BEING a famous professional athlete can mean multimillion dollar endorsement deals, a huge salary and instant celebrity status.
Nicknamed “King James,” basketball sensation LeBron James made his pro-debut at the age of 19 and went on to win two NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player awards, two NBA Finals MVP Awards, two Olympic gold medals, an NBA scoring title, and an NBA Rookie of the Year Award.
According to Forbes, James is one of the highest paid athletes in the world with an estimated net worth of US$60mil (RM194mil).
However, with stardom and great wealth comes great temptation. It is not easy to stay on the right path and make the right moves all the time. Many successful athletes have also lost their fortunes due to bad business choices.
Boxer Evander Holyfield was once the undisputed world champion in both the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions, earning him the nickname “The Real Deal.” Together with the world title, endorsement deals started pouring in. Holyfield even appeared in three movies. However, bad life choices caught up with the former champ.
At one point, banks foreclosed on his million-dollar home and he was behind on his court-ordered child support payments. In an interview, the former champ said he “was not broke, just not liquid”.
Meanwhile, Mike Tyson, the man who bit off part of Holyfield’s ear during a title fight, has also suffered major losses after his life spiralled out of control.
Once known as the “Baddest Man on Earth,” Tyson’s fall from grace has been precipitous.
Once worth over US$200mil, Tyson now lives a simple life after struggling to recover from drug and alcohol problems.
Football has also had its fair share for superstars falling from grace. Most notably, former star George Best. With an estimated life earning’s of US$100mil, Best fell so deeply into drink that he eventually needed a liver replacement after he left football behind.
More recently Norwegian John Arne Riise declared bankruptcy in 2007 for unpaid debts despite earnings topping US$75,000 a week while playing for English Premier League club Liverpool.
Thankfully it doesn’t always end in tears. Robbie Fowler, another Liverpool great chose to manage his earnings properly by getting sound advice from experts.
A goal scoring phenomenon, Fowler played for The Reds for 14 years and found the back of the net 183 times.
He was England’s leading striker for many years and even represented his country in the World Cup.
When his football career ended, Fowler continued to jetset across the globe to make appearances and serve as an ambassador for Liverpool Football Club.
Fowler was in Malaysia recently for the opening of his F&B venture Naked Restaurant, in Taman Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur, which he co-owns with KL-based investment expert Marco Robinson.
Fowler said he was fortunate as a player to have an agent who advised him to invest in properties, not only as appreciating assets but also to generate monthly income from rent.
“It wasn’t something I understood at the time, but am very glad now that I followed that advice,” he said. It was that forward thinking that has enabled Fowler to sustain a comfortable life.
“As athletes dedicated to a sport, our education will suffer while we develop other skills or qualification,” he explained.
“As a professional footballer, you have a short career anyway. It’s over by the time you are 30 and then there’s the possibility of injuries taking you out.
“It made me conscious that I needed something solid for a rainy day and as a striker I was always on the look-out for opportunities to score. Property investment opportunities tend to be the same. If you are too slow you miss out, but be smart, find someone who can mentor you through the process and learn from them as it’s a skill,” said Fowler.
Robinson echoes Fowler’s comments. “It is different for an athlete as he or she has a very short career in terms of competing at the highest level.”
“If you take the case of a Premier League football player, those high weekly wages stop by the time you reach 35. That means the athlete will have to generate income in other ways to live the same lifestyle, or drop their standard of living considerably. If the athlete has not invested wisely, they will have to keep working and working just to survive as their wages shrink significantly or even stop,” Robinson said.
“Financial freedom and investing to secure an income or multiple streams of income are essential. Some athletes are so bad at doing this, they go back into the job market,” he added.
Just as they have a coach to improve their performance in their sport, athletes should also get themselves a solid financial coach to help them protect their career and their lives after their career, Robinson advises.
In Malaysia, it is common to see retired athletes getting back into the sport to make ends meet, but this does not mean they are not business savvy.
Former badminton ace Wong Choong Hann always had a love for flowers before the sport took centre stage in his life.
After he retired, the former Olympian opened a business supplying flowers. Other local athletes could do worse than follow in the footsteps of Fowler and Wong.