In the real world it is relatively common for people to change career paths, but this is not typically you see something an athlete do. NBA players and other athletes have spent an enormous part of their young lives fully committed to reaching a professional level, and this often means sacrificing a lot to reach their goals. Sometimes they may not have a fall back plan as they put all their eggs in one basket, and sadly you will often hear stories of players struggling to make ends meet after failing to go pro.
Once a player has “made it” by becoming an NBA player, you fully expect them to be in the league until retirement age, and this is true if they are the star player or someone riding pine and jumping around the league. This is not always the case however, as over the years there have been a number of interesting cases where players have opted for a career change and left the NBA to pursue other ventures. This could be for any number of reasons, but many struggle to adjust to the demanding lifestyle of the NBA which dominates people’s lives unlike the majority of other careers. Being an NBA player may appear like a glamorous job and of course the money is good, but in reality it is more like a way of life than a career. Your entire life revolves around the team and training, and a large part of the year will be spent away from friends and family through being on the road and staying in hotels. This gets too much for some players, whilst some are forced into early retirement through injury and have to find another way to put food on the table.
So, what happens to these players when they quit the league and have they found any success outside of hoops? Here are 10 interesting cases of players that have left the NBA and ventured out to try and find success in the real world.
10 Darko Milicic
Darko Milicic was the 2nd pick in a draft class that included the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, with James being picked ahead of him. Going so highly in such a talented class meant that expectations were high for the Serbian, but unfortunately he has become known to be one of the bigger flops in draft history. The 7-foot, 250 pound center failed to make an impact and played for six teams in 10 seasons but would spend most of this on the bench until the game was effectively over (earning him the nickname, The Human Victory Cigar). Not destined for life in the NBA, Milicic has turned to kickboxing to earn his money these days.
He signed a contract in September to become a professional kickboxer in Serbia, but would lose his debut fight in December. Being who he is, the fight attracted an enormous amount of media attention, with Darko once again being the butt of many jokes. Will he ever be able to silence his critics?
9 Chris Dudley
Like a huge percentage of NBA players, Chris Dudley spent a large part of his 16 years in the NBA playing for different teams and not getting too many minutes. He may have enjoyed a lengthy career, but Dudley was not about to rest on his laurels. Following his retirement in 2003 he worked as a financial adviser, and he would then go on to run for Oregon governor in 2010. The former center managed to raise around $10 million for his campaign as he looked to revamp the state’s education system and make it friendlier for businesses, but he fell 1.5 percentage points shy of beating John Kitzhaber in the election. Despite being encouraged to run for office in other areas and gaining a lot of support and respect, Dudley has decided to step away from politics.
He also founded the Chris Dudley Foundation to help children with diabetes, after being diagnosed himself as a child.
8 LaRue Martin
LaRue Martin was a top prospect after four impressive years at Loyola University of Chicago, and would go as the 1st pick in the 1972 NBA draft to the Portland Trailblazers. Martin never lived up to the hype and would average just 4.4 PPG during his four years in Portland. An introverted character, the NBA was a bad environment for him and the pressure to perform became too much. He was soon traded to the Sonics and would then retire, and things could have ended very badly for Martin as he soon turned to drinking.
Drinking would be his father’s downfall and he passed away at the age of just 40, but Martin was able to land a job as a deliveryman for UPS. He worked hard and thrived away from the constant attention and pressure from the NBA, and he eventually worked his way up the ladder to become an executive, working in community affairs and political relations. He also managed to quit drinking, and all this helped him to become a self assured person that managed to find a way to succeed even when things were looking bleak.
7 Jamal Mashburn
Jamal Mashburn, or Monster Mash as he was known, enjoyed a stellar career in the NBA after being selected with the 4th pick in the 1993 NBA draft. He averaged just under 20 PPG and is a former All-Star, but his career was cut short following knee problems. Stating that he always “wanted to carry a briefcase”, Monster Mash turned his attention to the restaurant business, and now owns over 70 franchises including Papa John’s Pizzas and Outback Steakhouses. He also owns two car dealerships and a real estate company, and he claims that the lessons he learnt in the NBA have helped him to become the successful businessman he is today.
