Athletes Who Are Business Stars
Professional athletes haven't always been paid huge amounts of money. In the 1960s, many players in the NBA, MLB and NFL had to have full-time jobs in the offseason to make ends meet.
Some of those athletes were among the first group of sports stars to turn athletic fame into riches once their career was over, through shrewd business investments and investing in themselves.
Now, athletes start building business empires during their playing days. These are the athletes (active or retired) who are the biggest business stars, based on their entrepeneurship, investment moves and overall net worth.
Honorable Mention: Paul Rabil
Born: Dec. 14, 1985 (Gaithersburg, Maryland)
Career: 13 seasons (2008-present)
Key investments: Rabil Companies, Rabil Ventures, Premier Lacrosse League cofounder
Net worth: $300,000
Bottom line: Paul Rabil is known as the "first lacrosse millionaire" and while his bottom line pales in comparison to others on this list, it's notable that he's made his money across such a broad scope of investments.
Rabil won a pair of national championships at John Hopkins University and carved out a career as one of the greatest Major League Lacrosse players of all time, but he still had to work a full-time job while he played.
In response, Rabil founded the Premier Lacrosse League, which began play in 2019 and wowed the sports world by securing sponsorships with Gatorade, Adidas, Ticketmaster and Capital One, along with selling a broadcast package to NBC.
Note: All net worth figures are from Forbes or Celebrity Net Worth.
30. Marshawn Lynch
Born: April 22, 1986 (Oakland California)
Career: 12 seasons (2007-15, 2017-19)
Key investments: Beast Mode, Beast Mobile, Oakland Panthers co-owner, Oakland Roots SC
Net worth: $30 million
Bottomline: Marshawn Lynch made over $56 million in his 12-year NFL career, and instead of spending it, he lived off his endorsement money from deals with Skittles, Progressive, Pepsi, Nike, Microsoft, Activision, FritoLay and Subway.
Lynch was known as "Beast Mode" for his bruising running style, and he parlayed that on-field persona into an off-field Beast Mode lifestyle brand, creating apparel, a retail store and international partnerships. He also launched his own cellphone service.
Now, Lynch lives in Hawaii and has gotten into sports ownership in his native hometown of Oakland with the Indoor Football League (IFL) and United Soccer League (USL) Championship. The man truly is a "Beast," and he gives back to the community, too.
29. Danica Patrick
Born: March 25, 1982 (Beloit, Wisconsin)
Sport: Auto racing
Career: 14 seasons (2005-18)
Key investments: beam (CBD wellness company), podcasts, books
Net worth: $40 million
Bottom line: Danica Patrick built her fortune as a race car driver on endorsements and rightfully so. Television ratings experienced a major spike whenever she was in a race.
She's been smart about growing her wealth since her last race in 2018 and made major investments in the growing CBD wellness industry. Patrick participated in the $5 million seed money group for beam, a CBD startup based out of Boston, and is positioned to be one of the faces for a company she has a major investment in.
That's what you get when you bring in someone who has been featured in more Super Bowl commercials than anyone.
28. Jamal Mashburn
Born: Nov. 29, 1972 (The Bronx, New York)
Career: 12 seasons (1993-2005)
Key investments: Outback Steakhouse, Papa John's, auto dealerships, horse racing
Net worth: $45 million
Bottom line: Jamal Mashburn has figured out a way to turn his basketball money into more money since he retired from the NBA in 2005 after 12 seasons.
The former University of Kentucky star is part of several lucrative investments and now owns a stake in almost 100 businesses across the U.S., including 24 Outback Steakhouse locations, 37 Papa John's locations and a glut of car dealerships in Kentucky.
He's also a partner in several racing horses with his college coach, Rick Pitino, and Outback Steakhouse co-founder Chris T. Sullivan.
