When people think about professional sports and professional athletes two things usually come to mind. The first one is greatness. After all, these athletes are the top of the food chain when it comes to humanity. They are prime examples of what a human being can achieve if he or she works hard to develop their bodies throughout a lifetime. The second thing we connect with professional sports and athletes is wealth. Sure, this is not a common occurrence in all of sports, but in the major sports like basketball, soccer, baseball, football, and some of the Olympic sports, athletes are remunerated rather well in comparison to the rest of society.
Just to name a few examples. Last year, Cristiano Ronaldo made $93 million putting together salary and endorsements. Still in soccer, Lionel Messi made $80 million. And when we go to other sports, we also find ridiculous numbers like LeBron James earning $86.2 million last year or Roger Federer who earned $64 million last year. You get the point, right? Professional athletes are rich, and a lot of them are wealthy.
However, what most people forget is that before they became the powerhouses and millionaires they are today, a lot of professional athletes had to struggle in order to survive. A lot of these guys came from poverty-stricken backgrounds and had to help provide for their families even while they were kids. That being said, there is also the other side, composed of athletes who were already wealthy before they became professionals. Here we will show you the best of both worlds in a little list with 10 athletes who were rich before going pro and 10 who were broke.
20 Rich: Kobe Bryant
If you think Kobe Bryant is one of those amazing stories of someone who grew up poor and overcame a bunch of hurdles to become one of the greatest athletes of all time, you are very wrong. There is nothing wrong with being a Kobe fan and appreciating everything this guy has done for basketball, but one of the things he cannot claim is that he has a rags to riches story. Much on the contrary, Kobe’s family was actually very well off, and there was one good reason for that. His dad was also a basketball player, and a good one if we might add.
Joe Bryant played a few years in the NBA, but it was in Europe where he really made his money, as he played overseas for several years.
19 Broke: LeBron James
Since on one side of the issue we started with Kobe Bryant, we might as well start the other side with the only person other than Kobe ever to be compared to Michael Jordan and create controversy. Of course, we are talking about the King, LeBron James.
LeBron is so different from every other athlete that his story becomes more puzzling the deeper you dig into it. Anyone who meets LeBron James today thinks this guy must have had a college education and come from a well-off family. But both of those assumptions would be wrong. LeBron was drafted straight out of high school, and his family was about as poor as poor families get in America. His mom had him when she was 16 and raised him on her own. Their story is truly one of the most inspiring rags to riches tales.
18 Rich: Johnny Manziel
Making it to a professional league like the NFL or the NBA is something most young men dream of. For some, it is a matter of achieving your goals, but for others, making it to a professional league can mean giving your family the life they could never have otherwise. That was not the case with Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football is definitely someone who does not need the pro money in order to pay for his everyday activities. The reason for that is that his family is wealthy to a point where it seems ridiculous.
That wealth comes from oil. Johnny’s great-grandfather was a Lebanese immigrant who had the amazing idea of investing into oil, which you can assume was a very good decision. Either way, when the Browns sent him packing, the finances were surely not what bothered Manziel the most.
17 Broke: Caron Butler
You know someone’s family is poor when they have to become a drug dealer by the age of 11. Yeah, life was not easy for Caron Butler. This guy probably has one of the craziest life stories in the history of sports. Butler was one of those guys who needed to help provide to his family in some way, and the only way he found was to deal drugs. By the time he was 15 years old, Caron had already been arrested 15 times. An even crazier side to the story is that Caron didn’t even play that much basketball until he found himself in a detention center with nothing else to do other than play ball. Luckily, that changed the rest of his life. He earned a scholarship to play at the University of Connecticut and went on to become a two-time NBA All-Star and an NBA Champion.
16 Rich: Gerard Pique
While we hear a lot of stories from basketball and football camps saying that these are some of the sports that most help poor kids rise from poverty and provide for their families, it is hard to deny that even when you combine both of those sports you will not have as many rags to riches stories as you have in soccer. The reason for that is that soccer is a global sport when compared to those other two.
But even among all of those rags to riches stories, there are famous soccer players who were already rich before they became professionals. One of those kids was Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. This is the kind of guy who most men should envy for several reasons. First, he grew up rich, having a businessman father, while his mother was the director of a big hospital. Secondly, he happens to be married to Shakira.
15 Broke: Jadeveon Clowney
The only story we could think off to follow up the crazy tale of Caron Butler was the equally amazing story of NFL pass rusher, Jadeveon Clowney. No, Clowney was not arrested at any point in his life as far as we know, nor did he have to go into dealing drugs to provide to his family. However, that has a lot to do with how his mom raised him. After Clowney’s father was arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison for robbing a check-cashing business down in South Carolina, his mom had to find a way to raise young Jadeveon on her own. She worked hard as a technician in a Frito-Lay’s factory and managed to successfully raise a young man who would become a college star and eventually a millionaire NFL player.
