11:41 PM ET
Tory BarronESPN Editor
- Tory Barron is a Bristol-based writer and editor for ESPN.com. After retiring from playing lacrosse at UConn, the DC native decided to try her hand at writing about people playing sports.
Wayne Gretzky is a big lacrosse guy. Huh? Yep, you read that right. The Great One may have made his name on the ice, but before Gretzky was the pride of the Edmonton Oilers he was a bonafide lax bro.
“The national sport of Canada is box lacrosse,” Gretzky said. “I started playing lacrosse on a team at the age of six and played all the way until I was 16 years old. I have a great love for the game in the sense I really think that box lacrosse was such a crucial part of the success I ultimately had in ice hockey.”
Because of this, it shouldn’t be completely surprising that the hockey legend is linking up with his rumored soon-to-be son-in-law and 2020 Masters champion Dustin Johnson, NBA Hall of Famer and current Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash and Nets owner Joe Tsai, as part of a star-studded ownership group for the National Lacrosse League’s newest expansion team in Las Vegas, Nevada.
— NHL (@NHL) June 21, 2021
But as for why droves of other athletes past and present are trying their hand at ownership — especially in sports other than their own — Gretzky is unsure.
“I don’t know. At the end of the day, ultimately, athletes love sports,” Gretzky said. “Not only do they enjoy and respect the players they play with and against in their own sport, they love watching other sports and they have a great deal of respect for the athletes that do participate in other leagues.”
Gretzky, Johnson and Nash’s foray into lacrosse felt like as good an excuse as any to take a look at the burgeoning trend of professional athletes joining the ownership ranks. Rather than attempting to compile a complete list and risking swift social media backlash when I inevitably left someone out, here are 20 former and current stars who have made the move:
Dwyane Wade — Utah Jazz
I’m not going to lie, seeing Dwyane Wade support any team other than the Miami Heat is decidedly jarring. But I can’t knock him for his business savvy. In April, the three-time NBA champion purchased an ownership stake in the Utah Jazz, joining majority owner and team governor Ryan Smith, and expressed a desire to take an active role in the franchise. D. Wade made good on his promise. He could be seen courtside throughout the season; he took action when an unsettling fan incident went down during the postseason, and he became a mentor to Jazz star Donovan Mitchell.
Renee Montgomery — Atlanta Dream
Former Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery made history in February as part of a three-member investor group that was approved to purchase the team. Montgomery is the first former player to become both an owner and executive of a WNBA franchise. The ownership change followed pressure on former Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler to sell her share of the Dream, after she angered WNBA players with her opposition to the league’s racial justice initiatives.
Patrick Mahomes — Kansas City Royals
Patrick Mahomes is no stranger to winning. While the Kansas City Royals can’t exactly say the same, you can’t rule out that the quarterback’s winning ways might rub off on the franchise now that he is part of their ownership group. If Mahomes’ status as an icon in Kansas City was in question (it wasn’t), this move surely cemented it. Becoming a baseball owner made sense on several levels for the Chiefs’ QB1. Not only was Mahomes — who played baseball in college — a legitimate pro prospect, his father, Pat Mahomes, spent 11 seasons in Major League Baseball. He also had to find some way to put that $503 million contract extension to good use.
Venus and Serena Williams — Miami Dolphins, Angel City FC
Winning major titles and making history, that’s what the Williams sisters do. In 2009, Venus and Serena became the first Black female minority owners in the NFL by purchasing a part of the Miami Dolphins. Musicians Jimmy Buffett, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Fergie and Marc Anthony also bought shares in the team — the Dolphins’ ownership group is nothing if not eclectic. Then, last year, Serena Williams became part of the star-studded Angel City FC ownership group bringing a NWSL team to Los Angeles in 2022.
Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Julie Foudy — Angel City FC
When Angel City FC arrived on the scene it did so in style. Before we even knew the Los Angeles based NWSL club’s name, we knew it had superstar backing like no other. Among the 14 former USWNT players who are part of the group are Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Julie Foudy. I would have named Lauren Holiday, Shannon Boxx, Rachel Buehler, Amanda Cromwell, Joy Fawcett, Tisha Venturini Hoch, Angela Hucles, Shannon MacMillan, Saskia Webber and sisters Lorrie Fair Allen and Ronnie Fair Sullins, but I was really trying to stay true to my whole “I’m only going to name 20 athletes” thing from the intro. There are also a bunch of celebrities in the mix, but we don’t have that kind of time.
