For many young people in the African-American community, the concept of the "American Dream" involves reaching fame and fortune as an athlete or entertainer.
Unfortunately, the odds of achieving that dream are roughly equivalent to winning a a major lottery jackpot.
But, what about the people who break through?
In his upcoming book, "NEWBOS: The Rise of America's New Black Overclass," Wall Street Journal reporter and CNBC correspondent Lee Hawkins explores the economic and social ramifications facing a new class of multimillionaires. Hawkins interviewed LeBron James, Terrell Owens, Puffy Combs, Wyclef Jean, Russell Simmons and others to talk about perils and pitfalls faced by self-made young black millionaires, many of whom did come from the worlds of sports, entertainment and media.
OnMilwaukee.com caught up with Hawkins, a University of Wisconsin graduate who spent several years at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and talked about the book and corresponding CNBC special.
OnMilwaukee.com: It seems that everyone is talking about the economy these days. And sports are always a hot topic. What prompted you to combine the two?
Lee Hawkins: Sports are about economics. Sports are about branding, as we're seeing with guys like LeBron James, and, on the negative side, Terrell Owens, that can't seem to get it right.
OMC: When I first heard about the special, I must confess, I wondered if there would be an element of "Cribs," where guys were showing off extravagant toys.
LH: We do show a lot of the toys that these young men have. It's a part of their lifestyle, to a certain extent. It has a lot to do with not having anything when they were young. The idea that you give any 21-year-old $10 million or $15 million, all of a sudden all the things they never had, they want.
And, they want to provide things for their mothers and the people around them -- that's not always the wise thing to do.
We wanted to take people inside the economic experience of the top athletes and entertainers in America and really talk about what that means in the context of race, wealth and class in America.
OMC: At the risk of sounding insensitive, a lot of white and Latino athletes and entertainers encounter sudden spikes in fame and fortune. What about the stories about people who win the lottery up in Fond du Lac and then end up bankrupt two years later? Isn't that similar? Is the black experience markedly different and should we care about it more?
LH: It's not that we should care more about it. It's the story I happen to be working on. I've been long interested in the issue of race; it's such a sensitive topic. When you think about it, this is a phenomenon that is concentrated mainly among young black men. Young black males and money -- having a lot of money -- those are kind of incompatible concepts in America.
We're trying to look at uber-wealth through the prism of guys like LeBron James and through the prism of America's first black billionaire, Bob Johnson (founder of Black Entertainment Television).
When you look at it, African-Americans tend to build uber-wealth in the sports, entertainment and media industries. Look at Oprah Winfrey, Bob Johnson, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan. These are individuals who have built businesses and they've done it a lot as the talent. The thing that's made them rich (is that) they've taken ownership over their syndication and their brands. That's what we need to get black people to start to do in these industries.
It's not about buying another Bentley. It's about how can you own yourself.
OMC: I remember Chris Rock talking about the difference between being rich and being wealthy ...
LH: Yes, and he was right on the money about that. When you look at my book, I spent a lot of time with the guys who were with Darrent Williams, the Denver Broncos player who was murdered in a drive-by shooting. These were the guys that grew up with him.
It's interesting -- when guys get into these high-profile accidents and incidents, people say "Why don't they cut off their friends? Why don't they leave the ghetto and go to a gated community?" It's not that easy for them. Basically, these are people that were with them when they were nobody. These are guys that trained with them. These are people that helped them when their family's electricity was cut off, the people whose houses they went to in order to have heat.
When they become major, they want these people in their community. They're not accepted in communities like Mequon or Edina, Minn., because a lot of times, they're the youngest person in the neighborhood. They've got the biggest house on the block. Their kids are a lot younger than the kids of the dentists and doctors who they live alongside. They have four and five cars -- Hummers and Escalades -- and there is a lot of resentment toward these people. They don't fit into these new communities.
LH: Look at Grant Hill. He grew up middle class, so the people around you are less inclined to expect you to buy them things and completely subsidize their lifestyle. A lot of young people we talked to are losing aunts and uncles and parents because of disagreements about money.
Torii Hunter, the all-star baseball player, said he gets two calls a year from people who just want to see how he is doing and that 98 percent of the calls he gets are people who want to see how he's dong and then, within five minutes into the conversation, they are asking him for money.
For guys coming out of the underclass, everybody depends on these individuals. They look at them as income generators. When they start to realize they're losing their fortune. they have to go back and tell people "I love you, man but you need have to start to support yourself. I've got a family. I've got a wife. I want to put my kids in private school. I want my kids to have access to education. I can't do that if I have to support you."
It makes it very difficult for these young people. What you say is true -- when people win the lottery, this is a very similar experience. The difference is that when you combine wealth and fame and being black. When you're black, black people expect you to be socially aware and do charity things and to support black causes.
OMC: You spoke to athletes and hip-hop stars for this project. It's interesting how much crossover exists between athletes and hip-hop stars. A lot of athletes want to be rappers and vice versa.
LH: The hip-hop culture is growing into the young African-American culture. Hip-hop culture almost inspires a lot of these athletes to be businessmen. They see Russell Simmons and Sean Combs and say "That guy looks like me. That guy came out of similar circumstances. I want to do more than just be an athlete."
The problem is they don't have the education. They're not prepared. They don't have the mentorship. They're not talking to the Bob Johnson's who can give them advice. That's what fascinates me so much about LeBron James. He used his platform. He called Warren Buffet and said "I want you to be my mentor." He's reading voraciously. He reads every newspaper he can get his hands on. He wants to be the future Magic Johnson or Oprah Winfrey.
OMC: It's interesting that LeBron reached out in search of mentors. Some have criticized Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods for not being more active in that area or more politically outspoken. Did you talk to either of those guys?
LH: Unfortunately, they didn't cooperate with my book. We did see Michael Jordan when we followed Bob Johnson around, because they share an interest in the Charlotte Bobcats franchise, but he didn't want to talk to us on camera.
I do think it would be easier for LeBron to go to a guy like Jordan or Woods than to go to a guy like Bill Cosby. There is the intergenerational kind of strain and the lack of mutual understanding. People tend to go to people maybe 10 years older than they are, because they are not going to slap them down for the way they dress or having tattoos.
OMC: What's the most important thing you discovered doing this project?
LH: Black America is not recognizing the tremendous opportunity that this is. Once these guys start to recognize in the Obama era that there is more to being a celebrity than just being a celebrity, maybe they'll start to go like (former Packers defensive end) Willie Davis did. Willie Davis went in the off-season and got his MBA from the University of Chicago when he was playing for Vince Lombardi and now owns 30 radio stations.
When we start to see that happening more, that's when that is more the story of Black America. That's going to be huge for Black America and America. For so long, we've had people talking about affirmative action and things that need to happen in order to solve the black economic crisis. The reality is we don't have to go outside of our community for these solutions. We can solve these issues in our community through entrepreneurship and economic empowerment. It is only through entrepreneurship and economic empowerment that we will begin to solve those problems by supporting each other and starting our businesses among each other.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.