6 American Athletes Who Found Stardom Abroad

Getty Images
Getty Images

Josh Childress, a former star at Stanford and a key piece of the Atlanta Hawks' 2008 playoff run, is nowhere to be found on NBA rosters this season. Instead, he's in Greece playing for Olympiacos. In an effort to make a big splash, the Greek League squad signed the swingman to a 3-year, $20 million net deal this past summer. As Childress told the New York Times earlier this week, he's making about twice as much dough as he would have in the NBA, and he gets a chance to be a star. Plus, he gets to see Europe.

Childress isn't the only American who's gone abroad in search of stardom (and we're not just talking about soccer legends). Here are a few other athletes who made their marks after getting their passports stamped.

1. Milt Stegall

In college, Stegall excelled as a wideout and kick returner for Miami University (Ohio), but that success did not translate to the NFL. No team drafted him, and although he eventually signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, he only spent three nondescript years in the league. For his NFL career, he caught just 43 yards' worth of passes and scored one touchdown. In an effort to salvage his football career, he signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League for the end of the 1995 season. He might have arrived in Winnipeg as an unheralded NFL washout, but he quickly transformed into the man known as "Milt Stegall the Touchdown Beagle," a devastatingly effective slotback. (Think of the position as a Canadian football hybrid between a slot receiver and a running back.)

Within a few years, he became the CFL's answer to Jerry Rice. His 147 career TDs are a CFL record, as are his 15,071 career receiving yards. The NFL didn't just lose a speedster when Milt went north, though, they also lost an affable personality who's always quick with a quip, including this gem: "There's only six guarantees in this world. Death, taxes, trouble, Milt Stegall being on time, Milt Stegall being pretty, Milt Stegall being in tip-top shape. There are only six guarantees." How can you not cheer for this guy to win a Grey Cup before he retires?

2. Bob McAdoo

Unlike Stegall, basketball big man Bob McAdoo more than established himself in the top American league. There are few players who wouldn't envy McAdoo's stellar 14-year career in which he won two NBA championships with the Lakers, was the NBA's 1975 MVP and 1973 Rookie of the Year, and made five all-star teams. As his NBA career was winding down in 1986, though, McAdoo decided to hit the road. He signed with Olimpia Milano of the Italian League and started dominating European hoops with his blend of size and deft shooting. In his first season he led Milan to the Italian League championship and the Euroleague title; his squads successfully defended their titles the next season. He spent seven seasons in Europe before retiring, and was later named to both basketball's Hall of Fame and the Euroleague's list of its 50 Greatest Contributors.

3. Walter Szczerbiak

Hoops fans probably recognize the last name because of his son Wally's successful NBA career, but like Kobe's father Jellybean Bryant, Walter Szczerbiak's European exploits helped pave the way for his son's NBA success. In the 1970s, the elder Szczerbiak was a mustachioed scoring machine for Real Madrid after a brief career in the ABA. Under Szczerbiak's leadership, Real Madrid captured the coveted Euroleague title in 1974, 1978, and 1980 as well as four Spanish League titles. Like McAdoo, he was part of the list of the 50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors.

4. Ken Shamrock

Before he was one of Ultimate Fighting Championship's first major stars and the holder of the nickname "The World's Most Dangerous Man," Shamrock was a small-time professional wrestler. After spending some time in regional promotions here, Shamrock moved to Japan in 1990 and started to find his niche. Although he kept wrestling, he also began dabbling in mixed martial arts with the young Pancrase Hybrid Wrestling. It turned out he was better as a real fighter than a fake one, and Shamrock became the first King of Pancrase Open Weight champion.

When the UFC made its debut in 1993, Shamrock came back to the States to help the company take off and appeared on its very first card. After that, his American career began to thrive, both as a UFC fighter, where he won the UFC Superfight title, and in the WWF, where he won the Intercontinental Championship.

