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How NBA Owners Made Their Money

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With the NBA playoffs starting, you've probably added "own a professional basketball team" to your list of goals. Here's how the league's current owners earned the cash to make it happen.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

1. Atlanta Hawks
Bruce Levenson, Michael Gearon Jr.

Owner Since: 2004

The Numbers: Forbes estimates the Hawks are worth $316 million, which makes them the 3rd-least valuable franchise in the NBA.

Group Ownership: Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon Jr. are the majority partners of Atlanta Spirit Group, a consortium of seven businessmen who own the Atlanta Hawks and operate Phillips Arena (where they play). The original purchase in 2004 included the Atlanta Thrashers, but they sold off the hockey team in 2011 and the new ownership moved the team to Winnipeg.

How They Got Rich: Levenson co-founded United Communications Group (UCG), a business information corporation, in 1977. Gearon started a telecommunications company when he was 25 and sold it to American Tower, a builder and operator of communications towers, five years later.

2. Boston Celtics
Boston Basketball Partners L.L.C. (Wycliffe Grousbeck, CEO)

Owners Since: 2003

The Numbers: Purchased for $360 million in 2003, the Celtics are now worth an estimated $730 million. Seems like a good investment until you realize that they assume partial responsibility for the 1996 Dan Aykroyd vehicle Celtic Pride.

What’s in a Name?: When the investment group was formed, Grousbeck named it “Banner 17 LLC," symbolizing the quest for the Celtics' 17th NBA Championship. When that moment came in 2008, new business cards were needed.

How He Got Rich: Grousbeck was a partner at a successful venture capital firm where he specialized in medical technology and healthcare services.

3. Brooklyn Nets
Mikhail Prokhorov

Owner Since: 2010

The Numbers: The Nets are worth an estimated $530 million, but operated at a considerable loss of $16 million last year (moving from New Jersey to New York will do that).

The Most Interesting Owner in the World: A shortlist of Prokhorov’s quirks and accomplishments:

- In 2012, he ran for president of Russia against Vladimir Putin. He garnered less than 10 percent of the vote.

- He stands 6’8”, making him the tallest owner in the NBA.

- One of his favorite hobbies is performing jet ski tricks (check YouTube, there’s proof).

- He heads the Russian Biathlon Union.

How He Got Rich: Nickel mines. Prokhorov bought up “reduced price” shares of the Norilsk Nickel company during Russia’s privatization spree after the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2007, when he left the company, his shares were estimated to be worth $7.5 billion. Combined with his other mining ventures, the oligarch is worth about $13 billion.

4. Charlotte Bobcats
Michael Jordan

Owner Since: 2010

The Numbers: The Bobcats are worth around $315 million, making them the second-to-least valuable NBA franchise. Michael Jordan and his investment group paid an estimated $175 million in 2010 to achieve majority ownership.

Name Change: In 2014, the Bobcats will change their name to the Hornets, restoring basketball order after the team and its name were moved to New Orleans in 2002.

How He Got Rich: Jordan is worth an estimated $650 million. His shoe brand controls over 50 percent of the basketball market and he maintains lucrative partnerships with Gatorade, Hanes, 2K Sports, and others. He also made a little bit of money playing basketball, a sport few fans are aware the famous baseball player tried his hand at.

5. Chicago Bulls
Jerry Reinsdorf

Owner Since: 1985

The Numbers: The Bulls are worth $800 million, making them the third-most valuable team in the league.

Packed Houses: The team plays in the NBA’s largest arena and boast more sellouts than any other team in the league.

How He Got Rich: Reinsdorf started his career as a tax attorney. He went on to specialize in real estate tax shelters and investments in properties that were under construction. In 1981, he bought the Chicago White Sox and followed that by purchasing the then-financially struggling Bulls in 1985. The next year the team drafted the owner listed directly above and the rest is history.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers
Dan Gilbert

Owner Since: 2005

The Numbers: The Cavaliers are worth $434 million according to Forbes, which is enough to put them right in the middle of the NBA money list at 15.

Tantrum: After LeBron James famously spurned the Cavs in 2010, Gilbert lashed out with an open letter, written late-night in Comic Sans and posted to the team’s website. In addition, Fathead, a company Gilbert owns that produces life-sized stickers, slashed the price of their LeBron Fathead to $17.41, the year of Benedict Arnold’s birth. What a deal!

