playing for the Magic.
His story, he says, is one of a young man with sudden riches, manic spending habits and little advice from those who should have given him direction. It’s also one of a man whose friends are coming to his aid this weekend.
Drafted by the Magic in 1995 as the 25th pick out of Memphis, he bought a Yukon, a Corvette, a Mercedes Benz, a Range Rover, a Lexus and another Yukon.
The Corvette, especially, was ridiculed by his teammates.
“They said, “Hey rook(ie), get rid of it, it’s too small,” Vaughn recalled in an interview, calling toll-free from Orlando.
“I should’ve just bought a Buick.”
He purchased a $250,000 house in Orlando, which he had two loans on; paid a note on his grandfather’s house near Nashville; bought a $212,000 home in Nashville; and invested in a construction deal that went sour.
“The money just exhausted itself,” Vaughn said.
His financial advisers, he said, “never stepped in and never made anything last a lifetime; I was left to make my own decisions.”
These days, there’s a mandatory NBA rookie transition program designed to head off such problems.
His NBA pension, he said, won’t kick in until he’s 48. He also played for the New Jersey Nets, Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls, averaging just under 10 minutes and 2.9 points a game.
“I wouldn’t trade my NBA experience for anything in the world,” Vaughn said.
After his release from the NBA in 1999, he played briefly in Europe, then ended up back in Orlando with little money and working a series of blue-collar jobs: a FedEx package handler, and warehouse work at a supermarket and then a furniture store.
Before long, his marriage deteriorated and last year he was living out of his 2000 Impala on the streets of Orlando. He took showers at the Salvation Army where he got free meals. He’d go to a fitness center to get a shower and do stretching exercises so he wouldn’t feel so cramped in his car.
“It was a very lonely situation,” he recalled.
Vaughn recently reconciled with his wife and rejoined her and their two sons, aged 11 and 8.
“Basically I knelt down and said a long prayer,” he recalled. “Later I read all of the New Testament, and it gave me strength.”
Said wife Brandie: “Even though we may not have material things, we have the love of God which is more priceless than that.”
But he’s still “looking for work,” just like millions of Americans. He was laid off over the summer by a furniture store that employed him as a warehouse worker and delivery man.
Friends and family in Nashville, where he grew up, will have a fundraiser for Vaughn on Saturday.
“He’s made mistakes that we all do as human beings,” said Earl Jordan, a community activist who arranged the event after being touched by Vaughn’s plight. Jordan is president of Partners in the Struggle, a nonprofit that advocates against gun violence and helps families of murder victims.
Vaughn’s life has revived memories of another Nashville pro athlete, Joe Gilliam Jr., who won two Super Bowl rings as quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers but ended up drug addicted and living in a cardboard box under a bridge for two years. He died in 2000.
Vaughn, grateful for the help, blames most of his woes on himself.
“I bought houses that were too big and too many luxurious cars,” he said. “I wish I’d have lived more simply because I’d be better off. I lived like there was no tomorrow.
“I appreciate people stepping forward. It’ll help me put some of my life back together.”