5. Tuffy Rhodes

Certain things about baseball's opening day are pretty much guaranteed. Jamie Moyer will be on someone's roster. Royals fans will have already given up hope. And some previously obscure player will explode with a career day, causing analysts to derisively bring up Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes. Rhodes spent parts of six mostly undistinguished seasons in the bigs between 1990 and 1995, but he's really only remembered for banging three home runs on opening day for the Cubs in 1994. Rhodes' power never really showed up again, though; in the other 94 games he played that season, he only managed five more round-trippers. Today, his name's synonymous with any early-season outburst from a player who probably can't keep it up.

After the 1995 season, Rhodes became a free agent, and with dim prospects in the Majors, he headed to Japan's Pacific League. Although American fans never got to see another glimpse of the prodigious power Rhodes flashed on that opening day, Japanese connoisseurs of the long ball got a pretty good look. In his new home, Rhodes became one of the most ferocious sluggers Japanese baseball has ever seen. In 2001 he clubbed 55 homers to tie the single-season Japanese record held by legendary home-run king Sadaharu Oh. (Rhodes might have broken the record, but when he played against teams managed by Oh late that season, pitchers intentionally walked him so a Westerner wouldn't claim Oh's record.) For his career, Rhodes has hit over 400 home runs in Japan, more than any other foreign-born player. Not bad for a guy MLB considered a one-day wonder.

6. Randy Bass

Bass was sort of a forerunner of Rhodes, but unlike Tuffy, he never had even a moment in the sun in the Majors. In fact, he was pretty awful. He somehow managed to play parts of season between 1977 and 1982 despite being a first baseman who couldn't hit for power or average. In six seasons, he put up a putrid .284 on-base percentage and .326 slugging percentage and managed just nine home runs.

In 1983, though, he went to Japan and turned into Ted Williams. While playing for the Hanshin Tigers he won four straight batting titles (including a season in which he hit a record .389) and won two straight Triple Crowns. He also nearly broke Oh's single-season home run record but fell prey to the same sort of trickery. On top of that, he propelled the Tigers to a championship.

He also inadvertently gave birth to one of the funniest jinxes in sports history, the Curse of the Colonel. After the Tigers won the 1985 Japan Series, the reveling included fans who looked like the squad's various players jumping into a canal in Dotonbori, Osaka. There was understandable difficulty finding a 6'1", 210-pound bearded white guy to jump into the river in Bass' stead. The Hanshin fans got creative, though, and chucked a life-sized plastic statue of Colonel Sanders they'd taken from a KFC off the bridge and called it a day. (After all, the Colonel was a white guy with a beard"¦close enough, right?)

After their Series win, though, the Tigers fell into an inexorable decline that seemed to get worse every year. Superstitious fans blamed the Colonel statue they'd drowned in the channel. They tried apologizing to the owner of the store from which they filched the statue. Divers and dredgers scoured the channel trying to find the missing mascot, but it's still at large. And the Hanshin Tigers haven't won the Japan Series since. Bass, on the other hand, is doing quite well as a Democratic state senator in Oklahoma.

10 Winning Facts about Wheaties

General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

The Sandlot Is Returning to Theaters for Its 25th Anniversary

TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Few films from the 1990s have grown in stature over the years like The Sandlot. Though it gained respectable reviews and box office receipts when it was released in April 1993, the movie's standing in pop culture has since ballooned into cult classic territory, and you can still find merchandise and even clothing lines dedicated to it today.

Now you can revisit the adventures of Smalls, Ham, Squints, and The Beast on the big screen when Fathom Events and Twentieth Century Fox, in association with Island World, bring The Sandlot back to theaters for its 25th anniversary. The event will be held in 400 theaters across the U.S. on July 22 at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and Tuesday, July 24 at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m. (all times local).

Each screening will come complete with a preview of a new documentary detailing the making of the movie, so if you wanted to know even more about how this coming-of-age baseball classic came to be, now’s your chance.

For more information about ticket availability in your area, head to the Fathom Events website. And if you want to dive into some more trivia about the movie—including the fact that it was filmed in only 42 days—we’ve got you covered.

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