Talked to Ja Morant about poor decisions he has made and what he has learned

“70% of lotto winners lose or spend all their money in 5 years or less,” according to a Reader’s Digest article.

“78% of professional athletes go broke after just 3 years of retirement,” according to Craig Brown, an NKSFB Sports Business Division partner.

Although seemingly unrelated, what’s not being talked about in both these instances is the rapid accumulation of wealth combined with a poor understanding of risk management, and the naivety that the money will always be there.

Ja Morant, a NBA player for the Memphis Grizzlies, is in headlines due to his recent suspension after he appeared to flash a gun in an Instagram video. This is not the first incident that he’s appeared in the media due to his behavior however. As many on social media flock to defend or condemn his actions and persona by drawing parallels between his seemingly privileged childhood and two parent household, a lightbulb went off for me.

People tend to assign a greater set of expectations around education, behavior, and other means of showing up socially to the experiences we have—or didn’t have— in our upbringing than they do to the personal choices and decisions we may make despite them. Tied specifically into money, the assumption that because someone has always had money or didn’t experience poverty, automatically makes them a good steward of money is a false one and vice versa.Jalen Rose on X: "Talked to Ja Morant about poor decisions he has made and  what he has learned." / X

In examining this situation through the lens of financial trauma I see two unique perspectives;

The perspective of the spectators that feel like Ja is dangerously close to messing up the opportunity he has and the money that came with it

The (possible) perspective of the athlete in the assumption that his actions and behaviors are of minimal consequence and thus the money will always be there

So of course the commentary on both sides of these perspectives is really a reflection of the experiences, anxieties, and traumas of those who are placing themselves in his shoes.

The second perspective, or the feeling of ‘money invincibility’ is not one I can say I’ve experienced personally, but one I have witnessed occur in real time.

In fact, early in my banking career I came across a customer who came into the bank almost every week—sometimes multiple times a week— to withdraw large sums of cash from his account. He always seemed to have one or two people with him and was always in a good mood. He was a younger guy and very talkative. Over the period of time he would come in I would learn that the money came from an inheritance and that it was more money than he’d ever had before. I don’t remember the specific amount but it couldn’t have been much more than $100,000 and after a period of weeks, maybe months I remember him coming in to check the balance and his money being nearly gone.

His excitement and company no longer accompanied him.

Later I would learn finally that he used the money to party and buy items and drugs because he didn’t have money previously and he gained a bunch of friends and popularity because of how generous he was. I don’t know if he thought it would be there forever, but I know he definitely thought it would have lasted much longer than it did.

When we think about financial trauma we often look at it from a lens of lack—that is to say events, situations, conditions, etc. marked by not having or not having enough money. But financial trauma works both ways. That is just one of many examples where individuals without previous experience or education in managing money came into large sums of money and had no idea what to do with it, how to preserve it, and ultimately was left with the regret of what they would do differently if they knew better before—and some DO know better before but get so caught up in money invincibility that they cease to look at money rationally. Similar to the way people navigating a survival mode operate despite knowing better because they need to survive. This is the failure of financial literacy, because despite understanding concepts and correlations related to money, our feelings and beliefs may simply override what we know or understand and allow us to make decisions to the contrary comfortably.

While Ja doesn’t need my justification or approval to make the decisions he’s making I do think it an example like many others where the feeling money invincibility—or nonchalance— has been put on display and ultimately has threatened the future livelihood of those in the public eye. Perhaps his actions don’t come with the perceived risks civilians cringe and worry about for him, or perhaps they do.