27. Wladimir Klitschko
Born: March 25, 1976 (Semiplatinsk, Kazakh, Soviet Union)
Career: 17 years (2000-17)
Key investments: K2 Promotions, Klitschko Body Performance
Net worth: $100 million
Bottom line: Wladimir Klitschko is one of the most underrated heavyweight boxers of all time and was known for his intelligence in and out of the ring throughout his career. He speaks Russian, German, Ukrainian and English fluently.
Klitschko has been a savvy investor and is an interesting study because he has his worldwide portfolio that includes business holdings across the globe, including several partnerships with older brother Vitaly Klitschko, who was also an elite boxer.
Wladimir Klitschko also likes to give back and auctioned off his 1996 Olympic gold medal for $1 million and donated the money to charities.
26. Peyton Manning
Born: March 24, 1976 (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Career: 18 seasons (1998-2015)
Key investments: Papa John's
Net worth: $250 million-$300 million
Bottom line: Peyton Manning had a legendary NFL career, winning two Super Bowls in 18 seasons after he was the No. 1 overall pick in 1998.
He's also one of the all-time greatest pitchmen in sports history — not that endorsements count for making this list — and took those experiences and parlayed them into some moneymaking moves.
Manning's most notable investment was in Papa John's franchises, and he owned over 30 locations before selling them following the company's much-publicized split with the NFL.
25. Stephen Curry
Born: March 14, 1988 (Akron, Ohio)
Career: 12 seasons (2009-present)
Key investments: SC30, Unanimous Media (production company), Oxigen (water-based beverages), Underrated Tour (high school basketball recruiting)
Net worth: $130 million
Bottom line: Stephen Curry has gone from an unheralded, unknown high school recruit 15 years ago to one of the most well-known professional athletes in the world with a fortune that continues to grow year after year.
Curry is a favorite for endorsements but has struck out on his own when it comes to investments, including cutting a deal with Sony Pictures for his production company, Unanimous Media, as well as stakes in water-based beverage company Oxigen.
His wife, Ayesha, is also a growing investment mogul herself. If you don't know much about her please, for the love of God, try one of her amazing recipes.
24. John Elway
Born: June 28, 1960 (Port Angeles, Washington)
Career: 16 seasons (1983-98)
Key investments: Elway's Steakhouse, John Elway Auto Dealerships
Net worth: $145 million
Bottom line: If you spent any time in the Denver area in the late 1980s onward, you couldn't help but notice almost every other car driving around town had a tiny No. 7 logo somewhere on the back.
That's because legendary Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway made a mint selling cars over the years with Cadillac, Chevrolet and Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram dealerships in the area.
He also had a chain of upscale steakhouses that were wildly popular and continued to cash checks from the Broncos for years, running their day-to-day football operations from 2011 to 2020.
23. Venus Williams
Born: June 17, 1980 (Lynwood, California)
Career: 28 seasons (1994-present)
Key investments: EleVen by Venus Williams, V Starr, Miami Dolphins minority owner, UFC minority owner
Net worth: $95 million
Bottom line: Venus Williams is the older sister of fellow tennis superstar Serena Williams and has several profitable investments with her sibling. They're both minority owners of the Miami Dolphins and the mixed martial arts empire UFC.
Venus' investments don't stop there. She has a line of activewear and sunscreen called EleVen by Venus Williams and also runs an interior design company.
Venus turned pro in 1994, at just 14 years old, and has just over $42 million in career earnings from tennis, so if you go by the numbers, both she and her sister have roughly doubled their winnings with endorsements and investments.
22. Kevin Durant
Born: Sept. 29, 1988 (Washington, D.C.)
Career: 14 seasons (2007-present)
Key investments: Postmates, Acorn, JetSmarter, Yoshi (on-demand car care), Rubrik (cloud data management), Thirty Five Media
Net worth: $170 million
Bottom line: NBA superstar Kevin Durant has done a great job of making sure he doesn't put all of his eggs in one basket when it comes to investments. His holdings are as varied as any athlete.
One of Durant's investments really jumps off the page, however. Back in 2016, he was approached about being an early investor in food delivery app Postmates and smartly invested $1 million.
