Published July 24, 2013
Jonathan Bender landed the gig of a lifetime for many athletes—a multi-million-dollar contract to play basketball for the Indiana Pacers, right out of high school. But after a decade in the NBA and two retirements, Bender decided to walk away for good to take on an even greater challenge—becoming an entrepreneur.
Bender is the creator of the JB Intensive Trainer product, an “external hamstring” that relieves pressure from the joints and puts them on the muscles. The product is a type of rehab-on-the-go for those with chronic knee, hip and back pain, inspired by Bender’s own struggles with debilitating knee pain.
His knees first started giving out after his seventh year in the NBA, he says, forcing him to retire early, and re-assess his career goals.
“I had an epiphany that I wanted to be something greater,” Bender says. “It made me look at and investigate other avenues. I looked to my team owner and his business endeavors, and the way he was leaving a legacy.”
He returned to the NBA for a stint with the New York Knicks, but retired for good in 2010.
Although the NBA is the ultimate goal for most basketball players, including those Bender grew up with in Picayune, Miss., he says he wanted to do something more. He says he also wanted to secure his future, as 60% of NBA players go broke five years after they leave the league, according to the NBA Players’ Association.
“As NBA players, we are hired by people to use our names as endorsements on other products, but how many times do we get down in the ground do to things ourselves?” Bender says. “People look at the NBA as the top of the world, but I realized I was just a product, and it was just a job.”
Being an athlete is fleeting, he says, which is why he decided to focus on his business. The product recently launched in April, and Bender says he hopes to sell 500,000 units in 2013. He currently has one full-time employee, and says he is intent on keeping the company lean in order to increase profits.
“We are shipped straight from China, there is no big warehouse here,” he says. “We are being sold nationally in the Relax the Back store. In July, we were one of their top-selling units.”
And unlike so many of his counterparts, who are both eager and content with slapping their name or face on another product, Bender seems to buck the trend, wanting to get his hands dirty as an entrepreneur.
“At the end of the day, you wind up with a bunch of money, and your clock starts ticking,” he says. “You need to get into the system of creating return for yourself. I need to get out there and learn the process for myself. It’s not just about getting paid.”