With a net worth of $420 million, former NBA baller Vinnie Johnson reportedly is the fifth-richest basketball player in history. His expansive portfolio was not amassed by slick endorsement deals or joint ventures, but by starting a blue-collar business that brought in tons of green.
In 1992, Johnson retired from the league after dedicating 13 years to the Seattle Sonics and the Detroit Pistons, with him culminating his career with the San Antonio Spurs. In that time, he earned $6 million.
While many might say that was a great nest egg for him to kick back and relax with, Johnson’s natural hustle, which for years he displayed on the court, would not let him rest.
As a professional athlete, specifically during his double championship seasons with the Pistons, he was known as “The Microwave.” The team could bank on him as a sixth man, coming off the bench and popping off quickly, helping them secure clutch wins. As a retiree and like others had done in the past, he banked on himself.
At first, he started a construction company. This unsuccessful venture went under after one project. He did not give up. Since the then-35-year-old was still in Motor City, he started to look at the automotive industry. His next effort would be to make packaging supplies and more for automakers and corner the very unsexy market, Celebrity Net Worth reports.
Around 1995, he invested his career savings into a new business called the Piston Group and Piston Automotive.
According to its website, “Piston Group is a private investment platform founded by industry magnate and NBA champion Vinnie Johnson, to build value by creating, operating, and growing world-class manufacturing and design companies.”
The former college All-Star and Brooklyn native stands secure as the CEO and chairman of the successful company.
In less than 30 years, the company moved from a $50,000 to a $3 billion company and has grown Johnson’s personal wealth about 70 times over. However, the business growth had very little to do with the athlete’s celebrity, but his prowess as a businessman, according to MSN.
When he started the companies, his goal was to spark economic vitality, jobs and opportunity.
The Piston Group, which is the umbrella company for Piston Automotive, Irvin Products, Detroit Thermal Systems, and A.Lava, currently employs 11,000 across the country.
With Piston Automotive, his first effort, he swiftly achieved that goal by becoming a parts supplier to major international automotive companies like Ford Motor Company and General Motors.
In addition to supplying parts for two of the biggest car manufacturers in America, he also expanded the reach of the company from its first facility in Detroit to other locations in the Midwest. The company currently has shops set up in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky.
The company also has several joint ventures with industry-leading firms such as Lear Corporation, Continental Teves and Sachs Automotive.
His biggest joint venture or partnership came from linking with Harold Kutner, General Motors’ vice president of Global Purchasing, after reading he was interested in working with local businesses in Detroit — businesses with the goal of creating jobs and opportunities for the city. Stakeholders such as General Motors placed an intentional effort to continue lowering the unemployment rate, which at the time was 5.3 percent, a substantial decline from just three to four years prior.
Johnson called Kutner and encouraged him to make the move from packaging to auto supplies. This was a game-changer.
GM did more than just give over a contract; the powerhouse brand sent in a consultant to groom him as an executive.
By the end of 1996, the company hit its first $1 million in gross revenue. In less than 15 years, the company hit $326 million. By 2015, the company cracked its billion-dollar mark.
In 2021, the Piston Group reached $2.9 billion in annual revenue.
Because of the success of the Piston Group, Johnson is one of the richest basketball players in the history of the NBA, lower than only Junior Bridgeman, Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Michael Jordan.