'Forward' Thinker

Even during his rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers, Jim Spanarkel knew basketball wouldn't last forever. He's a Merrill Lynch broker now.Jim Spanarkel knows how to rebound. As a standout swingman with Duke University's championship basketball team in 1978 and a National Basketball Association player with the Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks after college, Spanarkel understood the trajectory

Even during his rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers, Jim Spanarkel knew basketball wouldn't last forever. He's a Merrill Lynch broker now.

Jim Spanarkel knows how to rebound. As a standout swingman with Duke University's championship basketball team in 1978 and a National Basketball Association player with the Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks after college, Spanarkel understood the trajectory of a basketball.

So when his professional basketball career took a dive in 1984, it was no surprise to anyone that Spanarkel had anticipated the end. He was prepared, and he rebounded.

"When I was playing basketball I spent some time in the off-seasons getting registered and learning about investments," says Spanarkel, a financial consultant with Merrill Lynch in Paramus, N.J., for his entire career as a broker.

After his first season of playing professional basketball (he was the 16th overall draft choice of the 76ers in 1979), the 6-foot-5-inch Spanarkel spent the summer studying for his real estate license.

A year later, in 1980, he was picked up by the Mavericks in the expansion draft, which allows new NBA teams to take players from other teams. Spanarkel spent the following summer earning his Series 7 license.

"So, I had already gotten the licenses before I finished playing basketball," he says. "Maybe that showed a lack of confidence, I don't know."

Maybe it showed some foresight. After five years in the NBA, Spanarkel became a free agent in 1984.

"Nobody came knocking down my door with offers, so I went to the Milwaukee Bucks' [free-agent preseason] camp for a few days," Spanarkel says. "But I had lost my enthusiasm for playing. I decided to go try something different."

Although he had been accepted at Duke and Seton Hall University's law schools, Spanarkel interviewed with a few securities firms. In December 1984, he joined Merrill's Paramus branch, just 15 miles north of his hometown of Jersey City.

Still a team player, Spanarkel put together a partnership in October 1999 with fellow brokers Jim Byrne and Kevin Ward. The Spanarkel, Byrne and Ward team manages about 1.1 billion dollars in customer assets.

"My athletic background has really helped to incorporate the concept of working with people--knowing that it's about achieving goals rather than individual statistics," Spanarkel says.

Basketball also taught him not to get too excited about the victories or to agonize over the defeats. In fact, one of Spanarkel's favorite memories was playing in the 1978 NCAA championship game even though Duke lost to Kentucky, 94-88.

These days, Spanarkel stays in touch with college basketball by working as a part-time commentator for CBS during the early rounds of the NCAA tournament. He knows that sports and financial services have at least one thing in common.

"From an athletic standpoint, the No. 1 priority is to remain persistent," he says. "It's the same thing in business. You have to identify what you want to do, dedicate the time to it and be persistent."

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