Famous athletes who became business tycoons

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February 14, 2020
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Famous athletes who became business tycoons

Forget the gym—the boardroom is becoming an equally important domain for an athlete. With multi-million dollar contracts being doled out like candy to professional athletes these days, there is more capital than ever for sports stars to invest and remain financially firm once they hang up their cleats. It wasn't long ago that a McDonald's endorsement or a Gatorade commercial was seen as the pinnacle of earning, but now athletes are finding importance in equity, starting their own businesses, and the power in franchising.

Stacker compiled a list of 50 athletes who became business tycoons, using information from news reports. We chose athletes from a wide variety of sports—from skateboarders and snowboarders to soccer stars and Super Bowl winners—who have become just as well known for their business exploits as their athletic achievements. Many of these athletes are recognized on powerful lists like Forbes, but there are somber stories in addition to those gleaming with success. Just like any business investment, there are dizzying highs and hard-hitting lows—celebrities have long been targets of get-rich-quick schemes, so today's athletes have to be more diligent than ever in not only protecting their investments but choosing the right ones.

Fashion design, food and drink, and even golf course design are some of the more popular methods for athletes to invest their money, but there's also money to be made in interior design, beef production, and yoga. There are some expected names on here, including some of the world's most popular athletes. But do you know about the linebacker that became a sports apparel maven or the former baller turned rapper and music maven?

NASCAR, NCAA basketball, NBA, NHL, and MLB spring training make for a packed upcoming month of sports action. While we enjoy these athletes' exploits on the field, click through the slideshow and get inspired to make the most of your worth.

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Tony Hawk

Tony Hawk rose to skateboarding fame as part of the Bones Brigade, scored an acting gig in “Police Academy 4,” then launched Birdhouse skateboards in 1992. Hawk began making over $100,000 yearly as a teenager and is regularly reported as the world’s highest-paid action sports star. A successful video game added to Hawk’s legacy, which includes multiple X Games victories and a slew of innovative aerial tricks.

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Venus Williams

Venus Williams has won over $40 million in prize money through a tennis career that includes seven Grand Slam championships. In 2007, Williams launched her own fashion line, EleVen, which joined her business portfolio that included an interior design firm. In 2009, Williams became a part-owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

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Serena Williams

Venus Williams’ baby sister Serena also bought a stake in the Miami Dolphins. Serena has won a record 23 Grand Slam titles and has accumulated a net worth estimated at $180 million. In 2014, Serena launched a venture capital firm that focuses on companies started by women and people of color.

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Nolan Ryan

After Nolan Ryan struck out 5,714 batters over his Hall of Fame career, he founded a chain of banks. Ryan also owns cattle ranches that produce beef, a field turf company, and the Round Rock Express minor league baseball team.

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Dwayne Johnson

Before millions of fans smelled what The Rock was cookin', Dwayne Johnson played defense for the University of Miami football team. After mostly retiring from professional wrestling, The Rock became an action-movie star and is reportedly one of the highest-paid actors ever. Johnson's Seven Bucks Productions creates a variety of hit TV shows and films, and recently The Rock received a signature line from Under Armour.

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Cristie Kerr

Cristie Kerr won almost $20 million in earnings as a professional golfer before carving a path as a businesswoman. Kerr, who once appeared on “The Apprentice,” is a respected name in the wine industry. Kerr developed a variety of chardonnays and cabernets as part of her own winery.

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Kobe Bryant

Two years after retiring from the NBA in 2016, Kobe Bryant won an Academy Award for a short film, “Dear Basketball,” released by his Granity Studios company. Bryant’s $6 million investment in BodyArmor sports drinks netted him $200 million over a few years. Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash on January 26.

8 / 50
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Angel McCoughtry

A five-time WNBA All-Star, Angel McCoughtry is one of women’s basketball’s most lethal scorers. But since women’s basketball salaries have long paled compared to NBA stars, McCoughtry and others have sought out additional methods to build a nest egg. McCoughtry, 33, became a successful businesswoman by starting a chain of ice cream shops.

