It was 1996, long before Ronde and Tiki Barber had become high-octane National Football League stars whose success and style would usher them into the glamorous worlds of money and media.
The brothers _ identical twins _ were still seniors at the University of Virginia. They had not even hired an agent to negotiate the contracts that would soon make Ronde the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' star cornerback and Tiki the star running back for the New York Giants. Super Bowl XXXVII, in which Ronde's dazzling defensive plays helped lead the Buccaneers to victory, wasn't even a glimmer.
Yet the young men, who needed scholarships for college, hired a financial adviser to help them prepare for the riches they are now reaping.
"I had my financial adviser before I had any other adviser," recalled Tiki Barber, the soft-spoken one who takes more interest in their investments. "I hate to be critical of my peers, but I think a lot of them just let their football agents handle their money as well."
Through a friend, the Barbers and their mother, Geraldine, met Charles Banks, a partner at CSI Investments, which handles the assets of celebrities like singer Alanis Morissette and basketball player Kevin Garnett. Within days, the brothers had engaged Banks.
The Barber twins, now 27, have strong views about money _ and much to gain, or lose, from the management of it. In 2001, Tiki Barber signed a $25.5-million six-year deal with the Giants with a $7-million guarantee up front. That same year, Ronde Barber signed an $18.5-million six-year deal with the Buccaneers with a $2.5-million guarantee.
"It is counterintuitive to let an agent hire a financial manager," Tiki said during a lengthy interview at the Manhattan cooperative he shares with his wife, Ginny; their 7-month-old son, Atiim Kiambu; and Ginny's parents. Dressed in slacks and a black T-shirt and stretched out on the living room sofa with his son on his knee, he continued: "If the guy messes up, he is not going to tell you. He is going to tell your agent, so you have no checks and balances. I wanted to be sure I had a football guy, a marketing guy and a money guy _ three different people."
The Barber twins seem to have inherited their financial sense: Their mother, now 50, graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in business. She divorced their father when they were 4 and supported them by working 12-hour days doing a wide variety of jobs. "She is our mentor," Tiki said. "When we went off to college, she went back and got her MBA with straight As."
That made things easier for Banks, who has managed their money, in separate accounts, ever since. With the stock market so depressed, the twins now have about 65 percent of their money in bonds and cash, about 25 percent in stocks and the balance in private equity and real estate. Their portfolios, which are generally the same, have averaged a gain of about 3.5 percent a year the last four years _ a period when the stock market had one year of big gains and three years of declines. Their return included a tiny gain of about 1 percent last year.
Banks recalled his first meeting with the twins, which took place over drinks at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Washington. "Their biggest concern was paying for the draft, because that costs money," he said. Many players, for example, hire trainers and nutritionists to improve their performance, thus raising their profiles for the NFL draft.
"A lot of agents lend the players money," Banks said. "The kids borrow too much. They spend too much. They think they're Bill Gates, but they don't have the money to live like that."
To Banks, the Barbers were unusual clients. "They understood it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and they weren't going to squander the money on jewelry or buying friends first-class tickets," he said.
Ronde Barber confirms the feeling. "We were both commerce majors, so we knew what he was talking about," he said in an interview. "We wanted to get the financial stuff out of the way first."
Playing for pay
Football players are vulnerable to financial problems because of the nature of their contracts. If a team decides to cut a player, he loses his salary for the remaining years; the salaries of basketball and baseball players are guaranteed, even if they are cut from their teams.
"Mr. Banks is always saying, "Keep your eye on the big numbers _ $10-million,' " Tiki said. "If you have that and you don't want to work a day in your life, you can do it."
Banks has also encouraged the Barbers to live off the income from their work off the field. "Tiki doesn't touch his Paragraph 5 money," said Ronde, referring to the section in football contracts that states the size of the annual salary. "I'm getting there."
Tiki has so far accumulated about $7-million, while Ronde has about $3-million. That's because Tiki's contract is larger and he makes more commercials and corporate appearances, meeting with employees or customers for companies like Footlocker. He was also the sports anchor on CBS 2 News This Morning in New York from 1999 to 2001.
Because Tampa is a smaller market, Ronde, has drawn less attention. But the Super Bowl victory is closing the gap. Demand has grown recently for Ronde from companies like Reebok, for which he is shooting a print advertisement, and Anheuser-Busch, where he recently made an appearance before employees.
A commercial for Visa cards featuring the twins, first broadcast last October, has underscored their marketing appeal. "The commercial is huge," Tiki said. "Half the people looked at it, and they didn't even know I am a twin."
