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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.
Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
Michael Jordan, July/August 2005

"It was only after he had sped over the goal line and slowed to a trot that he saw the boy and girl sitting together on the turf, looking at him wonderingly. He stopped short, dropping his arms. "I…" he said, gasping a little though his condition was fine and the run hadn't winded him. "I…Once I played here."—Irwin Shaw, The Eighty-Yard Run

Our fantasies have made it the ideal existence, a dream made real beneath the bright lights. Imagine a decade or more spent playing professional sports at the highest level. A city cheering, America knowing your name, money and adulation everywhere you turn. "There are few people in this country who wouldn't trade places with me, right now, for the life I've lived," says National Football League Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent. But when the career of a professional athlete ends, half a lifespan and more usually remains. What kind of life will it be? Nothing most of these former heroes will ever accomplish will compare to that last-second shot, that clutch hit or that 80-yard run. Not in the minds of others. And, all too often, not in their own minds.

Some are content to spend the years signing autographs at card shows, commentating on television or trading on their names and glories even as their achievements fade. Or they live off investments, stay out of the public eye and golf in the sunshine. Others accept new challenges and start again. They take the same ambition and competitive drive that led to Super Bowl stardom and World Series rings and carry them over into life after sports. "All those lessons learned as an athlete were transferrable," says National Basketball Association Hall of Famer Dave Bing. "I just had to find a way to transfer them."

A few former athletes even manage to become better known for their second—or even third—careers than they were for their first. Will history remember Arnold Schwarzenegger the competitive bodybuilder, or the action hero, or the California governor? Byron White the football star, or the Supreme Court justice?

Here are four sports achievers—three Hall of Famers and a world heavyweight champion—who created second acts for themselves after the cheering stopped.

Larry Holmes
Former heavyweight champion/Real estate investor

"I didn't get into boxing because I wanted to become heavyweight champion of the world," Larry Holmes says. He sits in his office at his Easton, Pennsylvania, business compound, nibbling at a fast-food french fry and waiting for the surprise to register. "I didn't get into boxing because I wanted to beat people up. I got into boxing to make money."

The walls around Holmes are covered with souvenirs of a career that included victories over Muhammad Ali, Leon Spinks and Ken Norton, and 20 successful defenses of the world heavyweight championship during his seven-year reign, history's second longest. But the real souvenirs, the ones that matter to Holmes, were real-estate investments spread throughout his hometown of Easton, located an hour's drive north of Philadelphia, just west of the New Jersey border.

The most noticeable among them is this two-building complex overlooking a waterfall at the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers, the most picturesque spot in a downtrodden town. Holmes has his headquarters, a five-story office tower with rent-paying tenants, and his restaurant there. At one point, he was rumored to have owned half of Easton. "You came in on I-78?" he asks. "I used to own that land. I bought 35 acres for $75,000. Then the highway came through. Sold it for about three million."

Now 55, Holmes is beyond comfortable. He lives in a $2 million house in Easton with an indoor pool and an outdoor pool, "a gazebo and a cabana and steam rooms and saunas and everything else," that he bought as another $75,000 investment in the late 1970s, right about the time he whipped Norton to win the WBC heavyweight championship. For each fight that followed, he helped motivate himself by earmarking the cash he would earn for a specific purpose. Occasionally it was a reward—a new car or diamonds for his wife—but often it was an investment for the future.


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