It wasn't that long ago that the American Dream meant that any man who worked hard could rise up from the dust and make a life for himself. The dyed in the dirt, rags to riches story was synonymous with America. How many times have we heard the story of the poor kid from the ghetto who worked his way to the top and became a professional athlete earning millions and rescuing his family from the grips of poverty. These stories inspire thousands to work hard, go to school, and succeed in their lives. We have also heard the disheartening stories of millionaires whose life at the top came crashing down with welfare lines, money woes, and prison time.
Famous athletes are not immune to riches to rags disaster, and many have succumbed to the “curse of riches”. Others have had the misfortune of ill health forcing them to poverty through medical bills, while others have made bad investment choices that stripped them of the wealth they had. When misfortune hits, many former champions resort to pawn shops, and auction houses to sell their championship trophies and rings. One firm that has acquired a number of rings over the years said the main causes of financial demise in athletes are the “Three D’s: Drugs, Divorce, and Death”. In the paragraphs following we will look at the top 15 athletes who had to sell their rings.
15 Lawrence Taylor
Lawrence Taylor, the great Giant is no stranger to controversy. He had his battles with drugs during his playing days. This hard-knocking linebacker has faced his own share of hard knocks both on and off the field. Whether it was to pay for his drug habit, his drug rehabilitation or his many legal troubles, LT fell on some hard times financially and had to sell his Super Bowl XXV ring.
14 William Perry
“The Fridge” has had a string of bad luck that saw him in ailing health and facing a home tax foreclosure. In 2000 he sold his 1985 Super Bowl championship ring. The exact amount that he got for it is not clear. The ring has changed fingers a few times over the years, but in July 2015, it was reportedly sold for over $200,000. Unfortunately, Perry in his desperate situation was not the one to benefit from that auction.
13 Rocky Bleier
Rocky Bleier was an integral part of the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of the 1970s. To this day he and Franco Harris are the only two running backs in the same backfield to both surpass 1,000 yards in the same season. Rocky was also a decorated Vietnam veteran who overcame a wounded foot to return to the Steelers after the war. He had to file for bankruptcy in 1997, but sold his four Super Bowl rings to a friend beforehand. He later bought the rings back, only to have three of them stolen in 2004.
12 Lester Hayes
The Pro-Bowl corner for the Oakland Raiders redefined the cornerback position. In the 1980 season he had the kind of season that corners dream about – 13 picks, two fumble recoveries, one touchdown a Super Bowl ring. The years following his Hall of Fame worthy career were more like the stuff of nightmares. When financial woes sought to destroy him, he had to borrow money against his prized Super Bowl ring – money that he was not able to pay back. His ring was intercepted for $18,000 in an online auction. Lester did not stay on the poverty line and later had a new ring made.
11 Joe Gilliam
Everyone knows who Terry Bradshaw is today, but many don’t realize that there was once a quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh. Joe Gilliam was “the other guy” who, in 1974, became the first black quarterback to start the season as a team’s no.1 QB. That season also marked the beginning of a tragic end for Mr. Gilliam – he began using hard drugs. Before those drugs tragically took his life in 2000, he sold his Super Bowl ring for some quick cash.
10 Peter Pocklington
We have to bend the rules of this list a little and include an owner, because former Oilers owner Peter Pocklington had to sell all five of his championship rings. Pocklington was in financial peril due to several failed investments and auctioned off the rings back in 2012. This is the same owner who sold Wayne Gretzky to the L.A. Kings, so it's doubtful many fans in Edmonton were shedding tears that the team's owner throughout the dynasty no longer had his rings.
9 “Fuzzy” Thurston
Fuzzy was a legend in Green Bay as a pulling guard in Lombardi’s Packer teams that took the football world by storm in the 50s and 60s. After his career he invested his money into a startup chain restaurant that failed. At one point he owed the IRS more than $1.5 million in back taxes. He auctioned off his Super Bowl ring in 2011 to help pay off his debts. His ring went for a reported $50,788. Sadly he passed away December 14, 2014 after years of battling ill health.
