Vin Baker is resting an elbow on a wooden pulpit, his 6-11 body wrapped in a snappy, plaid suit that seems to stretch on forever. He takes a deep breath and exhales, his long face looking down for a moment. The audience waits patiently, kids sitting up straight. Then, Baker, a four-time NBA All-Star, tells his story, difficult as it might be. Delivering a sermon is harder than shooting free throws, he says.
“At one point I thought having a full armor of God was having a sneaker in my name and having millions of dollars,” he says with a smile, looking out to a small crowd seated in folding chairs. “In my career, I amassed $105 million. Sounds like a pretty big armor, right?”
Most of the adults in the crowd quickly reply with an “Uh huh.”
Baker smiles and goes on.
“When you’re protected by the armor of God, it doesn’t matter how much money you had or how many gold medals you won in the Olympics. No, the armor means praying and having the armor protect you from the enemy.”
He speaks without notes, his voice getting stronger.
“When you get some $100 million, it’s easy to forget about God,” said Baker, who spent some time with the Knicks. “I’m guilty. I forgot about church on Sunday. But He brought me back under His protection.”
As an NBA player for 13 seasons, Baker was an anomaly: a 6-11 forward who could shoot from the outside and dribble like a guard.
As a preacher, Baker is similarly gifted, speaking in a soothing, deep tone, cracking jokes, taking his time. Baker was a man in control as he delivered a sermon to the Abyssinian Baptist Junior Church on a Sunday in early January. So, it was a surprise that Baker, 41, chose to talk about his own failings, of blowing millions of dollars in his career, and struggling to come to terms with his relationship with God. And though he didn’t mention it, his failures all stemmed from an addiction to alcohol and with issues of depression — a one-two combination that destroyed his career and nearly killed him, he admits.