You've probably heard some version of this declaration before: "I'd love to just earn the minimum salary while playing in the (insert sports league)."
And why not? Most of us could do quite well earning the $400,000+ minimum per year in any of the three major American sports (or the $525,000 in the NHL). And quite a few would settle for an annual salary equivalent to that of an MLS footballer ($33,750), professional women's basketball player ($37,950 in the WNBA) or even an under-contract baseball minor leaguer ($39,125).
But if we were somehow blessed with superior athletic talent and could earn top dollar in our chosen sport, we would never have to worry about money again, right? After all, if we can pull in millions of dollars a year, we'd be set for life. Easily. No problem.
Except that's not true. At least it isn't among those multi-millionaire athletes.
Bankruptcy courts across the nation are littered with filings from former players who amassed a fortune yet somehow manged to let it all drain away. Sports Illustrated estimated that 78 percent of all NFL players are either under substantial fiscal stress or bankrupt with two years after their career ends. For NBA ballers, that figure is 60% within five years of being out of the league.
In theory, it's not as hard for this to happen as you might think. Most rookie athletes are barely out of their teens when they essentially get handed a big fat paycheck, so they probably aren't well-versed in the nuances of wise spending habits. Plus, many of these men and women come from income-challenged households, where they may have been largely deprived of luxury items and now hope to make up for lost time by buying everything in sight.
And then there are the chosen few athletic stars who bring in tens (or even hundreds) of millions of dollars over a sporting career and still manage to find a way to let it slip through their fingers. It's almost like they make a concerted effort to go broke.
After the recent devastating news of Jack Johnson and his issues with bankruptcy, we wanted to take a look at 15 other athletes who had to file for bankruptcy.
Here are the top 15 athletes who climbed the mountain of riches and plunged back down to earth again nearly penniless.
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15 Johnny Unitas
It's only been two years since Johnny U's record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass has been broken (Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning each have a 50+ streak). Unitas set that record from 1956 to 1960, and the three-time MVP is still considered to be one of the best NFL quarterbacks ever. But after attempts at trying to open such businesses as a bowling alley chain, restaurant, air freight company, and circuit board manufacturer, Unitas and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 1991 with debts of some $3.2 million. To make matters worse, his family eventually fought over the rights to his memorabilia after Unitas' death in 2002.
14 Kenny Anderson
How does an NBA All-Star who earned over $60 million in a 14-year NBA career wind up in bankruptcy in 2005? Well, by purchasing eight cars and a Beverly Hills estate, for starters. Then getting divorced three times and fathering seven kids that he needed to pay child support for. Finally, losing a court challenge to a prenuptial agreement which allows your first wife to take half your assets. And here's an extra gut-punch: after winning in court, Tami Akbar, his first wife, put a license plate on her car which read HISCASH. That's cold.
13 Dorothy Hamill
Even the unofficial title of America's Sweetheart wasn't enough to save Hamill from the poorhouse. After winning the Olympic figure skating gold medal in 1976, she picked up a shampoo endorsement and became the star attraction in the Ice Capades skating show until 1984. But then, Hamill made the ultimately bad decision to purchase the Ice Capades in 1993 and try to revive interest in the event. Didn't happen. Hamill sold the company in 1995 and filed for bankruptcy the following year.
12 Marion Jones
Another Olympics rags-to-riches-to-rage story, Jones grabbed the spotlight by winning three sprinting gold medals at the Sydney games in 2000. But in 2002, she broke up with husband, and fellow Olympian C.J. Hunter, because she claimed he was using performance-enhancing drugs. In a male hell-hath-no-fury moment, Hunter then told a grand jury in 2004 that Jones injected herself with PEDs several times in Sydney. After denying those allegations in court for years, Jones finally confessed in 2007 as part of a plea deal involving check-fraud charges. Her earnings dried up, she was stripped of her medals, she served six years in prison, and finally filed for bankruptcy last year.
11 Diego Maradona
The Argentinian soccer prodigy who had an important "hand" in his nation's World Cup title in 1986 was also beloved by southern Italians during his seven seasons playing for Napoli in Serie A. But those achievements didn't stop the Italian tax agencies from accusing Maradona in 2009 of not paying some $53 million in taxes on the income during his Napoli days. Last year, tax collectors took additional steps to freeze Maradona's assets. He is currently unemployed.
10 Mark Brunell
Did you know that Brunell still holds the NFL record for most consecutive completions in a single game? He completed 22 straight for the Redskins against Houston in 2006 (David Carr has since tied it). But even though the Super Bowl champion QB earned over $50 million in his 17-year NFL career, his business acumen didn't match his passing prowess. His real estate ventures tanked along with the housing market, his company defaulted on multiple loans, and Brunell filed for bankruptcy in 2010 with a whopping $25 million in liabilities and just $5 million in assets.