14 Rich: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
If you are looking for stories of rich families and lineages in sports, you could not go wrong if you dug deeper into the racing world. It doesn’t matter what category, Formula One, NASCAR, or whatever you can come up with, there will be stories of entire lineages of families who became rich because of the sport and are still around. A perfect example of this is the Earnhardt family. Patriarch Ralph was a top NASCAR driver in the '50s and '60s, and his son, Dale Sr., is one of the greatest NASCAR racers of all-time. This guy has so many victories that we cannot even count all of them in one entry. With all those victories, also came a lot of money, a wealth his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. grew up with.
That being said, the younger Dale has also made a name for himself in NASCAR and even won the Daytona 500 a couple of times.
13 Broke: Manny Pacquiao
You cannot make a list that involves athletes who were poor before going pro without dedicating an entry to Manny Pacquiao. When we hear about athletes who were poor in the US and Canada, we know that they struggled a lot throughout life, having to take jobs when they were really young and helping their parents provide for the rest of their families. However, it is hard to find stories in North America of young men who literally had to live on the streets.
That was the reality of Manny Pacquiao before he became a professional boxer. This man literally lived on the streets of Kibawe in the Philippines after running away from home because, in a moment of hunger, his dad killed and ate the family dog. Manny started selling bread and doughnuts to survive until he eventually found boxing.
12 Rich: Carey Price
Carey Price may not have been born into millions like some of the other names you'll see on this list, but his parents were clearly well off to a point that they were able to do things for him most hockey parents wouldn't... They flew him to hockey practices on a helicopter. Price grew up in the small town of Anahim Lake, BC and with Price being as talented as he was, he had to venture out a little further than that if he wanted to be a professional goalie. With Price's father being a licensed pilot, they decided that instead of spending hours commuting to hockey practice, it'd be more convenient to just fly Carey around.
"Eventually it got to be a lot of hours in the car so he just bought an airplane so he could fly it," Price explained.
11 Broke: Pele
You don’t become the greatest at anything without struggling at some point. Pele is undoubtedly the best soccer player of all time. It is almost like a Michael Jordan paradox. It doesn’t matter how good Lionel Messi or whoever comes next might be, Pele is someone who, through legend, has achieved a god-like status that no one will be able to overcome.
That being said, this is one man who grew up in a situation most people would not have endured. Brazil in the '50s was not the friendliest of places, and Pele had to work all kinds of jobs to help provide for his family. He even worked as a servant in a tea shop for some time. But perhaps what mostly exemplifies how poor he and his friends were, is the fact that when they played soccer as kids, they didn’t have money for soccer balls, so they stuffed socks with newspapers to use as soccer balls.
10 Rich: Oscar Pistorius
When people first hear about the story of Oscar Pistorius, they might lean towards feeling pity for the guy because of his disability, but the more you read about Pistorius and his life, the less inclined you will feel towards looking at him in that light. There is no denying that the guy was a pioneer for athletes with disabilities who want to compete against athletes without disabilities, but Pistorius managed to taint a legacy that would last centuries in a few seconds. Of course, we are talking about how the alleged homicide of his girlfriend during Valentine’s Day in 2013.
But the charges are not the only thing that will make you not pity Pistorius. There is also the fact that this former athlete has a lot of family money. That family money started when his grandfather bought a limestone mine in the '40s, but today they own more than 100 businesses.
9 Broke: Usain Bolt
We have seen guys who were so poor they had to take odd jobs to help provide for their families, we have seen guys who lived off the streets before finding a safe haven in sports, but we had yet to see someone who grew up in a situation so dire that the village they lived in didn’t even have electricity. Yes, this is the reality that gave the world the fastest man ever to live.
When he was a kid, before he found out how fast he was, Usain Bolt was a little boy living in a village in Jamaica that didn’t even have streetlights or running water. We talked about Pele using socks and newspapers to make soccer balls, and Bolt lived a similar situation as he and his friends played cricket with oranges and a banana tree stump.
8 Rich: Peyton Manning
This is one of those givens when it comes to professional athletes who are children of former professional athletes. These days, even the lowest of NFL and NBA players receive a minimum salary that is way above the average salary of regular people. What we are claiming with that is that no matter how good or bad your dad was, if you are the son of a professional athlete who has lasted in one of the big leagues for a few years, you grew up in a rich household. Now, if your dad was someone who played in the NFL for more than a decade and was a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, you know that you grew up wealthy.