6 Jonathan Bender
Things could have turned out badly for Jonathan Bender, who made the jump from high school to the NBA and consequently did not have a plan to fall back on. He was selected with the 5th pick of the 1999 NBA draft, but struggled to make a big impact for the Pacers. He also had knee problems, which led him to have arthroscopic surgery before the 2003-04 season, but unfortunately this did not solve the problem and he soon was forced into early retirement at just 25.
Seated on a park bench in Houston in 2009, an idea came to Bender that would change his and many other peoples lives. He became an inventor of a device to help train and rehab to improve the way in which people walk. Not only did the JB Intensive Trainer open up an income for Bender, but it also helped him make a short comeback in the NBA with the Knicks. His device may help others to enjoy longer athletic careers than he managed, and he has avoided becoming a tragic tale of a top prospect that lost it all.
5 Kevin Johnson
The former Most Improved player and three time All-Star was a household name during his career, and he would soon be again but this time for a reason completely unrelated to the NBA. Johnson ran for the mayor of Sacramento in 2008, and after winning he became the first African American to serve as mayor of California's state capital. He was re-elected in 2012, and he has done important work during his time in the position. His passion for basketball is still clear, as he helped to stop the Kings from moving to Seattle and also represented NBA players in a fight to ban former Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league.
4 Junior Bridgeman
It is alarming how many players are broke within just a few years after retiring, with many NBA players spending a fortune on a glamorous lifestyle without planning for the future. Junior Bridgeman is not one of these players, as he has gone on to drastically improve his net worth through the restaurant business. The former Milwaukee Buck (who has his jersey retired) bought five Wendy’s franchises after retiring in 1987 and would get involved with every level of the operation. Bridgeman completely transformed the restaurants, and now they are the cornerstone of his staggering 240 store portfolio (this includes 125 Chili’s restaurants amongst other franchises). This makes Bridgeman the second-largest franchise owner in the USA.
The former NBA player has improved his net worth to around $200 million, and he is keen to show NBA players that they can find success after basketball. He has become a mentor, most notably teaming up with Chauncey Billups to buy around 30 Wendy’s restaurants so that he can too enjoy financial stability after hanging it up.
3 Bill Bradley
Bill Bradley is a fantastic example of a player that has managed success both on and off the court. The former Knick won two NBA Championships in 1970 and 1973, earning a spot on the All-Star team in the latter year. Bradley retired from the NBA after 10 years in 1977, but would then turn to politics, the field in which he studied at college. He ran for a Senate seat in New Jersey in 1978 and was re-elected again in 1984 and 1990. He left in 1996 after claiming the political system to be broke, but he would emerge as a candidate for the 2000 Democratic presidency in 1999 before dropping out to support Al Gore.
Bradley was largely responsible for the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and also helped the passage of a bill that reallocated the use of water resources in California. He is now managing director of Allen & Company LLC and a member of the board of directors for Starbucks and a few other companies. To top it all off, Bradley also won an Olympic gold medal in the 1964 Olympics. It's quite an extraordinary resume for the 71-year-old.
2 Yao Ming
The towering Yao Ming became one of the most recognizable faces around the world when he joined the Houston Rockets in 2002. Not only would he become one of the most dominant Big Men in the game at the time, but he would be enormously popular thanks to his following in his native China, and he is by far their most recognizable athlete. Despite enjoying some success with the Rockets and establishing himself as a top talent, Ming’s career was cut short with his enormous frame causing multiple knee and inkle injuries.
Becoming such a recognizable celebrity, Ming has since used his popularity and global appeal to improve the world around him. He has been heavily involved in a number of humanitarian efforts, including stopping the elephant tusk trade in China, building schools with The Yao Foundation and working with WildAid. This work may not count as a career, but what Yao has achieved off the court is something to behold and should inspire other athletes to use their popularity to improve the world.
1 Dikembe Mutumbo
Dikembe Mutumbo was a phenomenal defensive payer and elite shot blocker, but it is his work outside of the NBA that has been most impressive. He enjoyed a full career in the NBA with 18 seasons to his name, and during his playing career he was heavily involved in humanitarian work and started the Dikembe Mutumbo Foundation to improve living conditions in the Congo.
He has continued this work extensively all around the world since stepping away from the court, also becoming the Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics and he has opened a new hospital in Congo that has treated over 100,000 people. Dikembe Mutumbo has given back an enormous amount in his life, and proven that athletes can do so much more than play a game when they put their mind to it.
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