Ever wonder how, exactly, someone who makes tens of millions of dollars over the course of a medium-to-long pro sports career can find himself in financial ruin? Welcome to Exhibit 72,962, The Bad Investment. The stars of this episode? Former Duke basketball players Christian Laettner and Brian Davis. Oh, and for some reason, Shawne Merriman.
Davis and Laettner, owners of Blue Devil Ventures, were up-and-comers in the real estate market, having successfully completed an urban redevelopment project in Durham at the beginning of the decade. Buoyed by their initial success and ability to turn a profit in the early-oughts real estate market (this is where your internal disaster alarm should be going off), the two planned a massive “second phase” in Durham while simultaneously investing in similar restoration projects across America, even trying to take on the biggest blight available: the Memphis Grizzlies.
The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER has a detailed rundown of Blue Devil Ventures’ overreach and the litany of litigation that has ensued:
The duo, which led a $170 million effort to convert an abandoned tobacco factory into a thriving mix of restaurants and offices and apartments in the heart of the Bull City, faces at least five lawsuits for failing to pay more than $6 million to friends and associates.
Their financial straits have prompted questions about the anticipated completion of that project, West Village. Now, efforts to test the model in other parts of the country are on ice.
Granted, a lot of people are enjoying this news, seeing as how Christian Laettner was a white Duke basketball player and never has there been a more hated cross-section of America. Seriously, he could get arrested for throwing babies into wood chippers like in Fargo (except, y’know, with babies), and people would just snort and say, “figures.” It’s a horrible thing to think about somebody, but this is sports we’re talking here. Duke sports, at that.
Anyway, at the height of their, ahem, venturing, the two put down a bid to buy the Memphis Grizzlies for $40 million. Interesting, seeing as how Laettner was still in the NBA at the time for a team that wasn’t called the “Memphis Grizzlies,” but Davis was set to invest more than half the money, making him the majority owner and principal weight-thrower-arounder.
That fell through, of course, but the duo weren’t done. They got more development projects planned or started in Durham… right when the real estate bubble imploded. And now, plenty of investors in their firm are asking for money back, money the two may not have:
In April, Chevron sued in federal court, alleging that Blue Devil Ventures had not repaid $1.5million lent to redevelop the Chesterfield Building. Chevron lawyers declined to comment.
In a separate suit, a Maryland company led by Shawne Merriman, a Pro Bowl linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, accuses Laettner and Davis of failing to abide by terms of a $3 million loan and a settlement reached last year in federal court.
“While Shawne would have preferred these matters to have been resolved amicably, the lawsuit has been brought to protect Shawne’s business interests and the interests of his company,” Merriman’s lawyers said in a statement.
On May 14, a federal judge in Washington ordered Ball Street Ventures, another development company Davis and Laettner are associated with, to pay $687,230 plus interest to Bryan K. Simms. Simms claimed he was owed the money as compensation.
In 2007, two other investments groups sued the two, complaining of abandoned loan settlements.
Davis has been up front about the lawsuits, saying that some claims “have actually been settled, and we’re taking care of everything in terms of no litigation, no courtrooms, and paying everything in full.” Well, the “no litigation” part is straight out the window, but perhaps the projects the pair have completed will draw enough funds to cover all past debts during this icy-hearted bitch of a recession. If not, well, you owe Shawne Merriman money at your own peril, gentlemen.