Why NBA legend Dave Bing worked during the offseason to build a multi-million business empire

BY Preta Peace Namasaba April 4, 2024 7:43 AM EDT
Dave Bing. Photo credit: Public Domain

Most people know Dave Bing as the NBA Hall of Famer turned mayor of Detroit. What many do not know is that he is an astute businessman who leveraged the skills he learned from playing basketball into a thriving business. Anticipating life beyond the court, Bing held several jobs in the banking and automotive industry during the offseason. This experience would be vital in building Bing Steel, a manufacturing firm with revenues north of $300 million.

This is how Dave Bing became the “Man of Steel”.

“Most athletes retire as young men and have a full life ahead of them to be productive. But too many–because that`s what these agents and coaches have led them to believe–think that, because of their athletic skills, they`ll just walk through life. That`s not the way the real world works. As a responsible adult, you need to be preparing yourself for a second career. If you`re not productive, nine times out of 10 you`re going to get in some trouble,” Bing explained why he worked during the offseason to prepare for life beyond basketball.

Growing up, Bing never envisioned a basketball career. He wanted to be a businessman and started working with his father, a contractor, at age 11. The shy young Bing turned out to be a fine basketball talent on the playgrounds, going on to become a high school All-American player and receiving a scholarship to Syracuse. Bing turned around the fate of the basketball team which had lost 29 games in a row before he arrived. He had wanted to enter the business administration program but the school officials discouraged him because they thought it would be too difficult. Instead, he majored in economics and graduated on time despite playing basketball, getting married and becoming a father of two children while he was an undergraduate.

The Detroit Pistons chose Bing as the number two pick in the 1966 NBA draft. At age 22 with an NBA contract worth $15,000, the National Bank of Detroit turned down Dave Bing’s mortgage to finance a home. He decided to work at the bank during the offseason, holding jobs in the teller, customer relations, and mortgage departments. Instead of taking summers off like most of his teammates, he worked every offseason during his basketball career to develop skills for when he retired. Bing also spent two offseasons in a training program for car dealers run by Chrysler Corporation.

Although he valued the work experience, he discovered that he did not want either of those careers.

When Bing retired in 1978, Paragon Steel, a steel company, asked him to come aboard as a public relations person who would talk about basketball. He did not like the idea. Paragon then came up with another offer: real industrial training. Bing negotiated his financial deal with Paragon for $35,000 which was a steep drop from the $250,000 he made in his final year in the NBA. At that time, his main objective was to acquire job experience and he was not concerned about the money. He worked at the company for two years before deciding to attempt entrepreneurship.

“A dummy, a masochist, that`s what people were saying. Not only that, but black folks have that stigma hung on them that we`re not too intelligent and can`t handle high finance. Plus, I was an athlete . . . you know, stupid, lazy, spoiled. A double negative,” Bing said about how his  about his decision to start a company was met with derision and criticism.

Bing established Bing Steel in 1980 with close to $100,000 of his own money. The celebrity status he had earned from his basketball career partly helped him to get $250,000 in credit. He rented a warehouse and began working out of a rented office with a staff of four employees. He then purchased an abandoned factory, acquired the necessary equipment, and became his own steel processor – cutting, shaping, and bending raw steel to various specifications.

Unfortunately, Bing had gone into business at a time when the steel and automotive industry was going through a major depression. He lost $90,000 of his initial $150,000 investment in his first year in business. Although he was scared to lose most of the money he had saved from his basketball career, he never thought of quitting. Bing overcame the hurdles and gradually increased the company’s standing, partly through lucrative deals with Detroit’s automakers and a $4.3 million issue by the Detroit Economic Development Corp. By 1985, Bing Steel had 63 employees and generated $40 million in profits.

Bing Steel was eventually absorbed into the multifaceted Bing Group, divided into Bing Metals Group and Bing Assembly Systems. The company had revenues north of $500 million in 2005. In 2007, Bing sold the company as he took on the next chapter of his life – becoming the 74th mayor of Detroit, Michigan.

“The mistake most of us make is that we think we’re going to play forever. Very few guys, I think, prepare for a second career. The lifestyle we lead, the position that the public puts us in as a successful athlete, makes us think we’re invincible, that we’re going to be able to go on forever. A lot of the guys in my era had to work, post-career, because we didn’t make enough money to carry us for the rest of our lives. So we had to learn a different skill,” Bing said about how he had to see beyond the successful athlete archetype to succeed in business.