How He Got Rich: Gilbert founded Quicken Loans Inc., the country’s largest online mortgage lender. He also helms Rock Gaming, a casino operator that has begun to profit on downtown Cleveland’s new gaming eligibility.

7. Dallas Mavericks
Mark Cuban

Owner Since: 2000

The Numbers: After buying the Mavericks from H. Ross Perot in 2000 for $280 million, the team is currently estimated to be worth $685 million.

NBA’s Extra Income Source: Cuban is notoriously outspoken and has been known to go on tirades against NBA management, referees, and even opposing players. All these outbursts have resulted in a total of $1,840,000 in fines paid to the association.

How He Got Rich: In 1995, Cuban started a small Internet radio company that eventually became Broadcast.com. He sold this venture to Yahoo! for almost $6 billion at the most opportune time—right before the dot com crash. He has now diversified his ventures and owns various entertainment businesses. According to Forbes, his net worth stands at $2.5 billion.

8. Denver Nuggets
Stan Kroenke

Owner Since: 2000

The Numbers: The Nuggets are worth $427 million, coming in at the number 19 spot in the NBA.

Other Notable Holdings: Kroenke heads Kroenke Sports Enterprises, which owns or holds considerable shares of the Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, and St. Louis Rams.

How He Got Rich: As noted in our NFL Owners List, Kroenke is a real estate magnate who runs developments around the country, many of which are anchored by Walmart locations. (His wife, Anna Walton Kroenke, is the daughter of Bud Walton, co-founder with his brother Sam of Walmart).

9. Detroit Pistons
Tom Gores

Owner Since: 2011

The Numbers: The Pistons are worth $400 million, which Gores hopes to increase by updating the Palace of Auburn Hills (which he also purchased in 2011).

How He Got Rich: Born in Nazareth, Israel, Gores moved to Michigan when he was four years old. He is now is based in Beverly Hills and owns Platinum Equity LLC, a private equity firm. He is worth an estimated $2.5 billion.

10. Golden State Warriors
Peter Guber, Joe Lacob

Owners Since: 2010

On the Move?: The Warriors hope to move out of Oakland and into a yet-to-be-built arena located in San Francisco near the Bay Bridge.

How They Got Rich: Lacob is a venture capitalist and Guber is the CEO of film production company Mandalay Entertainment.

11. Houston Rockets
Leslie Alexander

Owner Since: 1993

The Numbers: The Houston Rockets are valued at $568 million, landing them 7th on the NBA’s rich list.

Beginner’s Luck: After purchasing the team in 1993, Alexander’s Rockets won their first title. Their WNBA equivalent, the Houston Comets, won the title in 1997—Alexander’s first year as their owner.

How He Got Rich: Alexander made his fortune trading stocks and corporate bonds. He currently owns and runs a Hamptons vineyard and wine club that requires a $50,000 initiation fee (which buys a lot of Bartles & Jaymes).

12. Indiana Pacers
Herbert Simon

Owner Since: 1983

The Numbers: The Pacers, who Simon bought for $10 million in 1983, are now worth $383 million.

How He Got Rich: Simon is the chairman of the Simon Property Group, a shopping mall development corporation. He also own Kirkus Reviews, a bi-monthly book review publication. His net worth is estimated to be around $2 billion.

13. Los Angeles Clippers
Donald Sterling

Owner Since: 1981

The Numbers: The Clippers are worth $430 million, less than half as much as their LA rivals, the Lakers.

Ugly Legal Battles: Sterling has been accused of racially-biased discrimination at some of his California real estate developments and is embroiled in a court battle over these alleged practices. He was also sued by NBA legend and former Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor for underpayment due to racial discrimination.

How He Got Rich: Sterling began his career as a divorce lawyer but soon moved on to real estate ownership and investment. He used part of his fortune to buy the San Diego clippers for $12 million in 1981 and moved them to Los Angeles, bringing that famous San Diego sports luck with them.

14. Los Angeles Lakers
Jim and Jeanie Buss (along with a family trust)

Owner Since: 1979

The Numbers: The Lakers are worth $1 billion, a number that will soon see an increase due to a multi-billion cable TV deal.

The Old Guard: The Buss family are the longest-tenured owners in the NBA. After patriarch Jerry’s death earlier this year, a six-family member trust was assigned to take control and ownership of the team.