In July 2020, Uber bought Postmates for a reported $2.6 billion, which led to a $15 million payout for the two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.
21. Michael Strahan
Born: Nov. 21, 1971 (Houston, Texas)
Career: 15 seasons (1993-2007)
Key investments: Good Morning America, Fox NFL Sunday
Net worth: $65 million
Bottom line: Few athletes have as much future earning potential as Michael Strahan, who went from being one of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history to the popular co-host of "Good Morning America" as well as an analyst on "Fox NFL Sunday," meaning his greatest investment has been in himself as a two-time Emmy Award winner.
Strahan was never someone who made a lot of money off endorsements during his career but in the latter half of his career was one of the league's highest-paid players.
What's more amazing about Strahan's riches are he lost a considerable amount of his fortune after his divorce with his first wife in 2007 — a reported $15 million cash payout along with $2 million from the sale of a house and between $18,000-$25,000 in child support per month.
20. Rob Dyrdek
Born: June 28, 1974 (Kettering, Ohio)
Career: 35 years (1986-present)
Key investments: Dyrdek Machine, Superjacket (production company), Street League Skateboarding
Net worth: $100 million
Bottom line: Rob Dyrdek was a professional skateboarder with a sponsorship deal by the time he was 12 years old and owned his first company by the time he was 16 years old.
Dyrdek transformed his career as a pro skateboarder into further riches as a television personality, first with the MTV reality show "Rob & Big," featuring Dyrdek and the late Christopher "Big Black" Boykin, his best friend and bodyguard.
Even more lucrative — and what Dyrdek is best known for now — is the show "Ridiculousness," which he created and owns and will live on in syndication for probably the next 20 years. That means cash will be flowing into Dyrdek's pockets for a long, long time.
19. Tony Hawk
Born: May 12, 1968 (San Diego, California)
Career: 22 years (1982-2003)
Key investments: Tony Hawk Inc., Hawk Clothing, Birdhouse Skateboards, Tony Hawk Pro Skater (video game)
Net worth: $140 million
Bottom line: If you've played a video game in the last 20 years, it's not hard to understand where Tony Hawk's wealth comes from. Games from the "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater" franchise have racked up $1.5 billion in sales since the first edition was released in 1999.
Hawk didn't stop there and was a genius in taking the video game's success and turning it into more cash in other investments, including his clothing line and line of skateboards. But don't get it twisted. The video game is where the majority of the money came from.
18. Cristiano Ronaldo
Born: Feb. 5, 1985 (Madeira, Portugal)
Career: 20 seasons (2002-present)
Key investments: CR7
Net worth: $450 million
Bottom line: Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably the most famous soccer star in the world, and the Portugal native has made a fortune in playing the game and endorsements that came with it.
What else he's done is made sure he controlled the flow of that money with his own company, CR7, which has a line of footwear, underwear, denim and cologne that will continue to bring him millions of dollars in income long after his career is over.
CR7 isn't done expanding, either. Cristiano is about to add children's clothing to the line and hotels. Could we all be staying at CR7 Hotels soon? That would be a real kick.
17. Drew Brees
Born: Jan. 15, 1979 (Dallas, Texas)
Career: 20 seasons (2001-20)
Key investments: Jimmy John's, Dunkin', Waitr, Title Boxing Club
Net worth: $160 million
Bottom line: NFL career passing leader Drew Brees has a well-earned reputation as one of the greatest philanthropists the league has ever known. His foundation has donated over $25 million to schools and charities in New Orleans, San Diego and West Lafayette, Indiana, where he played college football for Purdue.
Brees, who retired after the 2020 season, quietly built up an impressive business portfolio over his two decades in the NFL as well. He owns over 60 Jimmy John's and Dunkin' franchises and in 2016 bought a stake in the Title Boxing Club fitness chain.
