Steve Francis’ entrepreneurial spirit took off early with selling crack on the corner of his crime-infested city at age 10, but he escaped the dingy city for the bright lights and fast fame of the NBA. “It was messed up. I’m not glorifying it I got robbed at gunpoint a million times. I got my ass beat a million times. I saw drive-bys. But honestly, if you ask me what really scared me the most, . . . the drugs. The needles, man. The pipes. The PCP. The people slumped over with that look in their eyes.” A front and center view of the American crack epidemic.
Despite it all, he managed to land a decent NBA career. Drafted second overall in 1999, he was named NBA Rookie of the Year and was a three-time All-Star. His 9-season career was not long enough for Francis. Transitioning out would not be easy, it took a huge emotional toll, compounded by Francis who treated it with heavy drinking. When he pulled it together, he got into several business ventures. Out of his passion for music he launched a hip-hop label called Mazerati Music. It’s difficult for professional athletes, who have already had so much fortune, to strike it big again in the entertainment industry. Likewise, Mazerati Music sits on the shelf. Francis also launched a clothing line called We r One.
Charlie Ward – High School Basketball Coach and Motivational Speaker
This unprecedented athlete was drafted for all three major professional sports leagues! At Florida State he won the Heisman trophy and was later inducted in the 2006 College Football Hall of Fame. Post-college, the NFL, NBA and MLB all clamored for Charlie Ward. He chose the NBA, suiting up with the N.Y. Knicks in 1994. His solid career as a 3-point-wizard point guard lasted 11 years. Ward’s commitment to charity work with groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes earned him NCAA recognition. “His leadership transcended offense, defense and special teams,” Mark Richt, now Miami Hurricanes head football coach, said of Ward. “It transcended the basketball court. The way he goes about his life with such integrity. I’ve learned as much from him as he ever did from me,” Said Richt, Ward’s former Florida State quarterback coach. Ward was presented with the NCAA John Wooden Keys to Life award in 2011.
His inspirational work as a motivational speaker is part of his giving nature, giving back to the community and beyond. Coaching high school kids is another way he provides leadership in the community. Currently, Ward is coaching basketball at Florida High School in Tallahassee. Previously, he coached four seasons of high school football at Booker T. Washington High School.
LaRue Martin – UPS District Affairs and Community Manager
In 1972, LaRue Martin was the number one draft pick of the Portland Trail Blazers and a Loyola University star. His career with the Trail Blazers flatlined, anticlimactically, ending just a few years later in 1976. Immediately, Martin knew he needed to get a real job. Initially taking one with Nike in Portland, he soon found better paying work as a driver for UPS. The company had to custom-make pants to fit his towering height!
Today he will tell you, “There is life after sports. Period.” He also said, once he retired, he had responsibilities, a family to take care of, and so he took the day job at UPS and patiently worked his way up through the UPS corporate chain to become UPS Illinois district public affairs and community services manager. He’s proud of his accomplishments and work ethic. He also enjoys sitting on the board of the National Basketball Retired Players Association.
Evan Eschmeyer - An Attorney
Evan Eschmeyer headed back to Northwestern for a law degree just four years into his NBA career. Starting out at Northwestern, as the best men’s basketball player in the history of Wildcats basketball, Eschmeyer was courted by many pro teams. He went with the Nets in the 1999 NBA draft. Two years later he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Persistent knee problems forced him to make a tough decision. Doctors told him to retire or risk never being able to play basketball with his children. Eschmeyer had to let go of a dream. “Being forced out of the NBA was one of the most difficult things I have ever been through,” Eschmeyer said, “Imagine you take a world-class painter and cut off his hands so he can never paint again. All of a sudden basketball was gone.”
Today, he and his wife and their three children live in Ohio. As a business attorney with a family farm to run, he keeps very busy. Half the time he’s working as an attorney with a renewable energy fellowship for the Environmental Law & Policy Center helping renewable energy entrepreneurs get started. Life after basketball can be sweet too.
Shawn Kemp – Restaurant and Bar Owner
Shawn Kemp blasted into the NBA as a first-round draft pick for the Seattle SuperSonics in 1989. At 19, he was the youngest player in the league. When Gary Payton joined the team, the two dazzled and dominated the court. “Shawn was a freak of nature,” Payton said, “It’s a great feeling as a point guard. I knew anytime he’d say, ‘WOO!’ . . . that’s my sign . . . I could just throw it anywhere and he’d just go and get it.” The Sonics were hot in the mid ‘90s. During Kemp’s tenure he racked up more than 15,000 points for the league. Today the six-time NBA All-Star is worth $5 million. He retired in 2003 with 14 NBA seasons under his belt.
Post-retirement, he has spent his time and energy supporting the city he loves by joining the chorus of sports enthusiasts who are fighting to bring the Seattle SuperSonics back. He also supports the vitality of downtown Seattle with his restaurant and bar investments. The restaurant business is notoriously tough terrain. Kemp took his chances on a sports bar in Lower Queen Anne, Seattle. He called it Oskar’s Kitchen, apparently named after Oskar, Kemp’s pet fish that swam in the bar’s aquarium. Unfortunately, the establishment did not make it, closing in 2015. Today he’s part-owner of a trendy restaurant and lounge called Amber Seattle which marks its chic spot on First Avenue. He also holds investments in several other Seattle ventures.