Seattle Sonics Vinn Baker
by Jesse Florea

A Lot of Guys can't wait to get out of their parents' house. Too many rules, restrictions and regulations. They want to be free to make their own choices.

And probably any of those guys would trade places with a National Basketball Association superstar. Late nights, parties with famous people, traveling the world, a huge house and vaults of money. Nothing like living under the same roof with their parents.

But for Seattle Supersonics forward Vincent Lamont Baker, playing in the NBA and staying at his parents' house go hand in hand. Sure, Vin could buy a yacht and sail the world with his closest friends. But when the NBA season ends, Vin goes home to Old Saybrook, Conn.
"These days I stay with my parents in the summer," Vin says. "I'm 26 years old and a three-time all-star, but I stay in my old bedroom and make sure I'm home at a good hour."
"Most guys don't think about being at home on time," Vin continues. "But I am at the house on time. That's not something that my parents told me to do or something I have to do now. I do it out of the respect I have for my father and mother.

Wait. Is this the same guy who averaged 21 points and 10.3 rebounds a game last year for the Milwaukee Bucks?
Yup.

Is he the same athlete who could afford to buy himself a beautiful house and who has hundreds of fans fighting for position to get his autograph?
Yes.

And the same guy who has been called the "best player who nobody has seen play"?

That's right.

Vin Baker is one of the best (if not the best) young power forwards in basketball. And when you meet the 6 foot-11, 250 pound player, it's obvious that the spotlights, photographers and millions of dollars haven't made his head swell to the size of the Pacific Ocean. In fact, what strikes you is how "normal" he is.

He looks you in the eye, speaks softly, is quick to smile and answers questions with honesty and humility, traits he learned from his father, James, a Baptist minister and auto mechanicÑand a father who"s very proud of his only child.
"Vin is a born-again Christian," James explains. "Fame and fortune haven't changed him at all. We wanted him to be a person who helps those around him and a child of God."
Vin has taken both pieces of advice to heart. You can see it when he comes home to host a basketball camp every summer, and you can see it when he sits on his team's bench before the start of the first and second halves in every Sonics basketball game.

"When he sits down before play starts, he"s not just sitting there," James says. "His head is bowed and he's praying to his heavenly Father. It's not a game with him."

When Reverend Baker starts talking about his son and God, he gets fired up. He's proud of the choices his son has made, but he also knows Vin has to deal with temptations in his life.

"He has growing pains just like any other kid," James says. "You can be a 50-year-old child of God and have growing pains. But when Vin tells you he believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, he's for real.'

With 82 games in five and a half months, it's hard for players to consistently attend church. They can struggle spiritually, especially on the road. The Sonics have a core group of Christians, including Hersey Hawkins, who can keep each other accountable.
Vin says his dad didn't pester him to live up to the standard of "pastor's kid" or to make a commitment to Jesus when he was growing up.

"The biggest thing about my father is that he never put pressure on me about religion," Vin says. "Religion isn't something you can force on somebody. It's something a person really has to believe in."

From a young age, Vin was involved at Full Gospel Tabernacle Church. Even today he looks forward to being at home and singing in the choir.

Another thing Vin enjoys doing in Old Saybrook is hosting his annual basketball camp. He even gets a big smile when he talks about it. Open to boys and girls ages 7 to 17, the one-week camp brings in around 225 kids.

"I'm there every day for the majority of the day," Vin says. "I don't just show my face, I'm there to help them learn the lessons, not only about basketball, but about life in general."
Vin spends so much time with the kids that by the end of the week he pretty much knows everybody's name. And he knows a few kids even better.
"He has about three to five kids stay with us the whole week," James explains. "He puts them up in his room and goes down and sleeps on the couch. They hang out together, play Nintendo. The kids are in their own little heaven."
While his dad was busy undergriding Vin's spiritual life as his pastor, his mom, Jean, who got him turned on to basketball.
"She's the more aggressive, outspoken one," James says of his wife. "I'm kind of quiet and laid-back. Vin and I used to enjoy fishing a lot, but it was his mom who played basketball with him."

And she wasn't any pushover on the court. Jean played in high school and was a tough opponent.

"When she was out playing with Vin, she just didn't give the game to him, "James remembers with a laugh. "He had to earn it-he had to play."

Sometimes her brother, Leroy Richardson, would come over and join the two of them in the driveway. Then Vin had to work doubly hard.

"Leroy's deceased now, but he was one of Vin's great inspiration,"  James says. "He was like the big brother Vin didn't have."

Once Vin's mom and uncle had passed the basketball bug down a generation, Vin became fully infected. He'd wake up some mornings at 6 a.m. and bounce a basketball.
"He'd be outside and wake everybody up," James says. "And he'd play basketball until you made him put it down."

On Sundays when Vin was 13 years old, he'd go straight from church to the basketball court where he'd play against the older kids.
"He'd come home beat up and tired," James says. "They played hard against him, but he never gave up."
That never-give-up attitude helped Vin get to where he is today. He played for a small high school in the smallest division in Connecticut, but he didn't make the varsity team until his junior year when the varsity center got injured. Vin moved up from junior varsity, and he never went back. When the varsity center returned, he and Vin played as the "twin towers" for the rest of the season.

After high school, Vin chose the University of Hartford (a small college 60 miles from his home) where he set all-time records in scoring and blocked shots. He was chosen as the eighth overall pick in the 1993 draft by Milwaukee. Last Summer he moved to Seattle in a trade during the off-season.

"When I was 16, I wasn't in the top 2,000 players in the country," Vin says, comparing himself to roughly the number of athletes in the NBA. "I wasn"t highly recruited out of high school, but I had a great high school career."

He helped his team to the state finals one year, but more importantly, he had fun and improved.

"The biggest thing I did was work at everything that I was weak at," Vin explains. "And the most important thing is to have fun when you're working on your game. The more I'd play and have fun-the better I got."
By the time Vin put on an NBA uniform, he didn't have many weaknesses. He could dribble, shoot, pass, dunk and run the court.
"It's exciting when you have a guy like Vin Baker," Seattle coach George Karl explains. "He can pass the ball, rebound and also face the basket. He's got a lot of versatility to his game. You'll see him play a lot of power forward, center and maybe even small forward."

Vin is also excited about playing in Seattle. In his four years with the Milwaukee Bucks, they never made the playoffs and always had losing records. The Sonics made it to the NBA finals in 1996.

'I can't explain how excited I am about being able to play with a winner," Vin says. "It gives me the opportunity to take my career to another level. I like being able to utilize my speed and quickness to beat other forwards up the floor.

Now look for Vin to be on the receiving end of alley-oop passes from Gary Payton, drop-stepping past a defender on the baseline for a monster dunk, or stepping out for a 17-foot jump shot.

It's those kinds of moves that make his mother and father proud. And probably his Father in heaven is looking down with a smile, too.


From Breakaway magazine, February, 1998, Vol. 9, No.2, published by Focus on the Family. Copyright © 1998 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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