16. David Beckham
Born: May 2, 1975 (London, England)
Career: 22 seasons (1992-2013)
Key investments: Beckham Holdings, Inter Miami FC
Net worth: $450 million
Bottom line: It's tough to nail down exactly how much money David Beckham is worth because he has such a vast array of investments and seems to make money with everything he touches.
Beckham's biggest investment in the United States has been in soccer. He's the owner of Major League Soccer club Inter Miami FC, which began play in 2020.
Beckham's wealth and investments are also given a big boost thanks to his marriage to Victoria Beckham, aka "Posh Spice" of the popular 1990s pop group Spice Girls.
15. Maria Sharapova
Born: April 10, 1987 (Nyagan, Russian Soviet Union)
Career: 19 seasons (2001-20)
Key investments: Sugarpova, Supergoop
Net worth: $180 million
Bottom line: Tennis star Maria Sharapova was the highest-paid female athlete in the world every year from 2006 to 2016 and turned those riches into an even bigger fortune with some savvy investments.
While endorsement money for Sharapova far outweighed her tennis earnings during that time, her decision to go into business for herself with upscale candy line Sugarpova and sunscreen line Supergoop paid big dividends.
Sharapova's career earnings tallied $38.7 million in 19 years on the pro tour. Today, Sugarpova alone brings in a reported $20 million per year.
14. George Foreman
Born: Jan. 10, 1049 (Marshall, Texas)
Career: 19 years (1969-77, 1987-98)
Key investments: George Foreman Grill
Net worth: $300 million
Bottom line: Heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman retired in 1977, then returned in 1987 and became the champion once again in a remarkable comeback.
In 1994, Foreman entered into a partnership for an inexpensive line of indoor grills called the "George Foreman Grill." He was paid 40 percent of the sale of each grill until Salton paid him an estimated $138 million for the permanent use of his name in 1999. He also got an additional $2 million per year to be a spokesperson and renegotiated his percentage of each individual sale.
Foreman told AARP Magazine that in the five years after the introduction of the grill he made as much as $8 million per month.
13. Tom Brady
Born: Aug. 3, 1977 (San Mateo, California)
Career: 2000-present (21 seasons)
Key investments: TB12, 199 Productions
Net worth: $250 million
Bottom line: The first half of Tom Brady's career he was a standard pitchman for companies like Tag Heuer, Under Armour and Ugg boots. The last decade, he's become something much different.
Brady, with the help of trainer Alex Guerrero, recrafted himself as a sort of lifestyle guru beginning with the introduction of the TB12 brand in 2016. The all-encompassing brand includes a website, meal delivery service, sports therapy center, charitable foundation and a New York Times No. 1 bestselling book: "The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance."
His investments, however deft, pale in comparison to that of his wife, Gisele Bundchen. Her lines of sandals, lingerie and beauty products generate approximately $1 billion per year, and she's worth an estimated $400 million.
12. Vinnie Johnson
Born: Sept. 1, 1956 (Brooklyn, New York)
Career: 13 seasons (1979-92)
Key investments: Piston Automotive
Net worth: $400 million
Bottom line: Vinnie Johnson won two NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons and was renowned for his ability to provide instant offense off the bench. He was nicknamed "The Microwave" and made roughly $5 million in 12 seasons.
That money seems trivial now, compared to what Johnson did after his career was over. He founded automotive parts supply company Piston Automotive in 1995 and landed a major contract with General Motors off the bat.
Contracts with Ford, Fiat, Nissan, Honda and Toyota followed, making Johnson worth almost a half-billion dollars.
11. Derek Jeter
Born: June 26, 1974 (Pequannock Township, New Jersey)
Career: 20 seasons (1995-2014)
Key investments: Miami Marlins CEO/minority owner, The Players' Tribune founder
Net worth: $200 million
Bottom line: Derek Jeter has been as sharp in the business world as he was playing shortstop for the New York Yankees for 20 seasons.
