Athletes make a lot of money from their playing contracts, but that’s not the easiest money to be made. A lot of the biggest athletes in the world focus some of their financial lives on endorsing products as it can be very lucrative and an easy side job. More than any other sport, basketball offers the opportunity to endorse products on a global basis.
Not only are players more recognizable off the court thanks to the uniforms that offer visibility, but there is an important part of the game that everybody else needs...and that’s shoes. Shoes are easy to sell, and many of the biggest players in NBA history have contracts with shoe companies that make their playing contracts look like peanuts.
Michael Jordan is the player that many current and former NBA players should be thanking as he revolutionized the NBA signature shoe line. Out of the former players that were once competing against Jordan, many had their own signature shoes either with the same company (Nike) or with others. Some even went their own direction and started their own brand. Let’s take a look at 15 former NBA players that once had massive shoe deals, and see what they’re up to these days.
15 Stephon Marbury
A former Georgia Tech standout, Stephon Marbury played in the NBA from 1996 to 2009 with five different teams. During his time, Marbury was a two-time All Star that averaged 19.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. In 2006, Marbury became the face of the Starbury shoe brand that was released by Steve and Barry’s, and sold for just under $15 so that those without deep pockets could afford signature basketball shoes.
After leaving the NBA, Marbury took his talents to China, where he has been playing ever since. After playing for Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons and Foshan Dralions, Marbury has has been with the Beijing Ducks since 2011. He has quite the accolade list in China, with six All Star nods and three CBA championships to his name.
14 Grant Hill
Though the potential greatness of his career was a bit marred by injury, Grant Hill was able to put together a very long tenure in the NBA with the Pistons, Magic, Suns and Clippers. Hill did not go with Nike or Reebok or even Adidas for his signature shoe, though. Instead, Hill signed a massive $80 million deal with Fila back in 1997. However, he would eventually sign with Adidas and then Nike through his career.
After retiring from the NBA in 2013, Hill has still been a visible figure. Hill was still appearing in commercials for companies such as Sprite and AT&T, and even bought an ownership stake in the Atlanta Hawks. Now, Hill is most prominently working as an analyst for CBS and their college basketball coverage, making him part of the announce team for the Final Four.
13 Dikembe Mutombo
An absolutely stunning sight to behold at 7’2”, Dikembe Mutombo was known for his big time shot blocks and finger wagging. During his NBA days, Mutombo signed a deal with Adidas for $1 million in his rookie season. It was a famous campaign that built the “House of Mutombo,” where nobody was able to fly, taking a jab at the Air Jordan shoe brand. Mutombo would have another shoe release in 1995, but a third one was never released after being shelved.
Mutombo retired in 2009, and has lent most of his time to humanitarian work in his native Africa. Mutombo has received multiple awards for his public work, especially in Congo where he has helped to build schools and fight disease. He also makes the occasional appearance on TV here in America with commercials for companies like Geico or Old Spice.
12 Yao Ming
Even taller than Mutombo is Yao Ming, who stands at an imposing 7’6”. Ming was the first overall pick out of China in 2002 by the Houston Rockets, and he played with the team through the 2010-11 season. Reebok knew that Yao was a big international selling point, and was able to get him away from Nike by offering a massive and lengthy contract that included a special 2008 Olympics shoe.
Like Mutombo, Yao has spent a lot of time by helping to serve the public. One of his biggest campaigns has been to save endangered animals, and has even released a documentary on the subject. Yao is the face of WildAid, an organization that aims on saving these endangered animals that include sharks, rhinoceroses and elephants.
11 Tracy McGrady
Throughout his NBA career that spanned from 1997 to 2013, Tracy McGrady played for seven different teams and made seven All Star Game appearances along the way. As a rookie, while with Toronto, McGrady signed up with Adidas on a six-year deal worth $12 million. When that contract was set to expire, Adidas offered McGrady another contract that was said to be a lifetime deal, though the details were fuzzy at the time.
Once McGrady called it a career, he focused on the business world that included a bottled water company and a technology company. McGrady even tried his hand at baseball in the independent circuit, though he only lasted for a couple of months. McGrady is still focusing on business for the most part, though he does pop up on ESPN from time to time as an analyst.
10 Gary Payton
A prolific three point shooter that spent most of his career with the Seattle SuperSonics, Gary Payton was able to make nine All Star appearances. Payton had many different signature shoes while in the NBA, but they were all under the Nike brand. Perhaps the most recognizable was the 1998 The Glove shoe. Payton called it a career after the 2006-07 season, and almost immediately went into broadcasting as an analyst for NBA TV and TNT.
Payton then worked for Fox Sports 1 before being in suspended in 2015 after an investigation of domestic assault before being released later in the year. Now trying to stay out of the spotlight for the most part, Payton is watching his son (Gary Payton II) try his chance at making the NBA. The younger Payton is currently in the D-League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
9 Larry Johnson
Former UNLV star Larry Johnson was the top overall selection by the Charlotte Hornets back in 1991, and he spent several years with the team before ending his career with five seasons as a New York Knick. In his rookie season, Johnson signed up with Converse to release his signature line of shoes that included the infamous “Grandmama” commercials. The original plan, however, was to have Johnson being operated on by doctors as the “perfect basketball player.”
Johnson retired in 2001 and tried to get back into the front office side of things for several years before heading back to finish his degree at UNLV. Johnson would eventually land a job with the Knicks front office in 2012 as a Basketball and Business Operations Representative. It is a position that Johnson still currently holds.
