Travis Kelce has made more than $70 million throughout his career in the National Football League, but he still remembers how he spent his first paycheck.
“I had my eyes on a pair of size 13 Nike Air MAG ‘Marty McFlys’ — the coolest shoes that I’d ever seen in my life,” Kelce said in his weekly “New Heights” podcast in May. “As soon as I got my check, I immediately went online and sourced them.”
Kelce says he spent around $10,000 on the limited-edition sneaker, which are replicas of the futuristic shoes Michael J. Fox wore in “Back to the Future Part II.” Only 1,500 pairs were ever released.
“I’ve always been a big Nike guy and then you know, watching ‘Back to the Future’ so many frickin’ times — goddamn it, those were sweet,” Kelce said on the podcast, which is co-hosted with his brother and Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce.
The sneakers turned out to be a good investment, as they now routinely sell for $20,000 to $30,000 on reseller and auction websites.
Even so, Kelce said he was frivolous with money during his rookie year. “I spent way too much money in clubs, and I was avoiding the rent lady,” he said. All he has to show for his first season as a pro are “some of my favorite shoes.”
It wasn’t that way for long. Following a five-year $46 million contract extension in 2016, Kelce signed another four-year extension in 2020, worth just over $57 million. He also makes an estimated $3 million a year outside of football, Forbes reports. As of fall 2023, Kelce has an estimated net worth of $30 million, according to Insider.
Kelce isn’t the only athlete to recall their first big pay day. Here’s a look at how other top athletes spent their first paychecks.
Shaquille O’Neal bought cars for his parents
When he was 20, Shaquille O’Neal blew through $1 million within hours of receiving a check for his first million-dollar trading card contract.
He bought a $150,000 Mercedes Benz for himself, then another one for his dad, followed by a smaller $100,000 one for his mom. The rest of the money went toward paying off his mom’s house and doing “what all the homeboys do — gotta buy rings and diamonds and earrings and this and that,” he told Business Insider in 2017.
At that time, he didn’t really understand how taxes worked, and he wasn’t carefully tracking how much he spent. A bank manager had to tell him that he was around $50,000 “in the hole.”
“After that, I said, ‘You know what? I need to get me a business manager,” O’Neal said.
Since then, O’Neal has become a successful investor, with early stakes in companies such as Google and Lyft. In 2016, Forbes estimated his net worth at over $400 million.
Klay Thompson splurged on a pool table
National Basketball Association champion Klay Thompson currently earns $43.2 million per year, but when he entered the league in 2011, his first paycheck was $35,000.
“It was incredible,” he told Maverick Carter in a 2019 episode of Uninterrupted’s “Kneading Dough.” It was “more money than I could ever think of.”
The first thing he purchased: a pool table. “I still have that to this day,” said Thompson.
Thompson said that despite making “mistakes” with his money during his rookie season — including buying a closet full of clothes he never wore — his “tastes aren’t that extravagant.”
“It’s not like that money made me happier,” he told Carter. In his junior year at Washington State University, he lived “a great life” on a $1,100-a-month stipend.
“I could get as much Taco Del Mar as I wanted. I could go to Target and have a field day,” he told Carter. Later in his career, Thompson launched an organization to support kids in the U.S. and the Bahamas through fitness and education.
At the end of the day, “wealth is a mindset,” he said. “If you have relationships and experiences around you, those are priceless. That’s better than any car or big house you can get.”
Serena Williams put her first paycheck into savings
Tennis star Serena Williams didn’t actually spend her first paycheck.
“I never touched [the money] — just put it in the bank,” she told Carter on an episode of Uninterrupted’s “Kneading Dough.” “I remember I went through the drive-thru to deposit my check, and then they were like, ‘I think you need to come in for this.'”
She said she always played for the love of the game, to the point that she would forget to collect the paychecks she earned at tournaments.
“When I first turned pro, you had to go pick up your check,” Williams told Carter. “I never, never picked it up, so at the end of the year, the tournament directors would literally hand me the check because I would never go get it.”
Williams said she never felt broke growing up. As a result, she never felt the need to splurge when she started to earn money as a professional tennis player.
That mindset has paid off. Williams retired from tennis in 2022, but has an estimated net worth of $290 million, according to Forbes.
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