Derek Jeter — Miami Marlins
Remember what a big deal it was when Derek Jeter became an owner of the Miami Marlins? Yeah, me too. In 2017, The Captain’s group closed on its purchase of the Marlins. Major league owners unanimously approved the $1.2 billion sale of the franchise by Jeffrey Loria to the investment group led by Jeter and controlling owner Bruce Sherman, on the back of the team’s eighth consecutive losing season. Have things gone as well for Jeter in Miami as they did in New York? To put it mildly, no.
Michael Jordan — Charlotte Hornets
While we’re on the subject of owners who haven’t had the type of success we grew accustomed to in their playing days, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the GOAT. In 2010, Michael Jordan became the first ex-player to be a majority owner in the league when the NBA’s Board of Governors unanimously approved his $275 million bid to buy the then Charlotte Bobcats in his home state of North Carolina. After a decade of underwhelming years, things look to be on the up for the now Hornets with Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball providing a long-awaited spark in the organization. Never forget when his dad said he could beat MJ 1-on-1 … good times.
Shaquille O’Neal — Sacramento Kings
Ah, yes, the Shaqramento Kings. In 2013, Shaquille O’Neal bought a small stake in the Sacramento Kings. It was an interesting NBA plot twist after the Los Angeles Lakers legend had been, for lack of a better term, a menace to the Kings and their great teams of his era, blocking them from reaching the NBA Finals and creating animosity with the Sacramento fan base. But majority owner Vivek Ranadive insisted there was nothing but love for the big man. You know what they say, if you can’t beat ’em, recruit ’em to own part of your franchise … or something like that.
Alex Rodriguez — Minnesota Timberwolves, Minnesota Lynx
I don’t know what part of this purchase feels less ideal to me, that Alex Rodriguez and his 50-50 business partner Marc Lore are only pursuing acquiring the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx after their original plan to buy the New York Mets failed or that Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards had no idea who former MLB star A-Rod was. Either way, the $1.5 billion deal is expected to close around July 1.
David Beckham — Inter Miami
David Beckham, iconic soccer player and remains-to-be-seen owner. Beckham — who is incredibly hands on with the franchise — is part of an ownership group which was initially called Miami Beckham United, but now operates under the name Miami Freedom Park LLC. Beckham and Inter Miami have seemingly been riddled with controversy since the club’s inception in 2018. But all those problems could be a thing of the past if Lionel Messi decides to head to MLS. Hey, stranger things have happened.
LeBron James — Liverpool
Back in 2011, LeBron James and manager Maverick Carter became minority owners of Premier League club Liverpool after Fenway Sports Group, which purchased the team in 2010, became the sole marketer of James’ global rights. The deal has turned out to be pretty lucrative for James — his original stake in the club, valued at about $6.5 million, had grown to about $32 million as of 2018. In 2019, Liverpool won the Premier League for their first top-flight league title in thirty years.
Kevin Durant — Philadelphia Union
In June 2020, Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant purchased a 5% stake in MLS’ Philadelphia Union, and has an option to purchase an additional 5% at a later date. Durant had also engaged in talks about purchasing part of D.C. United the year prior, but said the discussion never progressed.
James Harden — Houston Dynamo, Houston Dash
James Harden might not be in Houston anymore, but the former Rockets superstar’s presence is still felt in the city. The Beard purchased a 5% stake in the group that controls MLS’ Houston Dynamo and NWSL’s Houston Dash in 2019. Boxer Oscar De La Hoya is also part of the group. The Dash won their first NWSL title last year, so he’s probably feeling pretty good about that investment.
Russell Wilson and Ken Griffey Jr. — Seattle Sounders
What do Russell Wilson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Macklemore have in common? They are all part of the Seattle Sounders’ ownership group. Wilson, along with his wife, musician Ciara, purchased a stake in the team in 2019 — just in time for them to win an MLS Cup title. Griffey Jr. and his family followed suit in November, 2020.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic — Hammaraby
Seemingly everything Zlatan does makes people react intensely, and that remained true when he purchased part of Swedish team Hammaraby back in 2019. Fans of Malmo, another Swedish team where Zlatan started his professional career, reacted by vandalizing a statue of Zlatan outside the team’s home stadium, placing a toilet seat around one of its arms.
Magic Johnson — Los Angeles Dodgers
Big LA guy. In 2012, Lakers great Magic Johnson was part of a group that bought the Los Angeles Dodgers from Frank McCourt for a record $2 billion. At the time, the price shattered the mark for a sports franchise. Magic kept it real at the time of purchase when explaining his role in recruiting free agents, saying that while he can’t talk hitting or pitching with players, he “can talk winning.” If recent history is any indication (in case you blacked out all of 2020 — the Dodgers won the World Series), it worked.