6 great athlete-entrepreneurs and what they accomplished Mike | June 6th, 2011

We all have a great deal to learn as entrepreneurs and we look in many directions for inspiration. Perhaps the most common place we look is to sports and to athletes. We constantly use sports metaphors to describe our challenges, approaches, and successes; how many times have you recently used an expression like “score!” or “level playing field?” The accomplishments of our great sports figures are celebrated across cultures, they are held up as role-models to our children, and they sustain our interest across the years.

With their relatively short professional life-spans, many athletes go on to successful second-act business careers after their retirement from sports. Considering that most athletes are retire from sports in their 20s or 30s, this is not a surprise. What is a surprise is how many athletes (particularly those who excel in team, as opposed to individual, sports) become entrepreneurs and leave a meaningful mark across industries as varied as fashion, entertainment, and food service.

Here are my 6 favorite athlete-entrepreneurs (in no particular order), a bit about their sporting accomplishments, and what they have achieved in business in their post-sport lives.

1. Michael Jordan.
The single greatest basketball player of all time (in my opinion, at least), MJ changed the way the game is played and left an indelible mark on the NBA. His lifetime player salary was nearly $100 million, but it is as an entrepreneur that he has made the greatest impact. As a brand unto himself, he not only acted as a spokesman, endorsing numerous other brands, but is also the owner of the NBA Charlotte Bobcats, which he bought for around $175 million in 2010.

2. George Foreman.
A former heavyweight world boxing champion, Foreman won the title from Joe Frazier, went on to lose it back to Muhammed Ali, and then won it back 20 years later, beating Michael Moorer and becoming the oldest professional boxing champion in history. Today, more 100 million George Foreman Grills later, he is one of the leading entrepreneurs in the world, with a line of clothing, and a cleaning product company among others. In 1999 Foreman sold the rights to the George Foreman Grill for $137 million.

3. Venus Williams.
Venus Williams is a world-renowned tennis player and a household name, with 21 Grand Slam Tournament titles to her name. She has been ranked the number 1 woman’s player in the world on three separate occasions and is considered by many to be the greatest women’s tennis player ever.

Williams currently is the founder and CEO of her interior design firm “V Starr Interiors,” has her own fashion line and is a part-owner of the Miami Dolphins NFL franchise. She is a best-selling author, whose book was number 5 on the NY Times Best Seller list and was named to Forbes 2010 Top Celebrity 100 List.

4. Cal Ripken Jr.
Ripken played in more consecutive games than any other professional baseball player in history: 2,632 games! We is on a very short list of players with more than 400 home runs and 3,000 hits.

He is the owner of 2 minor league teams (the Augusta GreenJackets and the Charlotte Stone Crabs) as well as a spokesman for many major consumer product brands. He is a best-selling author and the founder of Athletes for Hope, a charitable organization.

5. Tony Hawk.
Hawk landed his first sponsorship at the age of 12 and was a professional skateboarder by age 14. In his athletic career, Hawk won 73 tournaments out of the 100 he entered, placed 2nd in 19 more, invented more than 80 tricks, and scored the first-ever ‘900’ at the X-games.

Hawk is the owner of Birdhouse, one of the world’s largest skateboarding companies, has his own line of clothing, created and marketed one of the best-selling video games of all times (Activision’s  Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater), and his autobiography was a New York Times bestseller.

6. Wayne Gretzky.
The Great One, is indeed that. Considered  to be the greatest professional hockey player of all time, Gretzky’s sports career is filled with superlatives: 61 NHL records, the only NHL player to total over 200 points in one season (which he did on four occasions), was named the league MVP 9 times, 10 times he won the trophy for most points in a season, five trophies for sportsmanship and performance, and was named the playoff MVP twice. Gretzky’s jersey number, 99, has been retired by all teams in the National Hockey League

Gretzky is currently the owner of a Canadian Junior Hockey League franchise (Hull Olympiques), is a partner in First Team Sports (a maker of sports equipment), and Worldwide Roller Hockey, Inc., an operator of roller hockey rinks. He has been a seller of rare sports memorabilia, and is a successful restauranteur.

Photo:Håkan Dahlström

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