The New York Knicks' starting forward, Kurt Thomas, has always been a force on the court, having led the nation in scoring and rebounding as a college senior at Texas Christian University in 1995. Nicknamed "Old Crazy Eyes" for his penchant for staring down his opponents, Thomas never likes to back down, be it on the basketball court or in the stock market.

Kurt Thomas
Forward,
New York Knicks
Recent Meet the Streets
Co-Author
Charles W. Mulford
Author
John Cassidy
Compensation Design Group's
Frank Glassner
Needham's
Dan Scovel
Penn State Professor Emeritus,
John A. Lucas
Federated Investors'
Jim Zhao

Even now, Thomas -- whose five-year, $23 million contract with the Knicks runs through 2005 -- still likes tech stocks. The athlete is particularly keen on Cisco ( CSCO), Intel ( INTC), Microsoft ( MSFT) and Nokia ( NOK).

Nokia is, in fact, a notable stock in Thomas' portfolio because he became more interested in the stock after a bunch of high school students in a stock-picking contest that Thomas started rode the cell-phone giant to a 40% paper gain.

Now in its second year, the Kurt Thomas Investment Challenge invites 500 New York City public school students to compete in teams of five to return the best performance in mock $100,000 portfolios. The Securities Industry Association provides teachers with supporting materials about investing, while Merrill Lynch rewards 10 students from the two best teams with paid summer internships.

Earlier this month, Thomas was at the Nasdaq market close along with some of the kids who competed in last year's challenge. He sat down with Meet the Street to explain his interest in teaching young people about investing, why he still loves tech stocks and why he's absolutely unapologetic about his "Crazy Eyes."

The Street.com: What inspired you to start the Kurt Thomas Investment Challenge?

Thomas: The reason why I am doing this is because when I got into the NBA and started making a lot of money, I didn't really know everything. I knew some things. But I didn't really know how to make more money. I didn't know where I wanted to be five, 10 years from now.

You know, when you first go to college and they sit you down in the auditorium and ask you, "Where do you see yourself five, 10 years from now?" -- of course, the first thing I said was, "Hopefully, have a job, have a family and have graduated from college," but not really knowing that was going to happen. Fortunately, it did happen. I graduated from TCU, I have a family, and I actually do have a job right now. But back then -- I didn't actually know what my job would be.

So then, when I ended up making it to the NBA, I just wanted to know how much more money I could make. I knew basketball wasn't going to be there forever. It's a short window. And I'm trying to make as much as I can, so I can just sit back and relax later on .

TSC: Devoting your time to this program is very gracious of you, Kurt. But do you have any personal reasons for doing it other than a desire to teach young people about the benefits of investing?

Thomas: Well, my parents, both of who worked, provided very well for me back home in Texas. I was never wanting for anything. I had a great upbringing. But one thing I did not learn was how to plan for my financial future, and that's one thing I want to show these students: how they can empower themselves by understanding the stock market and planning for their financial future. I myself have three girls. I love my girls and want to teach them how to be independent.

Lately, you have to admit, the stock market has been rough, but you've always got to think long term.

TSC: What are some of your favorite investments or stocks right now?

Thomas: I'm very well diversified in stocks and bonds, and I do invest some of my money in mutual funds; I believe they are a good long-term investment. But in stocks, I'm pretty much a value investor. I still like technology, though. We've hit a bump in the road, a pretty big one, you could say. But it's the future. You can't argue that. Some of the stocks in my portfolio right now include Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, Nokia -- blue-chip technology stocks.

Microsoft is a stock I continue to like. They are a very solid company with lots of potential.

TSC: Given the amount of money you make, it seems inevitable that stockbrokers, entrepreneurs, neighbors, etc., must have tried to get you to invest in different companies and opportunities. What's the worst investment that's ever been offered to you?

Thomas: It's hard to say that I've ever gotten a bad investment tip because I sit down with my accountant and my attorney, and we, the team, look very carefully at any stock, bond, real estate or other investment opportunity. Sometimes I, or even my accountant, will suggest something that one of the others doesn't like. We hash it out. But we are always a team.

Besides, they don't really mess with you when you're 6'9", and 240 pounds .

TSC: Do you know if your teammates on the Knicks like Latrell Sprewell and Alan Houston, who recently signed a $100 million contract, invest wisely?

Thomas: Actually, I don't know what they invest in. I hope they invest.

TSC: Would you invest in Cablevision (CVC), which owns the Knicks?

Thomas: Absolutely. It's a great company, a great franchise.

TSC: Some of the students in the Kurt Thomas Investment Challenge posted 40% gains in just 10 weeks. Do you ever get any investment ideas from the students?

Thomas: As a matter of fact, I do. A lot of them will suggest a clothing line, or a music studio, and many times they have insight that adults don't have. And I have to say, I have a lot of fun working with the kids. A lot of them are pretty smart.

TSC: You seem to be far more involved in your investments than many other sports or Hollywood stars. Given the amount of money you make and the fact that you've been investing actively over your past four years in the NBA, you must have a very sizable portfolio.

Thomas: Laughs. Yes, I do. I've got a lot of money -- but there are good days and bad days. I try not to look at my portfolio balance every day. I don't want to become a daytrader.

TSC: There's been a lot of speculation that the Knicks are looking to deal some of their players. Do you think you'll be in New York next year?

Thomas: New York is a great team and a great city, and it's definitely a place I would like to stay. Where I'll be in a year, and even what I'll be doing once my basketball career is ended, I can't really say. Long term, one thing I am thinking about is investing in real estate.

TSC: "Old Crazy Eyes" was your nickname at TCU. In person, though, you seem very laid-back. What's up with the stare downs?

Thomas: (Laughs.) Yeah, the media created a lot of hype about that. I had a reputation in college for staring down the coaches. In person, I am laid-back, but I take the court very seriously, and I have no problem staring down a coach when I do not agree with them. I'll stare 'em right in the eyes -- right in the eyes.

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