Jeter's first big splash came the same year his career ended, when he founded The Players' Tribune website in 2014, giving voice to first-person stories from athletes in articles and podcasts. Most famously, the site broke the news of Kevin Durant's decision to sign as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors.
Jeter's biggest off-field move came in 2017, when he became CEO and part-owner of the Miami Marlins, where he's been running day-to-day operations for the last four years.
10. Grant Hill
Born: Oct. 5, 1972 (Dallas, Texas)
Career: 19 seasons (2004-13)
Key investments: Hill Ventures, Penta Capital equity fund, Atlanta Hawks co-owner
Net worth: $250 million
Bottom line: SinceGrant Hill began his NBA career, he always has been great at making investments and turning his money into more money — first as a top-level pitchman and also as an adroit investor in artwork. Hill has one of the most well-respected collections of African-American art in the world.
That wasn't the only great investment he's made. Hill made a fortune with two equity funds focused on growing profitable, mid-market companies since the 1990s.
In 2015, Hill led a group of investors who purchased the Atlanta Hawks for $850 million. In 2020, Forbes put the value of the Hawks at $1.5 billion.
9. LeBron James
Born: Dec. 30, 1984 (Akron, Ohio)
Career: 18 seasons (2003-present)
Key investments: SpringHill Entertainment, Uninterrupted, Blaze Pizza
Net worth: $500 million
Bottom line: LeBron James has shown he can be a savvy entrepreneur in the second half of his career, with a particular focus on Hollywood and the entertainment industry, which seemed to be a big motivator for him signing with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018.
The four-time NBA champion is headed toward being worth $1 billion in the next decade, if not sooner. He has a production company, SpringHill Entertainment, and a media company, Uninterrupted (what's the difference?), owns 19 Blaze Pizza franchises and a stake in soccer team Liverpool F.C.
Next up? James stars in the "Space Jam" sequel coming out this summer.
8. Jack Nicklaus
Born: Jan. 21, 1940 (Columbus, Ohio)
Career: 40 seasons(1961-2000)
Key investments: Nicklaus Companies, Golden Bear brands, Nicklaus Design
Net worth: $400 million
Bottom line: Jack Nicklaus made a fortune playing golf but doubled and tripled that via his golf course design company that has raked in tens of millions per year for decades now. He's designed golf courses all over the world and more than 400 courses bear his name.
Even with all of his business success, Jack Nicklaus' fortune pales in comparison to that of his rival, Arnold Palmer, who died in 2016 with a fortune estimated at between $700 million and $800 million.
7. Shaquille O'Neal
Born: March 6, 1972 (Newark, New Jersey)
Career: 19 seasons (1992-2011)
Key investments: Five Guys, Google, Ring, Krispy Kreme, TNT Inside the NBA co-host
Net worth: $400 million
Bottom line: Four-time NBA champion Shaquille O'Neal made over $200 million during his 19-year career and has a business portfolio that's a who's who wish list of companies we all could only dream of investing in early on.
Most notably, O'Neal was an early investor in Google, Ring and most notably the Five Guys burger restaurant chain. When he sold his stake in Five Guys, he reportedly owned 10 percent of all franchises in the United States.
O'Neals post-playing career gig as a co-host on TNT's Emmy Award-winning "Inside the NBA" has also been lucrative, not just for pay but for keeping O'Neal in the public spotlight.
6. Serena Williams
Born: Sept. 26, 1981 (Saginaw, Michigan)
Career: 27 seasons (1995-present)
Key investments: Serena Ventures, Serena Williams Jewelry, S by Serena Williams, Miami Dophins minority owner, UFC minority owner
Net worth: $210 million
Bottom line: One of the most famous athletes in the world for the last two decades, tennis star Serena Willliams has made more money playing tennis than any woman who ever stepped on the court — $94.2 million.
She's more than doubled that money with endorsements and grass-roots investments. Williams founded Serena Ventures in 2014 to give opportunities to minorities who would otherwise not get a foothold in the business world.
Alongside her sister, Venus Williams, Serena also is a minority owner of the Miami Dolphins and UFC.