That was the case with both Peyton and Eli Manning, as their father Archie was a franchise quarterback for the New Orleans Saints from 1971 to 1982 and even has a spot in the team’s Hall of Fame.
7 Broke: Ronda Rousey
Regardless of how you feel about Ronda Rousey today, you can't help but admire the uphill climb she had to go through to be in the position she is now. Rousey spent most of her teen years training for the Olympics, with just her mother raising her after her father tragically took his own life when Ronda was 8. Spending all your time training for judo and trying to be an Olympian isn't exactly a glamorous life and Rousey suffered the effects after the 2008 Olympics where she found herself broke. It got so bad for Ronda that at one point, she was living in her car.
Once Ronda got her break in mixed martial arts, the money began pouring in, and she eventually sold that same car in 2015, along with any personal belongings she had left in it.
6 Rich: Nick Foles
What better time than to include Nick Foles on a list like this after he shocked the world by beating Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII and taking home Super Bowl MVP? This past season was all about redemption for Nick Foles, as he proved that he has what it takes to be a starter in the NFL. Just a year after considering retirement, Foles got a chance to lead the Eagles when Carson Wentz tore his ACL and rode a magic carpet to the Super Bowl.
While Foles certainly went through a lot of stress before, it wasn't financially based. Foles' father, Larry Foles is a self-made millionaire and restaurateur. He opened the chain Eddie V's Prime Seafood and the brand sold for $59 million back in 2011. When Foles hits free agency in 2019, you wonder how much more he can add to the family fortune.
5 Broke: Michael Oher
Perhaps the most famous rags to riches story out there, the tale of Michael Oher was so unbelievable that it even had a movie made about it. Not only that, but that movie, The Blind Side, won an Oscar in 2009. If you haven’t watched it yet, this is one of those movies that you must see at some point in your life because this story is about as inspiring as they come.
To summarize the whole thing without giving any spoilers, Michael’s biological parents were not fit to raise any children. His dad was in and out of prison all the time and was murdered when Michael was only a teenager. His mother was a drug addict, and he had 11 siblings. Luckily, he was adopted by a stable family and given the shot he needed to become a successful football player.
4 Rich: Pete LaCock
This one is for the diehard baseball fans out there. This is especially true because unless you are a diehard baseball fan, there is a good chance that you will not remember who Pete LaCock was. This guy played in the MLB for nine seasons in teams like the Chicago Cubs and the Kansas City Royals. He even played a little bit in Japan with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales. However, the reason good old Pete is on our list is not because of his professional accolades, but because of his interesting background. Since this was a long time ago, he might not have had as much money as some of the other guys on this list, but he undoubtedly grew up in a rich household. That is because his father, Peter Marshall, was the original host of Hollywood Squares.
3 Broke: Adil Rami
This story might not be as tragic as some of the other ones we showed on this list, but the story of Adil Rami is about as interesting as all of the others because of how peculiar it is. Yes, we have already established that most soccer players come from poverty-stricken backgrounds and had to take jobs other than just playing soccer before they were professionals in order to provide for their families. Here is where things get interesting though.
While other players worked as cashiers, servants, and all other kinds of jobs you see teenagers picking up, Adil Rami worked as a garbageman in France to support himself and his family before he became a professional. Yeah, this is not what you usually expect from European-born players, but Rami was the son of Moroccan immigrants.
2 Rich: Steph Curry
Steph Curry is arguably the best three-point shooter in the history of basketball. Yes, he had a little bit of a head start, as his father Dell Curry was a pro baller for the Charlotte Hornets, but Steph has undoubtedly surpassed his father (and his younger brother Seth) in every way. Growing up, Steph was able to sit at courtside during NBA games. His father's salary was nowhere near what NBA players today are making, but being the son of a pro basketball player obviously gave Curry many advantages that most kids didn't have. Heck, he once starred in a Burger King commercial as a kid. It's clear he didn't have to struggle through childhood, but he still worked hard for what he's become today.
1 Broke: Tsegaye Kebede
This is arguably the most heartbreaking and inspiring story we have found out of all that involve athletes who grew up broke before they became professionals.
You might not be familiar with the name Tsegaye Kebede, but that is because you probably don’t follow the long-distance competitions in track and field or marathons. Tsegaye is a 31-year-old Ethiopian long-distance runner who has a life story unlike any other. Born in one of the poorest countries in the world, this man had to grow up very early in order to help his parents provide for a family of 15 children. As a kid and teenager, it was not unusual for Tsegaye to only eat one meal a day and earn one dollar a day collecting firewood to help buy food for his little siblings the next day.