9 Lenny Dykstra
Not only did the spunky infielder file for bankruptcy, but he even committed bankruptcy fraud. After an 12-year MLB career with the Phillies and Mets, the three-time All-Star and '86 World Series champ became a self-taught "financial guru." Then in 2008, Dykstra started a high-end charter jet company - which lasted about ten months until the company filed for bankruptcy with reportedly up to $50 million in liabilities against $50,000 in assets. On top of all that, he allegedly sold and destroyed some of his assets in violation of his bankruptcy agreement, which earned him a 6 1/2 month federal sentence in 2012. Dykstra was already incarcerated for three years on a grand theft auto charge.
8 Evander Holyfield
Boxing champions can make a lot of dough and Holyfield was no exception. Plus, he appeared in movies and TV shows and had endorsements for grills, video games, and sodas. So how did the heavyweight boxing great blow through an estimated quarter billion dollars in earnings? By mimicking Kenny Anderson and fathering lots of children - eleven to be exact. In 2008, the bank wound up foreclosing on Holyfield's $10 million, 100+ room home in suburban Atlanta.
7 Scottie Pippen
In contrast with Holyfield, Pippen made less than half of what the boxer did - a paltry $120 million over his career. Though he hasn't yet filed bankruptcy, he claims to have had his fortune mismanaged by at least one law firm. He filed suit against the firm for $8 million, but only received a fourth of that amount from the courts. He sued media outlets for reporting that he was bankrupt, but lost that case. But the enduring symbol of Pippen's money woes is the $4 million Gulfstream jet he bought in 2001 that was grounded shortly after the purchase.
6 Lawrence Taylor
One of the greatest linebackers in NFL history, Taylor's story is a cautionary tale of living it up after retiring from sports. The two-time Super Bowl champion and ten-time Pro Bowler retired in 1993 and proceeded to toss money around - drinking heavily, buying illegal substances, and cavorting with the ladies. Along the way, he was convicted of tax evasion, charged with statutory sexual charges and finally declared bankruptcy in 1998. The following year, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
5 Darren McCarty
He helped the Detroit Red Wings win four Stanley Cups and played for 15 NHL seasons as a winger. But his fiscal downfall couldn't be pinned on any one thing. McCarty went through a divorce, gambled quite a bit, and drank more than his fair share of alcohol. When he filed for bankruptcy in 2006 with more than $6 million in liabilities, he claimed that his business partner forged McCarty's name in order to pull in a $650,000 salary.
4 Sheryl Swoopes
Arguably the greatest WNBA player in history, Swoopes led the Houston Comets to the first four championships of the league from 1997 to 2000. She has three WNBA MVP awards and two league scoring titles to go with three Olympic gold medals. But Swoopes fell victim to the one big mistake many athletes make: entrusting their money to the wrong people. Despite earning $50 million thanks in part to a huge Nike deal, Swoopes filed for bankruptcy in 2004.
3 Latrell Sprewell
File Sprewell's woes under the "karma's a b*tch" category - and not just because of the choking incident in 1997. After flourishing in the NBA for several years, Minnesota offered him a three-year, $21 million contract extension in October of 2004. Sprewell then etched his name in infamy by decrying the offer with the words, "I have a family to feed." He went on to produce his worst season ever in his final contract year and never played in the NBA again after that. Then in 2007, his yacht was repossessed, followed by foreclosures on his Milwaukee and Westchester homes in 2008 and 2010, respectively.
2 Vince Young
This quote from a Dallas financial advisor sums it all up: “If you wanted to write a manual about how to go into bankruptcy, Vince’s story would be it.” The former NCAA national champion signed a $26 million deal with the Titans in 2006 and proceeded to flush it all away over the next several years. Young reportedly spent as much as $200,000 a month, including $5,000 a week at a Cheesecake Factory restaurant during his rookie season. He even borrowed money to throw himself a $300,000 birthday party... during the NFL lockout, when he wasn't being paid. His frivolous spending (along with child support payments for four kids with four different women) caught up with him this past January when he filed for bankruptcy. Young was recently released by the Cleveland Browns and remains unsigned.
1 Mike Tyson
And then there was Iron Mike. The perennial heavyweight champion in the late 1980s, Tyson amassed between $300 and $400 million during his boxing career. But when you throw cash at mansions, high-end automobiles, and pet tigers, even that much money can disappear before you know it. When he declared bankruptcy in 2003, he owed $13 million to the IRS and $9 million in his divorce settlement. Some reports say that Tyson was worth less than seven hundred dollars at one point after his bankruptcy. His latest venture is an animated superhero cartoon based on his persona. We'll see how that turns out.
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