This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
All world-class athletes remember their earliest, teenage triumphs, and Matt Harpring's recollection is a vivid one. He was 17 years old, lettering in three sports, and being heavily recruited by nationally ranked universities when it happened.
He had worked hard to prepare himself for the moment, a life-changing event that made him nervous, he admits, but also thrilled about the challenges, the wins and losses, ahead. Finally, the day came and Harpring plunged in aggressively, giving it his best effort.
He bought 20 shares of Intel.
"Pretty good move," he says.
No kidding. Catching an Internet stock at the beginning of its rise - the computer-chip maker's stock was around $5 in 1994, closer to $80 four years later - the star high-school athlete soon started churning his account. "I sold the Intel and bought 50 shares of Coke. I sold that and bought 70 shares of Intel. I sold that and bought 50 shares of Coke and 50 of Intel," Harpring ticks off with the clarity of a professional basketball player diagramming a play he just ran. "Next thing I know, I have a spreadsheet with all my stocks and I'm trading every day."
And the next thing after that? He's a starting forward for the Utah Jazz, with a $5 million annual salary, a 13-point scoring average - and a hunger for the sort of off-the-court competition that makes Wall Street a financial version of the NBA.
"I miss it, I really do. I had a blast" trying to identify the next hot stock and capture a small-but-real financial victory every day, Harpring says. "If I wasn't [in the NBA], I could see myself as a stock broker."
Instead, Nasdaq is his hobby and the NYSE just a fun place to visit. The 28-year-old forward usually reads the tiny-type market listings before looking at NBA box scores, and he watches CNBC in his hotel room, not ESPN. He talks market strategy with assistant coach Gordon Chiesa, when they're not talking defensive strategy.
"Matt's interest in the stock market is applicable to basketball, because you have to learn about what you're investing in," Chiesa said. "It's the same as having to know who you're guarding, to prepare for a game."
But Harpring's considerable portfolio is handled by a professional now - a former roommate from the Georgia Tech basketball team, actually - while the seventh-year forward studies game tapes, not earnings reports.
Oh, he still dabbles during the season. "I like to do a little research, pick a stock or two and track them for a while," Harpring said. "But mostly, that's stuff for the offseason, when I have more time."
He had time in high school, when he started investing money he earned by mowing a half-dozen lawns in his suburban Atlanta neighborhood every week. Pretty soon, with $140 a week to play with, he was the only Marist High athlete to have his own trading account at Smith Barney.
And he definitely had time when he started college, and found a summer job with a mutual-fund company called Adam Investment Services. "That's when I really got into it," Harpring said. "I did a lot of research for them, going through old papers, reports, trying to find trends in the markets and in certain companies. I got good experience seeing how the funds choose their holdings."
Pretty soon, his paychecks were more like poker chips, and he was picking the companies to bet on.
"I would invest all of my money, every penny, in various companies I had informed myself about," Harpring said. "I was young, I didn't have a family. I could risk pretty much everything. That was my entire income in college, playing the market."
He came home from class every day and calculated his earnings, with his amused roommates watching him tally up profits. Pretty soon, they were joining in, too; one roommate even gave up his physics major and took business classes.
It didn't hurt that America's financial markets were rocketing upward on the strength of the tech bubble. That only added to the allure. "You would get 150-point swings, 200-point swings. Stocks would go up and down five points in a few minutes," he said. "It's legalized gambling, it really is. You could just play the market and it was so much fun."
As his expertise grew, Harpring tried day-trading, buying and selling on a moment's notice, just trying to cash in on each little uptick. "You know, stuff would go up 10 points, and if you just catch one of it, that's profit," he said. "I'd buy a stock and the next day, when it went up, got out. My goal was to make money every day, a hundred dollars here or a hundred there."
Eventually, he invested in more sophisticated market instruments - "puts, calls, I tried all that stuff," he says - until it started to become a problem.
"I got a little out of control, I know," Harpring said, especially when he was drafted into the NBA and suddenly had hundreds of thousands of dollars at his disposal. "The more money I had, the more I wanted to buy up more stocks."
He started trading on the margins, borrowing money to buy options on future investments. He traded stock tips, a practice he swore off when an investment he recommended to friends and families rose briefly and then tanked. "It was a hot tip, and people lost money because of me. I felt pretty bad about that," he said.
And then the markets, unrealistically inflated by tech-stock speculation, caved in. On Harpring, too.
"I lost a lot of money, like a lot of people" he said. "That taught me a lesson."
But it didn't remove his enthusiasm for investing. It just made him conservative, especially once he married his wife, Amanda, last summer.
"I actually own mutual funds now. They're not as much fun, but they're more stable," Harpring said. "I'm investing in other things, too."
Like real estate, using connections made in pro sports. Harpring lately has become interested in buying properties, fixing them up and reselling them at a profit. When the Jazz were in Boston last month, he even went to look at a potential fix-up project with Paul Grant, a forward who played for the Jazz on a 10-day contract last season.
Once his playing career is over, Harpring said, he might go into coaching. Perhaps into someone's front office.
Or maybe he will transition from a basketball court to a trading floor.
"If the market ever went back to that kind of volatility, to that choppiness, I'd do it again in a heartbeat," he said. "It really was a thrill."