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Diamond Dallas Page

Diamond Dallas Page was once a standout basketball player before he entered the world of professional wrestling. After his in-ring career ended, Page became a dedicated yogi and started DDP Yoga. The program was featured on “Shark Tank” and is particularly popular among wrestlers—who incur many injuries over their career—but also everyday folk have become immersed in “Beefcake Yoga.”

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Mia Hamm

Mia Hamm, after completing one of the most storied careers in soccer history, entered the boardroom. Hamm is one owner of the LAFC soccer club and also works with FC Barcelona and A.S. Roma. The Mia Hamm Foundation raises funds for bone marrow transplants and to create more opportunities for girls and women in sport.

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Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe is outspoken in her advocacy for equitable pay and the two-time World Cup champion carries the same message with her Re-inc lifestyle brand that embraces gender-neutral design and inclusivity. Rapinoe has a multitude of endorsements, but she’s not just another celebrity shill; Forbes described Rapinoe as a “disrupter and national treasure.”

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Rob Dyrdek

Rob Dyrdek has long been one of the biggest names in extreme sports, but he reached mainstream fame in the mid-2000s with the MTV show “Rob & Big.” That led to spin-off shows, video game appearances, and Dyrdek’s own production company. Dyrdek also holds a variety of Guinness World Records.

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Justin Forsett

Former running back Justin Forsett made one Pro Bowl during a nine-year NFL career and now is tackling hygiene. Forsett and college teammates created ShowerPill, a product that acts like a disposable wipe for the body to replace having to shower multiple times a day. Forsett appeared on “Shark Tank,” and although he did not leave with a deal, ShowerPill stirred enough interest to create $15,000 in sales a few hours after the episode aired.

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Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer, who won seven major tournaments, and made iced tea and lemonade mixes popular, was one of golf’s smartest businessmen. Palmer helped found The Golf Channel, designed golf courses around the world, and owned several car dealerships across the country.

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Mario Lemieux

After Mario Lemieux's Hall of Fame hockey career, the six-time NHL scoring champion became a co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Lemieux, who won two Stanley Cups as a player, has delivered three more to the Penguins franchise as owner. Locally, Lemieux also opened the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex and his foundation raises millions for cancer research.

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Derek Jeter

After retiring from baseball, former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter led an ownership group to purchase the Miami Marlins for $1.2 billion. Jeter also started The Players’ Tribune, a website with personal stories crafted by athletes. The Players’ Tribune launched in 2015 with $58 million in funding, backed by companies like Alphabet.

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Master P

Percy Miller (better known as Master P) was supposed to star on the University of Houston’s basketball team. Master P eventually played preseason games for the Toronto Raptors, but his slam dunk came in the music industry. Master P founded No Limit records, which he claims sold over 75 million records, and enabled Miller to fund several media ventures outside of music.

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Lonzo Ball

Before Lonzo Ball ever played an NBA game, he was making waves in the business world. Ball’s father, LaVar, helped create the Big Baller Brand, of which Lonzo was supposed to be the face, helping to sell expensive basketball shoes. However, Big Baller Brand eventually flamed out, proving that not all young entrepreneurs craft success stories.

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Lionel Messi

As one of the world’s most popular athletes, Lionel Messi should be a magnet for endorsements. Messi, who earned a reported $127 million in 2019 thanks to deals with Adidas, Pepsi, and other brands, has taken his name branding up a notch. Messi works with Audemars Piguet to create luxury watches that regularly sell for $30,000–$60,000.

20 / 50
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Oscar De La Hoya

Oscar De La Hoya collected a gold medal and world boxing championships, then followed his in-ring career with more success as a promoter. Established in 2002, Golden Boy Promotions put on some of the biggest fights over the past two decades. Canelo Alvarez, Manny Pacquiao, and Deontay Wilder are just some champs to have Golden Boy promoted fights.

