By Terry Foster
Who: Jay Vincent
Hometowns: Kalamazoo and Lansing
Height: 6-foot-7 small forward
NBA: Vincent played from 1981 to 1990 with the Dallas Mavericks, Washington Bullets, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers. He earned first team All-Rookie honors with the Mavericks and finished with 8,729 points, 3,167 rebounds and 1,124 assists.
Personal: He is the older brother of former point guard Sam Vincent who was Mr. Basketball in 1981 and played at MSU and in the NBA.
Jay Vincent never imagined he’d be in this spot. He was in a jail holding cell with dangerous criminals who were in the slammer for rape, murder and assault.
One of the inmates noticed Vincent, the former Michigan State and NBA basketball star, wearing a suit. Vincent was in the slammer for fraud and he was scared and wondered how his life sank from basketball idol to criminal.
Vincent tried to act brave and climbed a slab and told the criminals how bad he was. He told them he was a third degree black belt and if anybody challenged him they’d be in trouble. Most bought the story.
One guy did not.
“You might be a third degree black belt but I am 10th degree crazy,” one guy screamed back.
Vincent, 56, knew it was time to change his life. He spent nearly five years in the Ashland (Kentucky) Penitentiary for mail fraud and tax evasion. He and a partner bilked more than 10,000 people out of $2 million in a scam where he convinced people they were becoming home inspectors through a company called Foreclosure Bank Inspection.
He was also ordered to pay the government $110,000.
While behind bars Vincent worked on two soon-to-be released books that he says will be published in English, French and Italian.
The first book is Pro-Basketball Clinic and the other chronicles part of his life inside and outside of prison called United States vs. Jay Vincent & NBASecrets. The second book also talks about the NBA life most people do not see. Vincent said he will receive $24 million in fees from three publishers and spent each day in prison typing on a type writer.
“I want to show that someone can make a mistake,” Vincent said. “I always had a good name. I always stayed out of the spotlight once I got out of the league. I created million dollar businesses. Some were successful. Some were not. I was like a mini Dr. Dre. He could not only sing but he could hear the beat. I can turn the songs into something and make something of it.”
There are two Jay Vincents. There is the carefree 6-foot-7 small forward who played on the 1979 Spartans championship team along with Greg Kelser and Magic Johnson. He won two Big Ten scoring titles after Magic left and afterwards played with six NBA teams, mostly with the Dallas Mavericks. He was named one of the top 500 players in basketball history.
But there was the other Vincent, a businessman who wanted to press the limits of earnings even if it skirted the law. That guy was sentenced to 5 ½ years in prison for fraud.
Vincent was recently released from jail after serving four years and seven months, time earned for good behavior. Now he is transitioning into life in a Battle Creek halfway house. He also works at a burger establishment in nearby Lakeview called Juicy Burger that is scheduled for a soft opening Thursday and official open this weekend. Vincent will sign autographs, greet customers and even serve food, according to owner Mike Dezotell, a second generation restaurant owner and Spartan fan.
He contacted Vincent on facebook.com and asked him to work at the restaurant. Vincent agreed after initially saying no. Vincent will work there a minimum of four months before he said he begins his book tour and a new life.
“He will be working,” Dezotell said. “It won’t be like he is slaving away like a normal employee but I think it is an opportunity for him to show people that he is on the right track. He has expressed that he wants to give back to the people he hurt, that he made a mistake but he learned from that.”
Prisoners made fun of Vincent’s dedication behind bars. However, he began preparing for a new life the day he stepped into prison and also wanted to send a message to younger prisoners.
“These guys were tough,” Vincent said. “I started (the books) the third day I was in there Aug. 2, 2011 and I never looked back. I made a promise to my mother that this is the first and last time I’d be in prison. This will never happen again.”
A number of former Spartans encouraged Vincent. He had a rocky relationship with former MSU coach Jud Heathcote as a player but they’ve grown closer after Heathcote wrote him several times while behind bars. Kelser and Johnson kept in touch also.
“He made mistakes and had lapses in judgement,” Kelser said. “It cost him and he paid a stiff price for it. I still look at Jay as a really good guy. I am rooting for him and cheering for him. I am glad he is a free man and can begin to rebuild his life.”
Vincent said he looks forward to greeting customers at Juicy Burger.
“It is fun to do, which is great,” he said. “People like to meet you even though you had something negative in your life. I am turning this into a positive and all the negative thoughts are gone. When your name is destroyed you have to build it back up. I will remain positive.
(Foster can be reached at Terry.Foster@cbsradio.com)