Going from having millions of fans worldwide watching your every move and genuinely being one of the best – if not the best – at what you do on the planet, to the realms of being mere mortal is a difficult transition. And it isn’t one that every sportsman is able to navigate successfully. Largely due to a combination of a startling lack of business acumen, poor decisions, lavish lifestyles and divorce (reputedly around the 80% mark for top US athletes), it doesn’t take long for one time heroes to become zeros – sometimes literally when it comes to finances.
In 2009, Sports Illustrated published a report highlighting just how bad this problem is. It found that an astonishing 78% of NFL players find themselves in “financial distress” within just 2 years of retiring. Around 60% of NBA players, who with an average salary of $5million is higher than every other sport, are bankrupt within 5 years of calling it a day on the court.
This isn’t always the case however, here are some examples where top sportsmen have gone on to build a successful – and occasionally surprising – career after retiring from their former profession.
1. Magic Johnson
One of the finest basketball players of all time, the point guard achieved practically everything there was to achieve in the game. During his 14-year career which included 2 comebacks, Johnson won 5 NBA titles, 3 Final MVPs, and 3 regular season MVPs, and even found the time for an Olympic gold medal. He still has the highest average assists per game in history – 11.2, and playoff assists – 12.3.
His career since retirement has been no less successful. Despite a less than auspicious start (his TV show was pulled after 2 months) Johnson found a taste for business and never looked back. He was one of those who invested in Starbucks before anyone had even heard of the now omnipresent coffee shop brand. His company – Magic Johnson Enterprises – has its fingers in many industries from banking to entertainment and has helped the former Laker star earn a reputed $500 million.
2. George Foreman
Foreman’s recent career has become so successful and high profile that anyone who can’t remember back to a time when everyone didn’t have a cell phone could be forgiven for thinking that this is what he has always done. The rest of us of course know that he was one of the most formidable and talented heavyweight boxers of all time. He will always have a place in boxing folklore due to his part in the Rumble in the Jungle – one the most famous and entertaining fights of all time, but his record stands up for itself: 81 fights, 76 wins, 68 of those by way of KO, and just 5 defeats. And don’t forget that most of those were during the golden era of heavyweight boxing.
When he came out of retirement at age 45 to knock Michael Moorer (then 27) out, he became the oldest heavyweight world champion in history. When he finally retired for good, he teamed up with Russell Hobbs Inc, and launched the George Foreman Fat Reducing Grill, which he had helped design. It was an instant success and has sold over 100 million units in less than 15 years. Though he has never disclosed how much he has made from the grill, it is believed at its peak the preacher was earning $4.5 million a month. In total, it is estimated he has earned in excess of $200 million from the endorsement. A lot more than he than he ever made in the ring, actually.
Though he is in danger of being eclipsed by his Portuguese namesake, Ronaldo will always be remembered as one of the greatest soccer players of all time, certainly one of the best all out strikers that has ever lived. His scoring record for the national side was phenomenal – 62 goals from 98 games. As a 17-year-old he was a non-playing member of Brazil’s 1994 World Cup winning squad, but played a major role in helping the same team reach the final in 1998, and winning the tournament in 2002, with Ronaldo scoring twice in the final.
Since retiring, “the phenomenon” has taken up a more sedentary but no less intense career playing poker. And actually playing it very well. He is a member of the esteemed PokerStars SportStars Team . Ronaldo has earned a reputation as a very solid player, recently finishing in 26th place out of a field of 816 of the world’s best poker players at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) Main Event in the Bahamas. On comparing it to his success with the ball, the former Real Madrid ace has said “I’m really excited, it’s the same emotion I used to have at the soccer fields playing at the highest level.”
4. Vinnie Jones
More famous for his scything tackles and manhandling his opponents than his incisive passing or goal-scoring prowess, Vinnie Jones nevertheless chiselled out a good career for himself in the top flight of English football. Jones is best known for his time at unfashionable Wimbledon, where the infamous crazy gang underwent the most successful spell in their history reaching the first division and winning the FA Cup. Spells followed at Chelsea, Leeds and Sheffield United, and Jones also went on to play 9 times for Wales, thanks to his Welsh Grandfather. Few who witnessed the Watford born Jones head-but and kick his way through opposing midfields would have guessed he had a future in Hollywood.
His acting skills may not necessarily be in the De Niro mould, but he has successfully cut out a niche for himself, starring in some hit movies including Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Swordfish, Gone in 60 Seconds and X-Men: The Last Stand. In 2001, he starred in Mean Machine, a cult film about football in a prison, alongside a young Jason Statham. Movie audiences like those who followed his soccer career are yet to see his sensitive side. But he has earned himself a ton of cinema-going fans nevertheless.
5. Jim Brown
The thing that makes Jim Brown stick out from this list is the fact that unlike many others, he retired at the very top of his game. Still regarded as the greatest footballer of all time in American football today, Brown left the game after 9 seasons while the highest paid player in the land. He had already embarked on a fledgling acting career 2 years previously, but when a delay in filming arose during his next project put him at odds with the owners of his club, the Cleveland Browns, he chose to go down the acting route full time. With over 43 movies under his belt – including The Dirty Dozen, Ice Station Zebra, Any Given Sunday, cult comedy Mars Attacks!, and The Running Man, a career that has netted the former No.32 a cool $50 million, it is hard to disagree with his choice. Away from film making, Brown is most proud of founding the Amer-I-Can Program, which helps kids who have become embroiled in gang culture get a start in life.
6. John McEnroe
In the modern era of men’s tennis where personalities are as rare as US champions, looking back at McEnroe’s career – and antics – it is hard not to become nostalgic for times gone by. Behind his largely self-styled image, it shouldn’t be forgotten that McEnroe was an immensely talented player. His 82% win record brought him 77 ATP titles – the 4th best haul in history, with 8 grand slam titles. Only the Australian Open eluded the grasp of the former no.1 ranked player who won 3 back to back US titles between 1979 and 1981. In 1984, he picked up The US and French Opens and Wimbledon. Since retirement, McEnroe has been almost as busy in a whole host of different projects. He has more than 20 film and TV credits under his belt – mainly as cameo appearances, but McEnroe also appears as a pundit and commentator on many sports networks.
Another string to the German-born leftie’s bow is music. It has always been a part of his life, but in recent years he has taken it more and more seriously, forming his own rock group and playing guitar on The Pretenders’ Lead Singer Chrissie Hynde’s debut solo album. In fact, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich has said that McEnroe has a “natural instinct for music.”
7. Jack Nicklaus
No one has won more majors – 18 – than the Golden Bear. Tiger Woods is second, but on current form it looks unlikely he will be adding to his 14 anytime soon. From the time he won his first US Open in 1962, Nicklaus went on to dominate for 2 decades, winning a total of 73 PGA Tour wins, and is considered by practically everyone in the game to have been the best player to swing a club. When he retired from the pro circuit, Nicklaus used his experience and knowledge – and name – to become one of the most renowned designers of golf courses in the world. The company he owns with his 4 sons and son-in-law, Nicklaus Design, has to date designed and built over 300 of the worlds (estimated) 32,000 courses worldwide and even had 12 included in Golf Digest’s top 75 golf courses of North America.
No matter what successful athletes turn their hands to – whether it is a clean break from where they made their name or a continuation in the industry they know and love, there is little doubt the majority of them still have a lot to give. If they choose to do so, well, that is another matter entirely. But at least these seven have.