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14 Pro Athletes Turned Successful Entrepreneurs

In today’s sports-crazed world, athletes like Lebron James and Tony Hawk have quickly become household names. But it’s not just their sport that’s making them famous.

Athletes are becoming known for their entrepreneurship and savvy business deals—earning more off the playing field than on. From personalized apparel to multimillion dollar investment companies, see why these athletes truly “score” in the business world.

14. Oscar De La Hoya

Sports: By age 28, boxing’s “Golden Boy” Oscar De La Hoya had won five titles in varying weight classes, making him the youngest boxer ever to win five world titles. He has a career total of 10 championship belts and was a 1992 Olympic gold medal winner. He has generated $612 million in revenue for his 18 pay-per-view fights.

Business: De La Hoya is the top pay-per-view earner in ring history, bringing in more than $600 million. In 2000, he released Grammy-nominated music album “Oscar” in both English and Spanish.

De La Hoya’s management company, Golden Boy Promotions, consists of more than 40 fighters and numerous businesses, generating more than $100 million annually. De La Hoya personally owns more than 50 percent of the company.

13. Michael Jordan

Sports: Arguably the best basketball player known to the game, Michael Jordan changed the way basketball is viewed. He played for the Chicago Bulls and later for the Washington Wizards, totaling more than $90 million in earnings as a player salary.

Business: Currently, he owns the Charlotte Bobcats (which he bought for roughly $175 million) and is the face of Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers. Other endorsements include Gatorade, Wheaties, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Rayovac and Hanes. His estimated worth was more than $500 million before his divorce in 2006.

12. Venus Williams

Sports: Currently ranked No. 3 in the world in singles and No. 2 in doubles, Venus Williams is a professional tennis player who has redefined women’s tennis. She pulled in $15.5 million from playing this year, according to Forbes.

Business: Williams is currently CEO of her interior design firm “V Starr Interiors”. She also launched her own fashion line in 2007. She is part owner of the Miami Dolphins with sister Serena. In 2001, she signed a five-year endorsement contract with Reebok International for $40 million. Her new book “Come to Win” was No. 5 on the New York Times Best Seller list. She was ranked number 83 on Forbes’ 2010 Celebrity Top 100 list.

11. Tony Hawk

Sports: Sponsored by the age of 12 and pro at 14, Tony Hawk changed the face of the skateboarding world. Over the next 17 years, he entered more than 100 pro contests, winning 73 of them and placing second in 19. In 1999, Tony Hawk landed the first-ever “900” at the X games—two and a half spins mid air! In total, Hawk invented more than 80 tricks.

Business: Hawk is the owner of Birdhouse, one of the largest skateboarding companies in the world, and he started his own clothing line, aptly named “Hawk Clothing.” He has deals with Activision, Six Flags, Kohl’s, Infospace, Adio shoes, Jeep and Sirius Satellite Radio.

In conjunction with Activision, Hawk created Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Video game in 1999, which quickly became a best seller, now making him the No. 1 action-sports video game franchise. Tony continues to release video games for all gaming systems. He also released an autobiography, which was a New York Times bestseller. Hawk grossed $12 million in 2008 alone, according to Forbes.

10. John Elway

Sports: Although originally drafted to the Baltimore Colts, John Elway played for the Denver Broncos. His initial contract with the Broncos was for a 6 year, $12.7 million contract. He is best known for his 15-play, 98-yard offensive series in the AFC Championship game, aptly known as “The Drive.” He helped lead the Broncos to five Super Bowl appearances and two wins.

Business: Since retirement, he has owned several businesses and writes an NFL blog. He also founded The Elway Foundation, a non-profit organization for the prevention of child abuse. He is also the owner of two restaurants and once owned five car dealerships in the Denver area. He sold them to AutoNation in 1997 for $82.5 million. He is still in the car dealership business.

9. LeBron James

Sports: Drafted directly out of high school to the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James is said to show talent on the same level as Michael Jordan. Earning $19 million in his first 4 years with the Cavs, James recently signed with the Miami Heat for a little less than $16 million.

Business: Before James even signed with the Cavs, Nike signed him to a seven year, $90 million contract. When Nike released his first shoe, Air Zoom Generation, it sold 72,000 pairs at $110 in its first month.

He also owns his own marketing agency, known as LRMR, which secured endorsements with Nike, Sprite, Glacéau, Bubblicious, and Upper Deck. In 2010 alone, James totaled $30 million in endorsements.

8. George Foreman

Sports: This heavyweight champion took the boxing world by storm, with his most notable fight “Rumble in the Jungle” against Muhammad Ali for the world heavyweight title in Zaire, Africa. Although he lost the fight, he pulled in more than $5 million for the fight alone. He won the gold medal in the 1968 Olympic Games for the United States. He was undefeated in 40 straight fights.

