The NBA Afterlife: When Former Ballers Quit the Hoops Life

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2013

The NBA Afterlife: When Former Ballers Quit the Hoops Life

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    You know the "Where Are They Now?" series about young Hollywood stars who seem to vanish into thin air?

    Consider this the NBA version of that.

    Some former basketball legends like Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson continue to be deeply involved with the game today. Those aren't the types of guys we'll be profiling here.

    Instead, we'll be looking at players who completely removed themselves from the hoops world after retiring from the NBA.

    Within five years after retirement, an estimated 60 percent of NBA players go broke, according to Sports Illustrated. To reflect that reality, we'll highlight an assortment of guys here: both those who found success after leaving the NBA and those who stumbled.

    In no means is this a comprehensive list of every NBA retiree over the past few decades. If your favorite ex-NBA player isn't mentioned here, feel free to add your suggestions to the comments section below.

    Note: Players are organized in chronological order based on retirement year.

Bill Bradley

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    Retirement Year: 1977

    Let's start with Bill Bradley, the 1965 NCAA AP Player of the Year. After being drafted by the New York Knicks as a territorial pick in the 1965 draft, Bradley pushed off his professional career for two years to study politics at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship.

    While at Oxford, Bradley helped Olimpia Milano win the European Champions Cup in 1965-66, according to He finally joined the Knicks in December 1967 and won two NBA championships during his 10-year career in New York.

    His interest in politics hadn't waned during his time as a professional basketball player, though. Upon retiring from the league in 1977, Bradley decided to run for a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey.

    The former Knick won his Senate election in 1978, then was re-elected in 1984 and 1990. He helped anchor a rewrite of the federal tax code in 1986, which will likely go down as his major claim to fame during his time as a senator.

    Bradley also unsuccessfully campaigned for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination, going head-to-head with Al Gore. He withdrew his campaign in March 2000 and unofficially left the world of politics.

    Since retiring from the league, in addition to his political career, Bradley authored six books. He currently serves as the managing director of Allen & Company LLC and is a member of the Starbucks Company's board of directors, according to his personal website.  

Junior Bridgeman

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    Retirement Year: 1987

    Junior Bridgeman, the No. 8 pick in the 1975 NBA draft, was acquired by the Milwaukee Bucks in a draft-night trade that sent Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Los Angeles Lakers. Oops.

    Bridgeman continues to hold the Milwaukee Bucks' record for most games ever played (711), although he only started in 105 of those games. The franchise retired his jersey in 1988, one year after he retired.

    Since leaving the hoops life, Bridgeman took his talents to the restaurant business.

    His company, Bridgeman Foods LLC, runs just shy of 200 Wendy's franchises across the country, according to the St. Louis Business Journal. In the summer of 2013, he and Chauncey Billups bought all 30 Wendy's restaurants in the St. Louis area, the paper reported, which helped solidify Bridgeman's place as Wendy's second-largest franchisee.

    He's not only limited to Wendy's restaurants, though. According to a November 2010 Franchise Times article, Bridgeman Foods LLC also runs over 120 Chili's restaurants throughout the United States.

    As of 2010, Bridgeman's company generated over $500 million in revenue, the Franchise Times reported.

Kevin Johnson

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    Retirement Year: 2000

    Bill Bradley isn't the only former NBA player who parlayed his professional basketball experience into a career in politics.

    Kevin Johnson, the No. 7 overall pick in the 1987 draft, spent most of his 12-year NBA career with the Phoenix Suns. He was named the league's Most Improved Player in 1989 and made three All-Star appearances in 1990, '91 and '94.

    During his time in the NBA, Johnson founded St. HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Excellence), a nonprofit educational organization in Oak Park, California. Johnson served as St. HOPE's chief executive officer until January 2008, when he decided to run for mayor of Sacramento.

    Johnson won the election in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012, becoming the first native Sacramentan and first African American to serve as the mayor, according to his biography on the city's website. He's continued to put a premium on education while in office, as evidenced by the Stand UP, Sacramento Reads! and City-Schools Collaborative initiatives he's launched.

    Sacramento Kings fans, in particular, owe Johnson their undying gratitude. He proved integral in the city's push to retain the Kings, despite resistance from the team's owners (the Maloof family) and a group of investors aiming to relocate the team to Seattle.

    "I called in everybody I knew to help," the mayor said to the Sacramento Bee. "I couldn't let the cement harden in Seattle."

Chris Dudley

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    Retirement Year: 2003

    Chris Dudley, the 75th overall pick in the 1987 NBA draft, carved out a rather unremarkable 16-year career as a journeyman center who played for five different teams.

    With career averages of 3.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, it's safe to say that he won't be making it into the Basketball Hall of Fame anytime soon.

    Like Bill Bradley and Kevin Johnson before him, he decided to pursue politics after retiring from the NBA in 2003.