8 Jose Canseco
Reports surfaced back in 2005 that Jose Canseco, perhaps the most hated professional athlete of his time, was selling his 2000 ring that he earned with the Yankees. Canceso's website had the value listed at $40,000. The New York Post reported that it was purchased by a collector from California. According to reports in the Berkshire Eagle and Lowell (Mass.) at the time, Canseco owed $32,793 in taxes to the state of Massachusetts. Canseco again tried to sell a ring, this time his 1988 one, back in 2012, but his attempts were unsuccessful due to a high opening bid at $100,000.
7 Thomas Henderson
“Hollywood” Henderson was a linebacker for the Cowboys in the 70s and won three Super Bowls with the club. Nicknamed “Hollywood” for his flashy persona and flamboyance. Despite being a fan-favorite, and inspiring hitter, drugs got their tentacles into him, and he was eventually cut from the team. He was arrested in November 1983, and ended up spending 28 months in prison. He hit rock bottom, and in 1988 and sold one of his rings for $13,500 to an avid Cowboy fan. Ironically, Henderson won $28 million in the lottery in 2000. I wonder if he bought his ring back.
6 Larry Grantham
The former New York Jets linebacker from the Super Bowl III team needed money to pay for medical bills in 2009. He put his Super Bowl ring up for auction, and the bidding rose to $18,000 when a compassionate man stepped in. AmericanMemorabilia.com president Victor Moreno pulled the ring off the market and took it upon himself to raise money for Grantham’s medical expenses and he got to keep his ring. Stories like this warm the heart and remind us that despite all the evil that is happening around, there are still good people in this world.
5 Elvin Hayes
The “Big E” is an NBA legend. Voted as one of the 50 greatest players of all time, playing for the Rockets and the Bullets in his career. He is ranked fourth all time in total rebounds, and he won a title with the Washington Bullets in 1978. Without any warning, he mysteriously put his ring up for auction in 2014. Even more mysterious than that – he has been silent as to the reason. Has he gone bankrupt?
4 Julius Erving
The great Dr. J redefined how basketball was played. He was the consummate showman. People paid to see him take it to the hole and finish with an acrobatic dunk that would make a circus trapeze drool. Julius was simply amazing to watch, and to top it off he was a three-time champ: Dr. J had one NBA Championship ring and two ABA rings.
Dr. J’s financial situation got rocky when a Georgia bank filed a lawsuit against him seeking repayment of a defaulted $200,000 loan. Dr. J used the money to buy a golf course. He had to auction off his rings, and some other sports memorabilia to get back on his feet. These items and a hundred plus others got a reported $3.5 million.
3 Lenny Dykstra
The center fielder for the New York Mets in their 1986 World Series victory had a magnificent career. He was later traded to the Phillies, where he continued to enjoy a successful career. He has been no stranger to controversy on and off the field. He spent time in a federal penitentiary for various felonies. He filed for bankruptcy and had to pawn off his ring to get some quick cash. He was unable to reclaim it and the pawn shop auctioned it off in October 2009.
2 Antoine Walker
The star forward for the Celtics and the Heat had to sell his 2006 championship ring that he obtained with the Miami Heat. His ring sold for a reported $21,500. He had to file bankruptcy in 2010, only two years after retirement, claiming to be more than $12 million in debt. Walker has publicly admitted to struggling with a gambling addiction. This is a sad revelation, considering he earned more than $100 million in his career.
1 Randy Brown
Randy Brown was a great energy boost off the bench for the Chicago Bulls in their quest for a second three-peat. He stayed with the Bulls afterwards and became a starter for the team. After retirement he got into coaching and management, but ran into hard times in 2008-09. He was fired from his coaching job and in August that year Mr. Brown had to file chapter 7 bankruptcy and was ordered to sell his championship rings. He got $53,833 for them.