At first blush, the words “athlete” and “entrepreneur” don’t really go together.
Think about it. Elite athletes play a game that has predetermined rules, and their performance is based on how well they operate within those rules to achieve success. If the athletes are part of a team, they must also conform their behavior so as to best reach the team’s goals.
On the other hand, an entrepreneur must basically create a business out of thin air. He or she must draw on expertise in a wide range of disciplines in order to develop a unique concept, market it to the targeted customer base effectively, and then operate the business efficiently enough to turn a profit. And the most successful entrepreneurs are those who think so completely out of the box that they identify a need that hasn’t been met effectively – and then capitalize on that vacuum.
So athletic prowess and entrepreneurism is like oil and water. Or fire and ice. Or Jets fans and Giants fans. Right?
Not necessarily. Let’s not forget that the best professional sports players tend to have great “[insert sport] intelligence” as described by their peers. This intellectual ability can often be leveraged in the business world as well. Plus, successful athletes already have a business edge if they can trade upon their fame and/or funnel their earnings into start-up cash.
Given that even some the best business ideas or most well-run operations don’t always succeed, it’s still a great achievement when an entrepreneur – whether athletically-inclined or not – builds a small start-up into a visible industry presence. With that in mind, here are a dozen athletes who not only assembled impressive careers in their chosen sport, but also have achieved success in a completely different area.
10. Dave Bing, NBA: Steel and Manufacturing
It’s rare for an individual to be extremely talented at both sports and business, but Bing is on that short list. After a career with the Detroit Pistons, Washington Bullets, and Boston Celtics which included seven All-Star seasons, Bing retired in 1978 and two years later founded Bing Steel. Five years later, the company was partnering with General Motors and earning $40 million a year; it later transformed into the Bing Group. Bing was then elected mayor of Detroit in 2009 (after Kwame Kilpatrick resigned amid allegations of wrongdoing). However, the Bing Group “vanished” in 2010 under mysterious circumstances amid a sea of unpaid bills; its website now reads simply, “The Bing Group has been sold.”
9. Oscar De La Hoya, Boxer: Music
Scores of athletes dream of being music stars and toss their cash into projects where they record a few songs or cut an album, and most of them end up in the (now metaphorical) music store bargain bins. But De La Hoya is the rare exception. After notching 240 career fights and an impressive professional record of 39-6, he retired “for good” in 2012. While he was still fighting, he took time out to record and release a self-titled Latin pop album which garnered enough accolades to earn a Grammy nomination in 2001 in that category. The CD featured songs written by such artists as Diane Warren and The Bee Gees.
8. Eddie George, NFL: Landscape Architecture
Here’s another pro football player who put his college education to good use after his retirement. The former Houston Oiler/Tennessee Oiler/Tennessee Titan running back retired in 2004 after a nine-year career which included four trips to the Pro Bowl. Then, the knowledge George gained from his landscape architecture degree from Ohio State (where he won the Heisman Trophy) helped him found EDGE, a landscape design firm. The company utilizes planners, landscape architects, and development consultants to help build large-scale projects such as the Port Columbus International Airport in Ohio.
7. Magic Johnson, NBA: Movie Theaters
Most people remember Magic for his legendary court skills with the Los Angeles Lakers and/or his (largely successful) battle against AIDS and his subsequent campaign to raise awareness for that disease. But Johnson also parlayed his NBA earnings into a successful chain of movie theaters. In partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment, Magic Johnson Theaters was launched in 1994 under his holding company with a focus on building multiplex film entertainment centers in urban areas. Twenty years later, the chain is still going strong under the management of AMC Theatres.
6. Vinnie Johnson, NBA: Automotive Supply
Dubbed “The Microwave” for his ability to heat up quickly off the bench, Vinnie Johnson will forever be loved by Detroit Pistons fans for sinking the Finals-winning shot in 1990 to give the city a second-straight NBA title. Even though the club retired his number, Johnson has not opted for a life of retirement once he hung up his high-tops in 1992. Instead, he founded Piston Automotive in 1995, which specializes in “sequenced and non-sequenced sub-assembled components and complex modular assemblies” like chassis, power train, and cooling systems. Today, the Detroit company partners with Ford and GM, with reported 2012 earnings of almost $570 million.
5. Rick Mirer, NFL: Wine
Even though the Notre Dame standout cobbled together a 12-year NFL career with seven different teams, he is often considered to be on the of league’s biggest busts with a 24-44 record as a starter. Not so with his second career as a wine producer in Napa Valley, California. Mirer and co-founder Rob Lawson launched Mirror Wine Company in 2008. Over its history, its vineyards have produced three different wines which have been snatched up by wine lovers at every turn.
4. Maria Sharapova, Tennis: Candy
The four-time Grand Slam winner is still the top Russian-born tennis player in the world. And even though you may be familiar with her work in a swimsuit in Sports Illustrated in 2006, Sharapova has also embarked upon a different, sweeter venture. Sugarpova sweet gummy candy comes in a dozen flavors with names like Sporty, Flirty, Splashy, and Smitten, as well as shapes like kissing lips and tennis balls. A portion of all of the sales go to the Maria Sharapova Foundation, which awards scholarships to children in areas of Belarus that were affected by the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown.
3. Roger Staubach, NFL: Real Estate
After winning two Super Bowls six years apart throughout his ten-year NFL career, Staubach leveraged his name and Texas ties to get into the real estate industry during some of the biggest oil boom years in the Lone Star State. He founded The Staubach Company in 1977, and became its CEO five years later. The firm built and filled numerous office buildings throughout north Texas and continued to grow and expand. How well did The Staubach Company do? In 2008, it was purchased by Jones Lang Lasalle for an eye-popping $613 million.
2. Venus Williams, Tennis: Interior Design
Along with Sharapova, Venus Williams has achieved success off the tennis court as well. In addition to winning seven Grand Slam Singles titles and 15 more Grand Slam championships and doubles and mixed doubles, Williams founded V*Starr in 2002 to serve both residential and commercial clients. Today, Jupiter, Florida-based V*Starr is a full-service interior design firm that caters to high-end homeowners as well as banks, office buildings, hotels, and many other businesses and public spaces. Williams also owns part of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins with her sister Serena.
1. George Foreman, Boxer: Portable Grills
It’s hard to believe, but almost a whole generation of people now associates the George Foreman name with backyard grilling instead of knockout punches. In the mid-1980s (between his first and second boxing comebacks), Foreman partnered with Russell Hobbs, Inc. to produce the fat-reducing George Foreman grills, which have since sold over 100 million units. Though Foreman compiled a 76-5 career record in the ring, the total prize money he collected throughout his run never held a candle to the estimated $200 million he has earned from his role in marketing the grills.
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