    He won the Republican nomination for Oregon governor in the 2010 primaries, but fell one percentage point shy of beating former governor John Kitzhaber in the November general election, according to The Register-Guard.

    Dudley decided to uproot his family to the San Diego area in 2012, according to The Oregonian, after deciding that he'd put his political aspirations to rest.

    The former NBA big man, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 16, also founded the Chris Dudley Foundation for children with diabetes.

Shawn Kemp

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    Retirement Year: 2003

    All of the players featured here to this point have been relatively successful after wrapping up their NBA careers. Shawn Kemp, on the other hand, struggled with his transition away from the game.

    The Reign Man, who was selected 17th overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1989 draft, was known as one of the league's most ferocious dunkers throughout the 1990s. He finished his career with six All-Star appearances and one trip to the NBA Finals, where he happened to run into the buzz saw known as Michael Jordan and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.

    Upon retiring from the league in 2003, Kemp continued making headlines for all the wrong reasons. He and another man were jailed in April 2005 after police found marijuana and cocaine in a pickup truck owned by one of them.

    It wasn't the first time Kemp had been linked to drug problems, and it wouldn't be the last. He checked himself into a drug rehabilitation facility for cocaine abuse in 2001, according to ESPN, prematurely ending his season with the Portland Trail Blazers.

    His post-NBA life hasn't been all bad news, though. In 2011, he and his wife opened Oskar's Kitchen in Seattle, which he credits for helping him turn his post-NBA life around, according to Sports Illustrated.

    "Let's be honest, I've gone through some things that made me want to stand up a little taller, stand for something bigger, show a different side," he said to SI. "When you make changes in your life, it can be a wonderful thing, you know?"

Jamal Mashburn

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    Retirement Year: 2006

    Jamal Mashburn is one of the rare NBA players whose success off the court matches what he accomplished during his career.

    Mashburn, the No. 4 pick in the 1993 draft, averaged just shy of 20 points per game throughout his 11-year NBA career. He made his one and only All-Star appearance in 2003, but knee problems soon forced him to retire from the league.

    Since hanging up his basketball shoes for good, Mashburn turned his attention to the restaurant business. As of January 2013, his company (Mashburn Enterprises LLC) owned 38 Outback Steakhouse restaurants, 32 Papa John's pizza restaurants and three Dunkin Donuts stores, according to a press release.

    Monster Mash hasn't just limited himself to restaurants, though. He owns five car dealerships in Central Kentucky, according to, and additionally has ownership stake in a company that produces parts for car manufacturers.

    "When I was growing up I always wanted to carry a briefcase, so for me, the NBA was a part of my dream," he told "It was part of the big picture. I always wanted to be a businessman." 

    Earlier this year, Mashburn Enterprises also acquired an undisclosed stake in the Spokane, Washington-based FairBridge Hotels International. Mashburn was named to the FHI Board of Directors effective January 1, 2013, and began serving as the board's senior investment advisor in February, according to a press release.

Vin Baker

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    Retirement Year: 2006

    Vin Baker, the No. 8 pick in the 1993 NBA draft, personifies the ups and downs of the post-NBA life.

    Baker was a four-time All-Star from 1995 to 1998, but the 1998-99 lockout began his downward spiral. He turned to alcohol after poor performances in games, which he described to the Boston Globe as a problem that "compounds and compounds."

    The Boston Celtics cut him during the 2003-04 season because of his alcoholism, and he retired soon thereafter. Following his retirement, he at first appeared destined to be another cautionary tale.

    He was arrested for a DWI in June 2007 after leaving a casino, then had his house foreclosed upon the next year, according to From there, he managed to turn his life around.

    Baker was hired in 2011 as the freshman basketball coach at his alma mater, Old Saybrook High School in Connecticut, according to SLAM. He's currently a student at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, the New York Daily News reported earlier this year, pursuing a master's degree in divinity.

    In his spare time he's been serving as an unpaid volunteer assistant for the Thurgood Marshall Academy basketball team, the Daily News reported.

Jonathan Bender

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    Retirement Year: 2010

    Jonathan Bender, the No. 5 pick in the 1999 NBA draft, only lasted seven years in the league before knee problems forced him into retirement.

    Instead of resting on his laurels, Bender embarked on his next great venture: inventing.

    One day in 2006, when sitting on a park bench in Houston, an idea dawned on him, according to He came up with the idea of a product that acts like an external hamstring, helping take pressure off of a person's knees.

    Bender poured roughly $80,000 into the device, which he called the JB Intensive Trainer, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal. It now sells for $130 on his own website.

    "I don't want [my family] to look at me as a former NBA player who made some money and now my career is over," Bender said to the IBJ. "I want to show them that there are other options to explore their talents and gifts."

    Thanks to the JB Intensive Trainer, Bender made a short-lived comeback to the NBA during the 2009-10 season with the New York Knicks. The team's doctors said Bender had the strongest lower extremities on the team that year, according to the IBJ.