Ballers: Episode 2 Recap

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Tyler Horn, Contributor - The Players' Tribune

Last week in my Episode One recap of HBO’s Ballers, I noted potential thematic similarities to another HBO buddy show, Entourage. In Episode Two, a big difference is already emerging: while we saw how having a close-knit group of friends can be beneficial in Entourage, Ballers suggests that having too big of a social circle can be detrimental.

After last week’s pilot episode, we are beginning to delve deeper into each character’s story line. Take Vernon Littlefield. He’s the football player who made $12 million, but recently had to borrow $300,000 just to pay his debts. While Vernon may seem like an absurd caricature of the frivolous party animal athlete, it’s closer to reality than we’d like to believe.

“Ballers” suggests that having too big of a social circle can be detrimental.

The family/friend dynamic is one of the biggest concerns among athletes who are new to wealth. Vernon is in severe debt but his mother is still dining at the Biltmore. Vernon’s best-friend/manager/handler represents another real problem with professional athletes. The friends may mean well and may have the best of intentions, but the problem is that they don’t know what they’re looking out for. Reggie (Vernon’s friend and financial manager) has no idea how to handle or invest money. Even if they weren’t having $5,000 brunches at the Biltmore, how could Reggie ever know how to responsibly handle that much money? Yet it is a real life issue that you can find on every team in every league of every professional sport in America.

One of the major reasons athletes choose their friends to be their “managers” is the desire for trust. An athlete may think to himself, “I’ve known this guy since day one and there is no one I trust more to handle my affairs – why would I hand over trust to a stranger?” But while trust is an important aspect in handing over your money to anyone, knowing that a person will catch you in a trust-fall doesn’t qualify them to handle your millions of dollars. It will be interesting to see how the dynamic between Spencer (the ex-pro turned financial advisor played by the Rock) and Reggie plays out as they battle for what they think is best for Vernon.

The blending of work and play is tough for athletes — and only tougher as more money gets involved.

The blending of work and play is tough for athletes — and only tougher as more money gets involved. Vernon is going to have a hard time separating what’s best for him and what’s best for his crew. In Phillip Buchanon’s book New Money: Staying Rich he talks about having to cut off his own mom because she was bleeding him dry of money. It is so hard to tell family “no,” but as Spencer said in Episode Two, telling your friends and family “no” is beneficial for the entire crew. What good is making millions of dollars if you can only enjoy it for six years? What good is giving your friends titles like “manager” or “advisor” when you’re not holding them accountable? What will they do in a few years when the spigot is turned off? By having a reasonable budget and taste (not leasing McLarens is a good place to start), you can stay rich for much longer by putting your money to work through proper management.

The dialogue in some parts is really well written. I enjoyed the back and forth between Spencer and his partner Joe (played by Rob Corddry) in the beginning of the episode. Joe is 100 percent correct when speaking about client production. As an advisor, it’s great to be a mentor and big brother, but until a contract is signed, that’s all you are. Within that transition from player to advisor, you have to navigate the difference between friend and business partner. A verbal agreement may have worked on the field or in the locker room, but it doesn’t fly in the boardroom. Sometimes being a financial advisor means exerting a little tough love.

Sometimes being a financial advisor means exerting a little tough love.

It was also great to see Joe explain to Spencer that just because he is a former athlete, that doesn’t qualify him as a blue-chip financial advisor. Connections are great but there’s still a whole lot to learn. I remember when I was interviewing with Merrill Lynch, my recruiter asked me who my target market would be. I told her professional athletes, to which she abruptly replied, “Yeah, but who else?” These financial advisory firms hire many athletes, but it is not simply for their access to other professional athletes. Eventually that pipeline runs dry, and you are left to rely on the other skills you have developed. Like any business, relying on one source for clients will have you on the fast track to failure. When Joe called out Spencer’s lack of client production, he was echoing this lesson.

We continued to watch Ricky (the hot shot wide receiver who was suddenly released) try to adapt to his newfound role on the Dolphins. I cracked up last week when he adamantly stated he would not play special teams, but now he is wearing #41 as a receiver, something that usually happens to undrafted free agent rookies who have a slim chance of making the team. His transition from a primary target to the fourth or fifth WR on the roster is a wake-up call for a guy in the last years of his career. Does he have what it takes to make the team even if he’s not the star? Ricky is going to have to do some soul searching.

Putting on my financial advisor hat, one thing that stood out to me was how Vernon just signed the “authorization” with out even reading it. I understand that the process was sped up for sake of story, but in real life this would be a big red flag. I highly advise against signing something without it being fully explained to you. I always try to take my clients step-by-step in helping them understand what they are signing. And it is not only for the client’s benefit. In today’s litigious society, it covers our ass as well. Beware of any financial advisor who isn’t open to explaining every line in the fine print.

One thing that I feel is missing so far is an Ari Gold-type character. Joe is supposed to be the over–the-top, crass archetype of a financial guy, but he comes across as a jock sniffer (which is funny in its own right). But what made Entourage so successful outside of the group dynamic was that other compelling character who not only made you laugh but made you cringe when he would say something outrageous. We’re only two episodes in, so there is plenty of room for the show and its characters to grow. Looking forward to it. Thanks and stay tuned for my recaps each week.

Tyler Horn is a former NFL player turned financial advisor. In case you missed it, read the Episode One recap here.

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