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Money matters a team effort for Orlando Magic

Point guard Jameer Nelson, a Chester native, gathers his mates for camaraderie and finance lessons.

Chester native Jameer Nelson, the Orlando Magic's point guard, makes a point at the week long conference to give financial advice to athletes. (Clem Murray / Inquirer)
Chester native Jameer Nelson, the Orlando Magic's point guard, makes a point at the week long conference to give financial advice to athletes. (Clem Murray / Inquirer)Read more

Pro athletes and the millions they make shooting baskets and hitting home runs can be a volatile combination.

Some of them end up broke soon after their playing careers end, their potential wealth frittered away by lavish spending, gambling, and excessive risk in investing.

"Competitiveness is good for basketball, but dangerous in other spheres, such as investing," Marc Isenberg, who writes about pro athletes and money, told the Orlando Magic NBA team yesterday at a meeting in Villanova.

The Orlando Magic players are spending the week in the Philadelphia area at the behest of team co-captain and former St. Joseph's University star point guard Jameer Nelson.

It is the third annual so-called Building Magic week. Nelson's goal - with no input from Magic management - is to build a better team.

"Camaraderie off the court helps on the court," said Nelson before a workout that included balancing on one leg on a wobbly bosu ball while bouncing a 15-pound ball back and forth with a partner.

Eleven-year veteran Adonal Foyle said he had been having a great time. "In the league for a while, you get pretty cynical," said Foyle, 33, who played one year at Cardinal O'Hara in the early 1990s.

For Foyle, Building Magic is an antidote to that because the teammates get to know one another better and learn to work together.

Nelson foots the bill: Flying 10 teammates to town, putting them up at the Marriott in West Conshohocken, paying for training sessions at the Summit Sports Training Center in Villanova, lunch next door at Maia, and fancy Philadelphia restaurants, such as Fogo de Chao, Pod and Table 31, for dinner.

Is that wise spending?

"I wouldn't do it if I couldn't afford it," said Nelson, a Chester native who is entering his fifth year in the NBA. At the same time, Nelson, who would not say how much he is spending this week, is well aware of the risk: "This is a gamble. Who says this is going the make the team better?"

There is something in it for Nelson. "Jameer's job as a point guard is to play at a high level and to show leadership at a high level. By doing this correctly, he creates more value for himself, both with Orlando and the rest of the league," said Steve Mountain, who owns the training center where yesterday's workout took place.

Mountain is also Nelson's player agent. His company, Cornerstone Management, helped organize the week.

On a certain level, Nelson, 26, is thinking like a businessman, which is what Isenberg urged the players to do. "This is a business, and the end product is how many games you win," he said.

The better the league does financially, the better the players make out, Isenberg said.

The NBA already pays handsomely, with the average salary of $4.8 million in the 2007-08 season, said league spokesman Mark Broussard.

How can players go wrong with that kind of income, ending up like former NBA player Latrell Spreewell, who recently lost his yacht and his house to financial trouble?

They spend too much on cars, houses and boats, they get taken advantage of by seedy financial advisers, and they fail to realize they need to make their huge paychecks over a relatively short career last a lifetime.

"It's not just about investments," Isenberg said. "It's more about spending habits."

Rashard Lewis, 29, said he avoided spending pitfalls by sticking to a budget. Lewis, a forward going into his 10th year, has a financial adviser he trusts who reviews investments before Lewis makes them.

Most of his investments are in the stock market or in interest-earning accounts, but the Houston native said he recently made a private investment in an oil company through a friend.

He is thinking about the future.

"I love basketball, but at the same time I know it isn't going to last forever. . . . That check is going to stop coming one day."

So what is his budget for the team's trip to the Borgata in Atlantic City this evening?

"If I lose $5,000, I probably would stop," Lewis said. At that level, "I feel like I could have given that money to my brother, my sister or my mom instead of the casino."