What is Kevin Willis doing these days?


kevin-willisRetirement terrifies sports stars. The end of a glittering career can feel like falling off a cliff to an athlete who thrives on fame and fortune. And the longer the career, the harder the end game seems to be.

Kevin Willis played professionally much longer than most others in his sport. His career with the NBA stretched into his 40s. But he still didn’t want to retire.

“If it wasn’t for the simple fact that I’m older, I would (still) be playing,” he said. He finally stopped because he says he didn’t want to wear out his welcome.

Willis spent half of his prolific career playing for the Atlanta Hawks. The president of the team, Bob Williams, acknowledged that most NBA athletes don’t want their playing days to end.

“It’s hard to give up the adrenaline rush,” he said. He noted that Willis is exceptional in carefully orchestrating his next step after the NBA, and other players could follow suit.

“He’s leading by example,” Williams said.

Willis already had a post-NBA pursuit lined up when he stopped playing for good five years ago. He started a clothing brand, Willis and Walker, back in 1988. It caters to men who are 6-foot-3 inches and taller, a demographic the 7-footer understands very well.

Speaking from his boutique in Atlanta, he told CNN: “The relationships that I built over those 21 years from basketball, I tapped into … to help me build this.” His clients include former and present professional athletes.

Having two decades worth of NBA earnings helps Willis to finance the endeavor. He says he has poured more than $1 million of his own money into the brand.

Willis turned 50 this year, but he can still carry his weight — and then some. He says he can still bench press 315 pounds, just as he did when he played professionally. But now, instead of lifting one set of that weight, he completes five sets of five or six repetitions.

“And how did that happen?” he said. “I don’t know, man. It’s just in the genetics, I guess.”

Without the rigors of the NBA game schedule, Willis has more time to train — and to reflect on his recent milestone birthday.

“That’s a lot of life,” he said of turning 50. “And I’m always thankful for a lot of stuff, but when you reach that milestone, it’s like: ‘Wow!'”

Willis played in 1424 NBA games (891 started), averaging 12.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg in 26.9 minutes on the court.

Throughout his career, Willi played for Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggers, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks.

He was selected to the NBA All-Star game in 1992, and won the NBA championship with San Antonio in 2003.

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