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Maria Sharapova

For years, Maria Sharapova has been one of the top earning female athletes in the world, with Forbes reporting her “business empire” worth as $195 million. Sharapova, who’s won five Grand Slam titles, started Sugarpova candy company, and created fashion looks for on and off the court.

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Michael Jordan

Although Michael Jordan hasn’t played in the NBA in almost 20 years, he remains one of the world’s most recognizable and influential athletes. Since 2010, Jordan has been the majority owner of an NBA franchise in Charlotte. Jordan also regularly finds his way into TV commercials, and the Jordan Brand line of athletic wear remains a worldwide force.

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Marshawn Lynch

Marshawn Lynch returned to the NFL late last season, but the running back known as “Beast Mode” was already making gains off the field. Lynch started Beast Mode Apparel and restaurants as the foundation of a business “empire” according to Ad Age. Lynch’s most savvy business move might be saving most of his NFL salary and living off endorsements.

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Shaun White

Shaun White is one of the most famous and accomplished snowboarders ever. White also designs products for Burton and Oakley, has made several big real estate sales, and invests in ski resorts.

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Annika Sorenstam

Annika Sorenstam collected 10 major championships and then became a noted golf course designer, putting her stamp on links across the globe. Sorenstam also opened a golf academy and runs a fashion line.

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David Beckham

David Beckham owns full control of his partnerships and brands, which includes ownership of Inter Miami football club. Aside from lucrative deals with Adidas, Beckham launched a soccer academy and has been an ambassador for clubs around the world.

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Richard Sherman

Super Bowl champion Richard Sherman still gets it done on the gridiron, but has already made several investments that should pay off after his career. Sherman invested in several Wingstop locations and forged a unique media deal with Samsung and The Players’ Tribune.

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Marques Colston

Marques Colston retired a Super Bowl winner and then sought to score a touchdown in the investment game. Colston is a co-owner of the Main Squeeze Juice Co. and invests in start-ups like Enerskin, which produces compression athletic gear. Colston also owned a piece of the former Philadelphia Soul indoor football team.

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Stephen Curry

Steph Curry revolutionized basketball with rainbow three-pointers from beyond 25 feet. Curry has also displayed deft range in the business world. Under Armour will create a separate athletic brand for Curry; and outside of sports, the two-time NBA most-valuable player is creating TV shows.

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Danica Patrick

A groundbreaking racecar driver, Danica Patrick also knows how to navigate the business world. Patrick helped create Somnium wines, owns a clothing line, and started a podcast. Patrick has numerous endorsements and has been cited as one of the world's most influential people.

31 / 50
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Dave Bing

Following a successful NBA career, Dave Bing started a steel company that once had revenues of $40 million. Bing also created an auto supply firm and was named mayor of Detroit. However, the steel and auto ventures eventually fizzled out, and Detroit filed for bankruptcy under Bing’s mayoral term.

32 / 50
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Baron Davis

Even when he was an NBA All-Star, Baron Davis had his sights on the entertainment industry. Davis fulfilled that vision by starring in TV shows and producing documentaries and feature films. Davis has also filled his time with gaming companies and apparel.

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Drew Brees

Drew Brees is one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history and is still going, but his success is not confined to the football field. Brees is a best-selling author, noted philanthropist, and owns several restaurant franchises. Brees is also a partner and executive board member of equity firm Franworth, which specializes in health and fitness franchising.

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Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant has investments in at least 25 companies, including Lime and Imperfect Foods. Durant’s Thirty5 Ventures is creating a variety of media, from movies to interviews. That led Forbes to describe Durant’s business moves as an “empire.”

35 / 50
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Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson found success owning movie theaters and even became an owner of the Los Angeles Lakers after winning five NBA titles with the franchise. Johnson has also been an owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Sparks and runs a development company that focuses on multicultural communities.

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Steve Nash

Before he morphed into a two-time MVP, Steve Nash was a soccer fiend. Nash now owns stakes in the Vancouver Whitecaps and RCD Mallorca in Spain. For almost 15 years, Nash has helped run his own production company.