How They Got Rich: Jerry Buss studied to be a chemist, and worked in mining safety as well as aeronautics. He taught chemistry at USC and got involved with real estate to help supplement his income. He proved to be such a successful investor that he started doing it full-time--you can’t buy the Lakers on a teacher’s salary.

15. Memphis Grizzlies
Robert J. Pera

Owner Since: 2012

The Numbers: The Grizzlies are worth $377 million, according to Forbes’ evaluation.

Young’n: At 35, Robert Pera is the youngest franchise owner in the NBA. Tayshaun Prince and Keyon Dooling—the Grizzlies’ oldest players—are only two years younger than Pera. 

How He Got Rich: Pera worked as an engineer at Apple before starting his own company, Ubiquiti Networks. The company specializes in providing wireless networks to emerging and developing nations. He is worth a little under $2 billion and is one of the youngest billionaires in the world.

16. Miami Heat
Micky Arison

Owner Since: 1995

The Numbers: The Heat are the NBA’s 6th-most valuable franchise and are worth $625 million.

How He Got Rich: Arison is the son of Ted Arison, co-founder of Carnival Cruise Lines. Micky worked as the corporation’s CEO since 1979 before being replaced this June. Did he step down because of the hit the company took after their infamous “poop cruise” in February? This insider info is unknown, but it’s really fun to write “poop cruise.”

Arison’s net worth is estimated to be around $5.9 billion.

17. Milwaukee Bucks
Herb Kohl

Owner Since: 1985

The Numbers: Worth $312 million, the Bucks are the NBA’s least-valuable team. They have a cool mascot, though, and that's priceless.

Politics: Herb Kohl served as a U.S. Senator starting in 1989. He didn’t seek reelection in 2012 and left the halting quagmire that is Congress in order to watch the halting quagmire that is the Bucks’ offense.

How He Got Rich: Kohl was a stock trader and real estate investor before starting Kohl Investments, a venture that owns various stores and groceries, as well as the department store giant Kohl’s.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves
Glen Taylor

Owner Since: 1995

The Numbers: The Wolves’ worth is estimated to be around $364 million.

Politics, Again: Like Herb Kohl, Taylor spent time as a politician. He was a state senator in Minnesota throughout the ‘80s.

How He Got Rich: Taylor bought Carlson Wedding Service—a company he worked for—in 1975. He renamed it “Taylor Corp” and turned the wedding supplier into a commercial printing, marketing, and graphics communications venture. He is worth an estimated $1.7 billion.

19. New Orleans Pelicans
Tom Benson

Owner Since: 2012

The Numbers: The Pelicans are estimated to be worth $340 million.

Other Properties: Benson also owns the New Orleans Saints, a team whose name isn’t quite as stately or weighted with significance as “Pelicans.”

How He Got Rich: As stated in our NFL owners list, Benson runs multiple car dealerships in the New Orleans and San Antonio areas. He also invested in and purchased local banks to form Benson Financial, a company he eventually sold for $440 million.

20. New York Knicks
James Dolan

Owner Since: 1997

The Numbers: Valued at $1.1 billion, the Knicks are the most valuable franchise in the league. Keep in mind that “value” is used purely in the monetary sense here—winning, teamwork, or the willingness to play any semblance of defense are completely unrelated.

Music Man: Dolan’s first passion is music, and his blues band “JD and the Straight Shot” are going on tour with the Eagles this month. Good idea to get out of New York for the Knicks’ slow start.

How He Got Rich: The son of Charles Dolan, James inherited control of cable television giant Cablevision and is also the executive chairman of The Madison Square Garden Company.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder
Professional Basketball Club LLC (Clayton Bennett, Chairman)

Owner Since: 2006

The Numbers: The Oklahoma City Thunder are worth $475 million, and are estimated to have made $30 million in profits last year. They are the 12th richest team in the NBA by Forbes’ estimation, making them the ultimate “small market” success story.

Goodbye, Seattle: Feeling good after hearing about the little team that could? If you are from Seattle, that warm and fuzzy feeling is anger-vomit creeping up. In 2006, Bennett and Professional Basketball Club LLC, the ownership group he chairs, bought the Seattle Supersonics and assured fans they would not be moved. Two years later, they were playing ball in OKC.

How He Got Rich: Clay Bennett is the chairman of the Oklahoma City-based investment firm Dorchester Capital Corp. Other members of the Thunder’s ownership group include Aubrey McClendon (chairman of Chesapeake Energy), Tom L. Ward (CEO of SandRidge Energy and a Chesapeake Energy co-founder), Everett R. Dobson (CEO of Dobson Technologies, a fiber optic and data storage business), and four others.

