Who is Jim Spanarkel: Why work in financial services? During his brief career as a professional basketball player in the NBA (the National Basketball Association), Jim Spanarkel recognized that there were opportunities in financial careers for athletes. He thus spent his summers studying and preparing for the next phase in his life, which has been as a highly successful financial advisor at Merrill Lynch. Jim Spanarkel also has been able to juggle this career with another simultaneous one as a basketball broadcaster.
Biography: Jim Spanarkel was born in 1957 in Jersey City, NJ. A local high school basketball star, he went on to play at Duke University. After graduating in 1979, Spanarkel was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA. During the summer of 1980, he studied for and obtained a real estate broker's license.
After his rookie season in Philadelphia, Jim Spanarkel was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks, an expansion team that commenced operations in the fall of 1980. After his first year in Dallas, during the summer of 1981 he obtained a Series 7 license, qualifying him to work as a financial advisor.
When his 5th pro season ended in the spring of 1984, Spanarkel became a free agent. A marginal player in the NBA, he was not greatly in demand by other teams, and also lost his enthusiasm for the game. He made a brief appearance in the Milwaukee Bucks' free agent tryout camp before the start of the 1984-85 season, but decided to retire at the still-young age of 27.
Upon retiring, Jim Spanarkel applied to and was accepted by the Duke and Seton Hall Law Schools. He also interviewed for jobs at several financial services firms, and accepted an offer from Merrill Lynch to become a financial advisor in their Paramus, NJ branch office. Forming a partnership with two other Merrill Lynch financial advisors in 1999, Spanarkel's new team would claim to manage over $1 billion of client assets by the year 2000. If accurate, this would suggest that each member of the team probably was earning at least $1 million annually.
In the meantime, Jim Spanarkel also has juggled another contemporaneous career as a television analyst on basketball games, both college and NBA.
Lessons: Jim Spanarkel showed great foresight in preparing for his life after basketball while still a pro player. In interviews, he has cited persistence as a vital characteristic of successful athletes and business people alike. This, indeed, is one of the personal characteristics that financial services firms seek when recruiting former athletes.
Meanwhile, Spanarkel's ability to maintain dual careers as financial advisor and basketball announcer speaks to both an incredible work ethic on his part, and on the benefits of working as part of a team of financial advisors, rather than as a lone practitioner.