Right On the Money

October 3, 2013
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Alonzo Gee

When Jarrett Jack signed as a free agent this offseason, and said that he felt the Cavaliers had a team of NBA players who loved the game -- rather than a group of players who loved the lifestyle -- he might have been talking about veteran forward Alonzo Gee, who’s about as unassuming and down-to-earth as a pro ballplayer can be.

Gee plays a blue collar-type game because he’s a blue collar-type guy. For the past three seasons, he’s been guarding the toughest non-center on the floor. He played in all 82 games last year, 63 of 66 the season before. He’s not big on bling and he might be the squad’s most soft-spoken guy.

So why did this frugal blue-collar dude decide to go white collar this offseason and travel to Wall Street for a three-day internship in early July?

“My financial advisor, Michelle Marquez (of Merrill Lynch), we sat down and talked and we decided to do it because we have meetings throughout the year and she said: ‘It might be a good idea for you guys to see what we invested your guys’ money in. And so I thought it was a great idea because I didn’t know anything about it, so I was trying to take the time out and learn where the money was going.”

The “you guys” that Marquez was referring to were Gee and fellow client, Kwame Brown of the Sixers. But it’s not an altogether new program. Andre Iguodala did a similar internship with Merrill Lynch on the eve of the NBA’s Lockout two years ago.

The Wine and Gold’s budding Bud Fox has heard all the horror stories about pro athletes being parted from their money – billionaires vs. millionaires.

In Pablo Torre’s brilliant Sports Illustrated article that inspired the ESPN 30-for-30 film “Broke,” he reported that, within four years of retirement, an estimated 60 percent of NBA players are broke.

We’ve all heard the tragic (and, let’s be honest, salacious) tales – from Bernie Kosar being siphoned by his own family to Antoine Walker losing upwards of $110 million on faulty real estate ventures. A website called championship-rings.net – which is exactly what it sounds like – purchased roughly 400 pawned championship rings in the three months following the economic meltdown in 2008.

The stories are countless.

Gee isn’t among the sport’s superstars, but he’s still frequently being approached by investors. Getting good financial advice, and using common sense, keeps him out of the soup.

“My financial advisor told us that people are going to come at us about (investments),” said Gee. “And she tells me to tell them: have everything lined up, have all the paperwork together, and then we’ll look at it, then we’ll think about it. But if you don’t have anything lined up then you can’t come to me about ‘investing in this’ or ‘let’s open a restaurant’ or anything like that. If you don’t have the paperwork, if you don’t have everything priced out. If you don’t have the business plan, you can’t come to me about investing in anything.”

The internship wasn’t easy and there were times that Gee admits his head was swimming.

Day One’s itinerary, for example, started with an equity trading discussion at 9 a.m. with Merrill Lynch’s Sean O’Brien, covering areas like technology trading, international trading, sales trading and research marketing trading. At 10:30, it was an introduction to research and analysis with portfolio strategist, Mark Ulrich. After lunch with the Global Research Team, it was off to a meeting about hedge funds with Osparie Management head trader, Jason Mraz. The duo closed the day with a discussion with senior research analyst, Robbie Ohmes, for a discussion on stock selection.

If you think that paragraph was tough to get through, try three days of high-level economic verbiage, a daunting task ‘Zo laughs about in retrospect.

“I could talk all day about basketball,” smiles Gee. “And a Wall Street guy, they probably aren’t going to understand anything I have to say. What’s a pin-down? What’s a lock-and-trail? Things like that. When they were talking to me, there were talking without breathing, so it was hard for me to understand. Another guy came and put it up in graphs and charts, and they broke it down a little better.

“They’d say: ‘Any questions?’ And I was like: ‘Um, I don’t know what you were just talking about.’ But I caught more than a few things and it was good to take a few things from it.”

The fifth-year pro isn’t looking for a career in the economic field after his playing days are done and he’s not Gordon Gecko after a single stint in New York (“It’s going to take more than one internship to understand the ins and outs of all that.”) But he does feel more secure about where his hard-earned is being invested, something he thinks all athletes – not just his NBA brethren – should all look into “ … because we all make that type of money to where we should want to know where our money is going and what it’s invested in.”

Alonzo’s internship wasn’t all meetings and mathematic drudgery. Day Two had Gee and Brown down on the NYSE trading floor – and right at 9 a.m. for the Opening Bell. And what good would the trip to Wall Street have been without meeting CNBC’s raving “Mad Money” host, Jim Cramer.

In their brief meeting, we had to know: Did the tempestuous TV personality yell at you?

“No, he didn’t yell at us,” laughed Gee. “He was actually very calm. He just likes to use his hands a lot when he talks. You’ve seen his show: he loves to use his hands and he’s always talking and he’s got that high voice! But he’s a cool guy.”

Summer school is over for Alonzo Gee, and now he’s with his teammates, toiling at Cleveland Clinic Courts in preparation for a hopeful 2013-14 campaign. And when it’s over, Zo might just make another trip to the Big Apple.

“I think I want to do another one this summer, at least, try to get more knowledge about it,” said Gee. “Because I’m still investing, so I still want to know the ins and outs about stocks and bonds, retirement plans. Everything.”

As mentioned earlier, Gee not flashy or boastful – doesn’t flash the ice or drive the fanciest rig. Zo is truly a blue collar kinda guy. Coming from the D-League, he was already money-conscious when he came into the NBA. And he’s looking to stay that way.

“I’m very tight with money,” says Gee. “Actually, I’ve been tight with my money throughout the years. My teammates they’re always on me. ‘Treat yourself, Zo! Buy yourself a nice watch! And I think: ‘I can’t do it! I can’t do it! I can’t spend that money!’ They’ll say: ‘Buy yourself another car!’ But I can’t do it!

“I kind of treated myself a little this summer, to something I really, really liked and I’m glad I did it. But it was hard for me. I still always second-guess myself. I’m talking to my financial advisor and (asked): ‘Should I do it? Is it ok?’ I’m asking her if it’s OK to spend my money. But I don’t want to be broke at the end of my career. I don’t want to be in that 60 percent of broke athletes. I won’t do it.”