22. Orlando Magic
RDV Sports, Inc. (Richard DeVos, Chairman)

Owner Since: 1991

Ambitious Plans: In an interview in The Grand Rapids Press, DeVos stated that one of his goals was “to reform the Christian Reformed Church.” That’s a lot of reforming.

How He Got Rich: DeVos co-founded Amway in 1959, a company that sells products directly and through a series of independent businessmen and women who are free to recruit and train salespeople of their own.

23. Philadelphia 76ers
Adam Aron (CEO of the 76ers’ ownership group)

Owner Since: 2011

The Numbers: The Sixers are estimated to be worth $418 million.

Big Willy Style: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith are investors in the team. This investment marks Smith’s first time on a basketball court in Philadelphia since he got in one little fight while shooting some b-ball outside of the school, frightening his mother and prompting her to send him to Bel Air, California to live with his Aunt and Uncle.

How He Got Rich: From 1996 to 2006, Aron was the CEO of Vail Resorts, the lucrative ski destination.

24. Phoenix Suns
Robert Sarver

Owner Since: 2004

The Numbers: Forbes estimates the Suns are worth $474 million.

How He Got Rich: Sarver is the son of prominent Tuscon businessman Jack Sarver. Robert Sarver has started, sold, acquired, and headed various banks in the southwest, including National Bank of Arizona, Western Alliance Bancorporation, and California Bank and Trust.

25. Portland Trail Blazers
Paul Allen

Owner Since: 1988

The Numbers: The Trail Blazers are worth an estimated $457 million.

Other Notable Holdings: Allen also owns the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Sounders of the MLS. If you like watching professional sporting events in the rain, Paul Allen has you covered.

How He Got Rich: In 1975, Allen founded Microsoft with Bill Gates. He is now worth around $15 billion, making him the NBA’s richest owner.

26. Sacramento Kings
Vivek Ranadivé

Owner Since: 2013

The Numbers: The Kings are estimated to be worth $525 million and are ranked 11th in Forbes’ NBA money list.

Close Call: The Kings were nearly sold by their previous owners, the Maloof family, and relocated to Seattle before Ranadivé and his ownership group swooped in and bought the team. Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento and a former NBA point guard, was also instrumental in making sure the team stayed put.

How He Got Rich: Born in India and trained at MIT and Harvard, Ranadivé is a technology pioneer who helped take pencils, papers, and runners out of Wall Street trading and replaced them with computers in the 1980s. He is now the CEO of TIBCO, a real-time software company specializing in sports news and statistics.

27. San Antonio Spurs
Peter Holt

Owner Since: 1993

The Numbers: The Spurs are the ninth wealthiest team in the league—their net worth is estimated to be $527 million.

How He Got Rich: Holt is the great-grandson of Benjamin Holt, inventor of one of the first types of tractors. The company he started eventually merged with another manufacturer to form Caterpillar. Peter Holt owns the largest CAT dealership in America.

28. Toronto Raptors
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (Timothy Lieweke, CEO)

Owner Since: 1998

The Numbers: The Raptors are worth $405 million, or if you want to be more impressive, over 421 million Canadian dollars.

Other Ventures: Other than the Raptors, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment group owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto FC of the MLS, and the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

How He Got Rich: Leiweke is the former CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, a consortium that owned the L.A. Kings, Galaxy, and a portion of the Lakers. They also run much of Downtown Los Angeles’ entertainment properties, as well as various stadia in the U.S. and around the world.

29. Utah Jazz
Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment, Jazz Basketball Investors, Inc. (Greg Miller, CEO)

Owner Since: 1985

The Numbers: Purchased in 1985 for $24 million, the Jazz are now worth $432 million.

How He Got Rich: Miller's father, Larry, was a prominent Salt Lake City businessman who owned movie theaters, entertainment complexes, dozens of automotive dealerships, and a television station. He died due to complications with diabetes in 2009 and passed along control of the team to his son Greg.

30. Washington Wizards
Ted Leonsis

Owner Since: 2010

The Numbers: The Wizards are worth $551 million, nearly enough coin to sign five Gilbert-Arenas-caliber free agents.

Other Ventures: Leonsis is also the majority owner of the Washington Capitals and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. All three teams play in the Verizon Center, a property he also owns.