37 / 50
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Cristiano Ronaldo

Among Cristiano Ronaldo’s current ventures: perfumes, denim, gyms, and underwear. As the first person to reach 200 million followers on Instagram, Ronaldo undoubtedly has mass market influence, and the soccer star has big plans for business after he retires.

38 / 50
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Brian Orakpo And Michael Griffin

You might not expect two NFL athletes to become cupcake honchos, but that’s exactly what Brian Orakpo and Michael Griffin have accomplished. Gigi’s Cupcakes, started by the two former Tennessee Titans, gained national recognition in a Microsoft commercial. As Griffin told ESPN: “It's not just about investing. It's about learning where your money is going. Players' businesses often fail because they're hands-off. They just throw money at stuff. And when it does fail, you don't know why it failed."

39 / 50
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Roger Staubach

Roger Staubach is many things: Pro Football Hall of Famer, Super Bowl Champion, and successful businessman. Staubach’s real estate acumen includes selling his firm for $613 million in 2008.

40 / 50
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Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong earned millions in endorsements after winning seven Tour de France titles, but was stripped of the championships and much of his earnings after Armstrong was found guilty of doping. Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation also lost prestige, but he rebounded financially with an early investment in Uber.

41 / 50
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George Foreman

Since 1994, George Foreman has helped sell tens of millions of George Foreman Grills. The Grill is actually the creation of Salton Inc., with Foreman playing the role of celebrity endorser. Regardless of official titles, the Foreman Grill is often considered one of the best sports marketing deals in history.

42 / 50
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Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus won 18 major championships and has designed some of the world’s most esteemed golf courses. Nicklaus has authored numerous books and been the face of golf video games, helping make him one of the highest-paid athletes of all time.

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Carl Banks

Carl Banks is beloved in New York for helping the Giants win two Super Bowls. After football, Banks started GIII Sports, which creates officially licensed apparel for the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA, and college teams. GIII recently revived the Starter Jacket brand and works with Alyssa Milano’s Touch apparel for women.

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Vinnie Johnson

As a two-time NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons, Vinnie Johnson was known as “The Microwave.” But after his career, Johnson became known for selling automotive parts. Piston Automotive supplies Ford and GM and grew from a single Detroit facility to a company with locations across the Midwest.

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John Elway

John Elway played his entire career with the Denver Broncos and led the franchise to its first two Super Bowl titles. Later, Elway entered the Broncos front office, and also owns many restaurants and car dealerships, some of which he sold to AutoNation for $82.5 million.

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Cal Ripken Jr.

Cal Ripken Jr. is baseball’s “Iron Man,” having started 2,632 consecutive games. After retiring and entering the Baseball Hall of Fame, Ripken Jr. bought ownership stakes in several minor league teams. Ripken Jr. also started a baseball complex and runs Ripken Baseball, a nationwide youth league.

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Kristi Yamaguchi

Kristi Yamaguchi captured the hearts of Americans with her 1992 Olympic gold medal in figure skating. Later, she wanted to outfit them in comfortable athletic wear, starting the Tsu.ya fashion line. The clothing line later closed, but Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation remains committed to promoting child literacy.

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Simone Biles

Simone Biles has four Olympic gold medals and her own line of gymnastics equipment. Biles also created a collection of products for female athletes and educates children on the importance of money management.

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J. J. Watt

Before J. J. Watt became a football star, he was a pizza delivery person. Now, Watt works in conjunction with major corporations like Reliant Energy, but his true power lies in philanthropy. Watt raised over $41 million for Hurricane Harvey relief and has also donated to citizens affected by mass shootings.

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LeBron James

LeBron James not only has top-selling sneakers and tons of endorsements; he is a true media mogul who understands the value of equity. James and friend Maverick Carter started production company SpringHill Entertainment before launching Uninterrupted, a media venture with backing by Warner Bros. Some of James' most notable entertainment successes include "The Shop" on HBO, helping produce a 2 Chainz album, and starting a health and wellness company with Cindy Crawford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Lindsey Vonn.

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