A Second Wind
Every professional athlete faces retirement. But after these four bowed out, they found success in new careers, applying the same talent and work ethic that made them sports stars.
From the Print Edition:
Michael Jordan, July/August 2005
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But even as the owner and CEO of a company heading toward $1 billion in revenue, Bing still comes to work every day. He estimates he knows close to half of his employees on sight, at least by first name.
His office is filled with basketball memorabilia. Yet he insists his life's vocation has been steel, not basketball. "I've done more in my second career for people than I ever could have done in my first," he says. "People depend on me for their income. Playing basketball made people happy, but that was temporary. Now I've had people work for me for 20 years. I'm responsible for people having a nice car, a nice home, helping their kids get an education. I've got quite a few people—maybe more than I'd like—who are earning six figures from me."
His local fame as a businessman has come to transcend that as a player, which he perceives as pure positive. There are enough black role models who are athletes and entertainers. "Kids come see me, they think, 'Here's a black guy, he came from an inner-city environment, he had a public school education. Yes, sports helped him, but this is something we can do, too.' " He has spent time through the years with Detroit-area schoolboys who went on to the NBA, advising Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Derrick Coleman, Steve Smith and others on how to keep a level head. Yet he did it as Dave Bing the steel magnate, not Dave Bing the shooting guard. "They hardly knew that I played," he says.
Now he sees the money some of them are earning and considers it both a curse and an opportunity. It will be too easy, he believes, for an athlete to put his money in the bank and live off the interest. "Any of us who aspire to be successful in life, the barometer is always money," he says. "But when you have a lot of money, it takes a certain kind of individual to say, 'Now what to do with it? Is it just for me and my family? Or can I mushroom it into something larger?' "
If several of today's NBA stars would combine their resources, "they'd be surprised with what they could accomplish," Bing says. "Parlay what you have, take it to the next level, without risking your lifestyle. Learn how to leverage. You could make a real difference in the community. Most of these players are from urban America, and—well, you take the city of Detroit, it's on its knees. We've probably got ten guys who came out of the Detroit public school system who are playing in the NBA. They could make a major impact."
Bing is the model. For his latest project, he's physically changing the face of the streets around his factory, which sits in one of Detroit's most desperate neighborhoods. He's filling lots with homes that sell for as much as $200,000. A bus driver for the city bought one, a schoolteacher bought another, a retiree moved in, so did one of his employees. More houses are going on the market every few months. Part of it is self-motivation: if the neighborhood can be resurrected, the value of Bing's 30 acres of commercial real estate will skyrocket. But beyond that, he knows that only entrepreneurship can fill vacant lots with houses. Someone has to go first, take a chance on an area, put money in with the hope of getting money out. "If this neighborhood is going to come back, if this city is going to come back, we need a middle class," he says.
He pilots his car through the streets, past crumbling homes and burned-out businesses, then back through the gates of his factory. He didn't have a billion-dollar business in mind when he started Bing Steel in 1980, he'll be the first to acknowledge, but he did have a vision of future success, a life beyond athletics. The lesson he'd like to leave behind is, sometimes that's all it takes. v
Bruce Schoenfeld often writes about wine and sports for Cigar Aficionado and recently authored The Match: Althea Gibson & Angela Buxton (HarperCollins).
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