5. Alex Rodriguez
Born: July 27, 1975 (Manhattan, New York City)
Career: 22 seasons (1994-2013, 2015-16)
Key investments: A-Rod Corp (tech, real estate, hospitality)
Net worth: $400 million
Bottom line: The scandal that engulfed the later years of Alex Rodriguez's career did little to impact his business holdings or investments, which include a vast real estate empire.
One might even venture to say the year Rodriguez spent suspended from baseball in 2014 for using steroids served as a time when he was able to focus on his post-baseball career.
A-Rod Corp, founded in 2003, has expanded to include tech startups and hospitality companies as well as high-rise buildings and thousands of rental properties.
4. Junior Bridgeman
Born: Sept. 17, 1953 (East Chicago, Indiana)
Career: 12 seasons (1975-87)
Key investments: Bridgeman Foods (Chili's, Fazoli's, Wendy's), Bridgeman Hospitality Group
Net worth: $600 million
Bottom line: You may have never heard of Ulysses Lee "Junior" Bridgeman until right now despite his 12-year NBA career and the fact he had his number retired by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Bridgeman famously worked at Wendy's part-time during his playing career in order to learn the fast-food restaurant business and retired owning three locations. He founded Bridgeman Foods and Bridgeman Hospitality Group after his retirement and became the second-largest Wendy's franchise owner in the world with over 160 locations, along with 120 Chili's restaurants.
He's also made a mint providing food services for colleges, corporations and sporting venues.
3. Magic Johnson
Born: Aug. 14, 1959 (Lansing, Michigan)
Career: 13 seasons (1978-91, 1996)
Key investments: Magic Johnson Enterprises chairman and CEO, Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner, Los Angeles Sparks co-owner, Los Angeles F.C. co-owner
Net worth: $600 million
Bottom line: Hall of Fame point guard Magic Johnson has legendary business acumen, and it made him a fortune that far surpassed his basketball earnings despite having been the highest-paid player in the NBA for much of his career.
Johnson's investment empire is headed by Magic Johnson Enterprises and made money hand over fist in the 1990s by bringing franchises like Starbucks and AMC Theatres to Black and minority neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
MJE, which was founded in 1987, is now worth an estimated $1 billion and includes his holdings as a co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are worth an estimated $3.4 billion.
2. Roger Staubach
Born: Feb. 5, 1942 (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Career: 11 seasons (1969-79)
Key investments: Staubach Company (real estate holdings)
Net worth: $600 million
Bottom line: Roger Staubach only played 11 seasons in the NFL — a much shorter career than most star quarterbacks because of his four-year commitment to serve in the U.S. Navy after he graduated from the Naval Academy.
Money wasn't great in the NFL during that time, either, and Staubach spent several years working for a Dallas-area real estate company in the offseason before he opened his own firm, The Staubach Company, in 1977.
The company boomed in the 1990s and 2000s, when it expanded to 50 offices and around 1,000 employees. Staubach sold the company for a whopping $640 million in 2008.
1. Michael Jordan
Born: Feb. 17, 1963 (Brooklyn, New York)
Career: 14 seasons (1984-93, 1995-98, 2001-03)
Key investments: Jordan Brand, Charlotte Hornets majority owner
Net worth: $2.2 billion
Bottom line: Michael Jordan is the only athlete who makes it impossible to separate his endorsements from his investments. Nike essentially built its entire brand on Jordan's name and spun it off into its own division, Jordan Brand, in 1997.
Jordan Brand reportedly earns Nike $3 billion to $4 billion per year and still might not be the best investment the six-time NBA champion has made. He paid $175 million to become majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets in 2010, and today the team is worth an estimated $1.5 billion.
Even more incredible about Jordan's $2.2 billion net worth? He paid ex-wife Juanita Jordan around $170 million in their 2006 divorce settlement.
Related:Famous Athletes Who Achieved Greatness Outside Sports