More big plans for the tallest entrepreneur in Mill Creek

By Dan Aznoff | Apr 21, 2017

Former Seattle Supersonic James Donaldson needs to duck his head each time he walks into his favorite coffee shop in Mill Creek. But the big man stands tall and has his eyes focused forward when he talks about his newest business to help athletes adapt to life beyond sports.

The 7-foot-2 former center opened his first physical therapy clinic in Mill Creek 23 years ago after more than two decades of playing professional basketball. He has turned that clinic into the corporate hub for a variety of enterprises designed to providing guidance for athletes of all ages under his umbrella organization, The Athletes Council.

Donaldson plans to launch his newest enterprise in May to provide educational counseling, financial management and personal direction for athletes as they make the transition from the limelight into a rewarding life beyond sports.

“I am excited to lead a team of extraordinarily talented professionals who are dedicated to showcasing the successes of former professional athletes and student athletes as they experience the journey of pursuing excellence and high achievement in both sports and life,” Donaldson said as he unveiled the newest endeavor.

Athletes Helping Athletes will provide mentoring and peer counseling to athletes at every level of sports when they step away from competition. Donaldson’s initial concept was to assist professional athletes cope with stepping away from the limelight and the high salaries. But after some research, he discovered the same tools could be utilized by athletes who hang up their cleats at virtually every level of competition.

“Sure, we’ve all read about the superstar athletes who face personal and financial challenges when they retire,” Donaldson told The Beacon in an exclusive interview. “But money is only one way athletes judge themselves. Football players who never step on to the field after high school have many of the same challenges with life and family as professionals who retire after earning million-dollar contracts.”

Donaldson said the organizations designed to assist retired players from Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association do not provide the mentorship or the personalized direction that many retired athletes really need. Donaldson should know, he serves on the board of the Retired NBA Players Association.

“The player associations can help write resumes, but there is nobody else out there to encourage players to go back to school to complete their education. We will teach them the marketing skills to keep their brand thriving, if that’s what they want, or we can discover an avenue to utilize their notoriety in another business setting” Donaldson said. “Athletes Helping Athletes will have retired players serve as mentors to athletes at whatever level they step away from the playing field.”

The vast majority of professional athletes, he said, are not prepared for the sudden wealth or lifestyle that comes with large paychecks or how to cope when that money and that fame disappears overnight. Donaldson said more than 90 percent of professional athletes go through divorce, forcing them to give up half of their newly-found wealth.

“Then Uncle Sam takes another 30 percent, and suddenly you’re forced to adjust to not being to afford everything you worked so hard to achieve,” he explained. “Some athletes are spoiled because they were handled with kid gloves beginning in high school.

“It’s a cruel world that many of them are not prepared to handle on their own.”

The former Sonic center is hoping to attract former professional athletes, parents of potential superstars and coaches at every competitive level to enroll in the virtual program that will match the athletes with retired professionals who have faced man of the same challenges.

Donaldson was drafted by Seattle in 1979 after playing his college ball at Washington State. He was named to the NBA all-star team in 1988 and enshrined into the Washington State Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.

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