Business: Over 100 million George Foreman Grills have been sold worldwide. Foreman sold the marketing rights to his grills in 1999 for $137 million—more than what he ever made in his career as a boxer. His other business ventures include a clothing line and a cleaning product line.

7. Dave Bing

Sports: This seven-time all-star is named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players. Starting out with the Detroit Pistons, over nine seasons Bing negotiated his contract from $15,000 up to $450,000.

Later, he played two seasons for the Washington Bullets and ended his basketball career as a Boston Celtic. He was the sixth rookie in NBA history to top 1,600 points and held a record of 18,372 points for his career total.

Business: In 1980, Bing launched Big Steel in Detroit. Within a decade, his steel mill was pulling in $61 million in annual sales, making Big Steel the 10th largest African American-owned industrial company in the nation. He later founded Superb Manufacturing, a $28 million-per-year metal stamping company. As chairman of Bing Group, an automotive supplier, he has sales of over $200 million.

6. Roger Staubach

Sports: Staubach was the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys from 1969 to 1979. In his last year playing, he had an 83.4 passing rating, which was the best mark by an NFL passer at that time. He was an all-NFC choice five times and was selected to play in six Pro Bowls.

Business: In 1997, Staubach founded real estate firm the Staubach Company. He has served as CEO since 1982. The firm had 60 offices in the US, Canada and Mexico, until recently bought by Jones Lang Lasalle for $613 million.

5. Vinnie Johnson

Sports: Seen as one of the greatest “sixth men” in basketball history, Vinnie Johnson helped lead the Detroit Pistons to numerous NBA victories. He is best known for sinking the winning shot in the 1990 NBA finals against Portland with 00.7 seconds left in the game. That same year, he held out on resigning his contract until he signed for $3.2 million in a two year agreement.

Business: After retirement, Johnson founded Piston Automotive. The company now has more than 200 employees and sales of over $85 million.

4. Cal Ripken Jr

Sports: This Baltimore Oriole shortstop is best known for breaking Lou Gehrig’s record of consecutive games played—totaling 2,632 games. He is one of eight players in history to achieve 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. In 1992, he signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract to continue playing for the Orioles.

Business: As chairman and CEO of Ripken Baseball, Inc., Ripken helped build a baseball complex in his hometown of Aberdeen, Maryland. He owns the Augusta GreenJackets (the Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants) and the Charlotte Stone Crabs (the class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays). A best-selling author, Ripken also has been the spokesperson for Energizer, Holiday Inn, Rinnai and State Farm Insurance.

3. Chris Webber

Sports: As a member of the Golden State Warriors, Chris Webber became the first NBA rookie to score more than 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 150 blocks and 75 steals. He is a five-time NBA All Star.

Webber remains the only sixth player in history to average more than 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. When he signed his contract again with the Sacramento Kings in for $123 million in 2001, his contract made him the second highest paid player in NBA history.

Business: Webber is active in investment companies representing basketball and football players, real estate and film projects. He had endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, EA Sports, Sony Playstation, ESPN the Magazine, Fila, Nike, Pepsi, Carl’s Jr., THQ Wireless and New Era.

He currently owns a real estate development company, Maktub LLC, which primarily focuses on redevelopment efforts in Chicago. He also opened his own restaurant in Sacramento, Calif., aptly named Center Court with C-Webb. He is also a music producer and is featured on numerous hip hop tracks.

2. Wayne Gretzky

Sports: Considered one of the greatest hockey players ever, Wayne Gretzky holds or shares 61 NHL records—40 for the regular season, 15 for the Stanley Cup playoffs and six for the NHL all star game. He was paid more than $40 million from 1989 to 1999.

Business: Gretzky bought the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for $175,000 CA, and sold it seven years later for $550,000 CA. In 1992, Gretzky partnered with Bruce McNall in an investment to buy a rare Honus Wagner T206 cigarette card for $500,000 US. It most recently sold for $2.8 million US. He also owns his own restaurant, aptly named Wayne Gretzky’s Restaurant, as well as his own winery. Forbes estimates he earned $93.8 mil between 1990 and 1998.

1. Magic Johnson

Sports: At 6-feet-9-inches, Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the tallest point guard in league history. His 13-year NBA career was spent entirely with the L.A. Lakers. In 1984, Johnson signed a 25-year, $25 million contract with the L.A. Lakers.

Business: Magic runs Magic Enterprises, a chain of movie theaters. The Magic Johnson Foundation has awarded more than $1.1 million to community organizations that focus on HIV/AIDS prevention. He is also known for bringing big business to urban commercial areas. He has partnerships with Starbucks, T.G.I. Fridays and AMC Theatres.

2 replies
  1. Kristofer Schwalb
    Kristofer Schwalb says:

    It takes a certain type of individual to play at the highest level of sport. It’s really no surprise that business is a good secondary avenue for them during/after retirement. Fantastic article!


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