The brothers, who grew up in Roanoke, Va., and shared a room until their junior year in college, are quietly competitive about their accomplishments. "I still make more money than him," Tiki said of Ronde. "But he has the Super Bowl, and I don't. So what do you want _ the money or the Super Bowl?"
Tiki covets both, of course. "I don't want them to say, "He was a great guy, but he didn't win a championship,' " he said. "That is what the focus is now: winning a championship."
Ronde, smiling broadly at the thought, knows that his victory is killing his brother. "Isn't it though?" he says. "He's got to deal with it.
"It is the ultimate success, but in the long run, it is just a game," he added, noting that the championship had not changed their relationship.
Thinking about the future
The twins differ a bit in style. Ronde, for example, recalled the day he flipped on CNN to see his twin on the floor of the American Stock Exchange, talking about Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve. "It was something about interest rates and what you might want to do with your money," he remembered.
When Ronde was filmed at the exchange, he said, "it was an appearance; they didn't ask me for any financial advice."
Still, the two are clearly focused on accumulating capital. When they went pro, they set up a conservative line of credit with banks for the draft, rather than borrowing money from a football agent.
Although Ronde can seem the more laid back of the two, their football agent, Ethan Lock, said he had always remembered Ronde's reaction when he was going into his fourth NFL year. After the third year, the Buccaneers had the right to offer Ronde a one-year contract at a fixed price. "I said to Ronde: "Should I push for a long-term deal?' " Lock recalled asking.
Ronde could have turned it down and negotiated a long-term contract at that point, but he would have received less than the $18.5-million he ultimately got. Ronde said: "No, I would rather wait. I am not going to take something that is below my value. I can do a lot of other things. If I don't play football, I am going to be successful anyway."
Tiki, too, has a long-term view. "Football is awesome because I think I raised the average starting salary in my business class," he said. "Hopefully, I will make history playing football, but I am going to be done by the time I am 31."
They clearly learned to think ahead from their mother, who turned down a scholarship in home economics from Virginia Tech because she was determined to major in business. After she and her husband, James, a college football star, were divorced, she often worked long hours at jobs like assistant executive director for finance at the Virginia Skyline Council of the Girl Scouts. At night, she transcribed legal documents for insurance companies.
"We lived in a town-house-type apartment," Tiki said. "It was middle class. She didn't want us to be in the inner city where the low-income housing was. She wanted us to have as normal a life as she could buy.
Mrs. Barber taught them about money when they were youngsters. "I can remember when the kids wanted stuff they couldn't afford," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Roanoke. "I would say, "Here is my paycheck. Here are the things I have to pay for: the rent, car insurance. Whatever is left, you can have.' They saw early that you can't get your paycheck and just go out and have fun."
But Ronde said he never had a steady after-school job: "My mom never made us feel like we were struggling. She made sacrifices. Obviously, we realize it now, after the fact."
Mrs. Barber said she believed that getting good grades was her sons' main job. "I did not want them to pay for the choice I made in getting a divorce," she said. "It was nothing they asked for, and nothing they deserved."
Tiki was a valedictorian in high school, and both were named academic all-Americans at Virginia.
With her sons in college, Mrs. Barber dealt with her empty nest by earning that MBA at Averett University. She is now one of two assistant finance directors for Roanoke County.
When the twins signed their rookie contracts, including a $700,000 signing bonus for Tiki and $400,000 for Ronde, they bought their mother a Mercedes.
The young men also bought her a new home in 1997 and, on her 50th birthday in January of this year, they gave her a Corvette.
After college, for the first time, the twins' lifestyles diverged. Ronde loved Tampa. Tiki loved the pace of Manhattan.
Their approach to business, however, has remained similar. They have kept the same team of advisers for seven years, which Lock says is somewhat unusual. "More people change their agents than keep them," he said.
In their first four years as pros, both men were earning good money. Ronde's contract, including his signing bonus, was just over $1-million. Aside from his bonus, Tiki's salary rose to $450,000 in the fourth year from $325,000 in his first year.
"In the grand scheme of football, you are just a working stiff," Tiki said. "You are not set for life. I live in a three-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side. The cost of living is high here."
Tiki Barber, New York Giants contract: $25.5-million over six years.
Rhonde Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers contract: $18.5-million over six years
Investments: 25 percent stocks including General Electric and Procter & Gamble; Private equity deals
Investment returns: About 1 percent a year the last three years
Investment philosophy: Long-term, conservative
Source: New York Times