By Luke Stenis
Ever wondered what your favorite professional athletes do after they retire?
Considering the average retirement age of an athlete from their sport is 33 -- and 28 for the NFL -- there is still a lot of life to live after the spotlight is removed.
While many retired athletes go on to excel in other career fields, a few buy back into the fraternal order of professional sports, investing in franchises they either played for or admired over the years.
The star athletes on this list all have one thing in common: They all own a percentage of a professional sports franchise. Whether it's a minority share or significant ownership, these athletes have taken their wealth and invested it into what they love: Professional sports.
Oscar De La Hoya has 10 world titles under his belt in six different weight classes. He won the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympic Games not long after graduating high school and has earned a record $696 million in pay-per-view income throughout his career. His promotional firm's parent company, Golden Boy Enterprises, owns a 25 percent stake in the Major League Soccer team Houston Dynamo.
In his heyday, Dave Whelan was a professional soccer player with the English Premier League (think NFL of British soccer) Blackburn Rovers from 1956-1960, where he was a member of their 1960 FA Cup Final team. In 1977, after his career on the pitch ended, Whelan bought Wigan fishing and sports store JJ Bradburns, building the franchise into the UK's second biggest sports retailer.
Whelan bought Wigan Athletic English football team in February 1995, when they were a Division Three team. When Whelan took the reins, he promised to get Wigan into the Premier League. A decade later in 2005, Whelan fulfilled his promise and Wigan now competes with the best in English football.
The man who took his talents to Miami last summer has now taken his checkbook to England -- Liverpool, England to be exact. Miami Heat superstar LeBron James recently bought a minority stake in the legendary Liverpool Football Club (FC) from its club owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG).
Liverpool FC is one of the most popular and powerful sports franchises in the world, with 18 championships at the top level of English football and five European Cup trophies. The deal between James' sports-marketing firm, LRMR Branding & Marketing, and FSG signifies the first time a professional athlete at the top of his game has gained ownership stake in a professional team of this international magnitude -- the size, reach and power of Liverpool FC is matched by only a select few.
Pro Football Hall of Famer John Elway is well known for his late-game comebacks, sidearm style and amazing arm strength, but very few people know that shortly after his retirement, Elway became the co-owner of the Arena Football League team Colorado Crush in 2002. The league suspended operations in 2009, but have recently rejuvenated the league. Elway is looking to revamp the team for the 2012 season.
[Not only is John Elway the owner of a sports franchise, he's also the proud owner of two steakhouse restuarants. See more Star Athletes Making a Second Fortune With Savvy Investments link.]
Due to poor management throughout the 1990's, the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins were on the brink of financial ruin at the end of the decade, going so far as to request prominent players to defer their salaries. The Penguins eventually declared bankruptcy in 1998, and it looked like the franchise would be forced to fold altogether. This is when Lemieux stepped in with an interesting proposal.
As one of the team's largest creditors -- with nearly $30 million owed in deferred salaries -- Lemieux offered to convert his back pay into equity and, in turn, acquire the team with the promise of paying back in full each of its creditors.
The NHL's Board of Governors agreed to this proposal, and by 2005 the Penguins were clear of their debt, thanks to Lemieux. He is the only player to work for a team as both a player and an owner, assuming the roles of chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of the Penguins in 1999 when he became the principal owner of the bankrupt franchise.
By 2009, the Penguins were back on top with a Stanley Cup win to mark their return. Lemieux led the Pittsburgh Penguins to two Stanley Cup wins as a player, and again as the team owner in 2009.
The Williams sisters are retired yet but are approaching the back end of their career after wreaking havoc throughout the female tennis world, winning more major titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles combined than any other tennis duo, male or female.
In August 2009, Serena and Venus Williams became part-owners of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, joining the ranks of other prominent owners including Jimmy Buffett, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. This made the Williams sisters (pictured with Dolphins Hall of Fame QBs Bob Griese and Dan Marino) the first African-American females to obtain ownership in an NFL franchise.
From 2002-2007, All-Pro running back Warrick Dunn shined on the football field for the Atlanta Falcons. But it didn't take long after ending his career to start living a life as an NFL owner. On Dec. 17, 2009, the three-time pro bowler became a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons, buying an undisclosed amount of the proverbial pie from majority owner, Arthur Blank (pictured with Dunn).
During his career with the Chicago Bulls, Michael "Air" Jordan was the most decorated player to ever play in the NBA (six world championships, six Finals MVPs, five regular-season MVPs, etc).
Once Jordan finally left the court for good, he made his way up to the front office of an NBA franchise, acquiring the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010 for $275 million and becoming the majority owner of a struggling expansion team. If Jordan brings the same level of game to ownership as he did to the court, the Bobcats could be very competitive in the future, but only history will tell.
Nicknamed "The Ryan Express," Nolan Ryan is a Hall-of-Fame pitcher who could "bring the heat" during his career. He retired in 1993 with MLB records for career strikeouts (5,714) and no-hitters (7), and is considered one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game.
Ryan's passion for the game couldn't keep him away from the diamond after retirement for very long. On Jan. 22, 2010, the Texas Rangers were officially sold to a group called the Rangers Baseball Express, headed by Ryan, for approximately $570 million. Ryan is currently the principal owner, president and CEO of the Texas Rangers.
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