8 Charles Barkley
One of the most outspoken players in NBA history, Charles Barkley spent 16 years in the NBA with the 76ers, Suns and Rockets, making 11 All Star appearances and winning an MVP award along the way. Barkley was controversial, but also very marketable. Nike was willing to roll the dice on Barkley and released several signature shoes in the 1990’s with Barkley as the namesake.
Barkley has been in the limelight since his retirement from the NBA for better or worse. He has had a couple of run-ins with the law, is well known for his golf swing and even his struggles with yo-yo dieting. However, the thing that almost everyone knows Barkley for these days is his analyst work with Turner Sports that includes both the NCAA Tournament and NBA coverage.
7 Allen Iverson
Another former first overall pick that pops up on our list, Allen Iverson made 11 All Star appearances in his 14 seasons with the league. During his playing days, Iverson was signed to Reebok and released several different shoes. In 2001, Reebok and Iverson agreed on a lifetime deal that would give him $800,000 per year, and even a $32 million trust fund that was to be released in 2030.
Unfortunately, Iverson would run into some financial trouble because of overspending. The trust fund that was set up has already been split as a result of his divorce. Iverson has said that he is not experiencing financial problems and that the reports have been exaggerated. However, losing $16 million that he didn’t have access to for another 13 years has to hurt.
6 Patrick Ewing
The number one overall picks keep rolling, this time with former Georgetown Hoya Patrick Ewing. Ewing made 11 All Star appearances in his career that was spent mostly with the New York Knicks, though he ended in Seattle and then Orlando. Ewing had signed a big deal with Adidas when entering the NBA in 1985, but he would then go in another direction.
Ewing started his own shoe company known as Ewing Athletics in 1991, but would only last for five years. In 2012, the company opened back up to release the retro version of Ewing’s signature shoes. Other than that, Ewing has worked as an assistant coach with the Hornets and has even made his own children’s book that teaches how to paint while giving tons of money to his former college along the way.
5 Shaquille O’Neal
The man of a thousand nicknames is yet another first overall draft pick, entering the NBA in 1992 and making 15 All Star Game appearances in his illustrious career. O’Neal was confident in his abilities as a rookie and was looking for a big shoe deal. Reebok won the bidding war and gave him $25 million over his first five years that included a signature shoe and creative control on his commercials.
O’Neal would eventually go the Marbury route and release the Dunkman line of sneakers that were priced under $15 and released in Walmart, becoming a massive success. Speaking of success, O’Neal’s playing and post-playing career has been just that. O’Neal has had many ventures since retiring, still endorses products and is one of the most beloved analysts with Turner Sports and their NBA coverage.
4 Alonzo Mourning
One of the reasons that O’Neal signed with Reebok over Nike is because Nike had just inked Alonzo Mourning to a big deal. Mourning’s big signature shoe was the Air Max Strong, and it was another detail of a fine career that saw Mourning reach seven All Star Games while averaging 17.1 points per game. Mourning played for four teams, and retired after spending the 2007-08 season with the Heat.
Mourning was only retired for a brief time before coming back to the Heat as the Vice President of Player Programs and Development. Mourning is still in the Heat front office, and his official job title these days is Vice President of Player Programs. While working in the front office, Mourning received news in 2014 that he was being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
3 Anfernee Hardaway
When it comes to non-Michael Jordan shoe commercials, the most memorable had to have been between Larry Johnson’s “Grandmama” character and Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway’s “Lil’ Penny” series. Hardaway joined Shaquille O’Neal and the Magic in 1993, and he spent 14 years in the league with four All Star appearances. Still, the most memorable part of Hardaway’s career was the shoe side of things that included four signature shoes with Nike like the Air Penny.
After retiring, Hardaway has been involved with business and owns a barbershop in Memphis. On top of that, he is helping the sports community in the same city by building a multi-sport complex that has been successful. Hardaway eventually would team up with several other celebrities and athletes that bought an ownership stake in the Memphis Grizzlies. Needless to say, Hardaway is well liked in his hometown.
2 Gilbert Arenas
Coming out of Arizona, there weren’t huge expectations for Gilbert Arenas as the 31st overall pick. However, “Agent Zero” would emerge as a star, most notable with the Washington Wizards. While at the top of his game, Arenas would sign with Adidas for eight years and $40 million. Unfortunately for Arenas, he would lose out on the contract when he brought a pistol to the Verizon Center.
Arenas left the NBA in 2012, playing in Shanghai, China for a year before calling it quits in 2013. It hasn’t been easy for Arenas since retiring as he was arrested once again for possessing illegal fireworks later in 2013. He also got in hot water for criticizing the WNBA players, but has mainly stayed away from the spotlight. Arenas received the last of his $111 million contract in 2016, so he has plenty of money to live off of.
1 Shawn Kemp
Even though it’s a basketball state, the town of Elkhart, Indiana doesn’t produce much big time basketball talent. Shawn Kemp was an exemption, however, and one of the hottest prospects that was a risk with a lot of potential. Kemp eventually found his way to the NBA, playing for 14 seasons and making six All Star Games. Kemp ended up signing a five year deal with Reebok worth $11.2 million, though the contract was terminated by Reebok after he made unpopular comments to the press.
Kemp would win his legal battle against Reebok in 2001 while he was still playing, and he retired in 2008 after playing overseas. Kemp has been surprisingly quiet in his post-playing career, though he reappeared when his oldest son played for the University of Washington. Other than that, Kemp has found a way to stay out of headlines outside of hosting a party when the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t reach the playoffs.