How He Got Rich: Leonsis sold his marketing company Redgate Communications to America Online in 1993 and served as an executive there until 2006. He is also the chairman of the board of directors at Groupon.

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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10 Badass Facts About Jason Statham
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Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET

Jason Statham is one of the preeminent action heroes of a generation—some would say he’s our last action hero. On the screen, he's been a hitman, a transporter, a con man, a veteran, and a whole host of other unsavory, but oddly endearing, tough guys. Before he stepped foot on his first movie set, though, Statham had a past life that would rival any of the colorful characters he’s brought to the screen. To celebrate his 50th birthday, we’re digging into what makes this English bruiser tick with these 10 fascinating facts about Jason Statham.

1. DIVING WAS HIS FIRST CALLING.

Before becoming a big-screen tough guy, Jason Statham exuded grace and fluidity as one of the world’s top competitive divers in the early 1990s. He spent 12 years as part of the British National Diving Squad, highlighted by competing in the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand.

Though he was an elite diver, Statham never qualified for the Olympics, which he admits is still a “sore point” for him. "I started too late," he has said of his diving career. "It probably wasn't my thing. I should have done a different sport."

2. HE DABBLED IN MODELING.

With his diving career over, Statham entered the world of modeling for the fashion company French Connection. If his rugged image doesn’t seem to naturally lend itself to the world of male modeling, that was exactly what the company was going for.

“We chose Jason because we wanted our model to look like a normal guy," Lilly Anderson, a spokesperson for French Connection, said in a 1995 interview with the Independent. "His look is just right for now—very masculine and not too male-modelly."

3. HE DANCED HALF-NAKED IN A COUPLE OF MUSIC VIDEOS.

A word of warning: The internet never forgets. Back in 2015, two ‘90s music videos went viral—“Comin’ On” by The Shamen and “Run to the Sun” by Erasure—and it’s not because the songs were just that good. It’s because both videos featured a half-naked, and quite oily, Jason Statham curiously dancing away in the background.

Both make liberal use of Statham’s lack of modesty, which is a far cry from the slick suits and commando gear we’d later see him sporting in The Transporter and Expendables series. So which one is your favorite? Leopard-print Speedo Statham from “Comin’ On” or his Silver Surfer look from “Run to the Sun”? And no, “both” isn’t an option. (Though “neither” is acceptable.)

4. GUY RITCHIE CAST HIM BECAUSE HE WAS SELLING KNOCKOFF JEWELRY AND PERFUME ON THE STREET.

After years of high dives, modeling, and pelvic gyrations, Statham was still looking to make a real living in the late ‘90s. His next odd job? Selling knockoff perfume and jewelry on London street corners. Luckily, that type of real-world hoodlum was exactly what director Guy Ritchie needed for 1998's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Ritchie was introduced to Statham through his modeling gig at French Connection and saw the potential this real-world con man had for the movie. He wrote the role of Bacon specifically for Statham, which would end up being the movie that propelled him to Hollywood stardom.

5. JOHN CARPENTER WANTED HIM AS THE LEAD IN GHOSTS OF MARS.

Though Statham gained acclaim for his role in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, he wasn’t quite a leading man yet. Director John Carpenter wanted to change that by casting him as James “Desolation” Williams, the main character in Ghosts of Mars.

While Carpenter was convinced that Statham was ready for the role, the producers weren’t. They pushed the director to cast someone with more name value, eventually settling on Ice Cube. Statham stayed in the movie in a smaller role as Sgt. Jericho Butler.

6. HE REGULARLY DOES HIS OWN STUNTS.

Jason Statham in Wild Card (2015).
Lionsgate

In addition to being in impeccable shape, Statham also takes pride in doing many of his own stunts in his movies, from hand-to-hand combat to dangling from a helicopter 3000 feet above downtown Los Angeles. In fact, he’s almost dogmatic in his belief that actors should be doing their own stunts.

“I'm inspired by the people who could do their own work,” the actor said. “Bruce Lee never had stunt doubles and fight doubles, or Jackie Chan or Jet Li. I've been in action movies where there is a face replacement and I'm fighting with a double, and it's embarrassing.”

The worst offenders? Superhero movies. And Statham isn't shy about sharing his thoughts on those:

"You slip on a cape and you put on the tights and you become a superhero? They're not doing anything! They're just sitting in their trailer. It's absolutely, 100 percent created by stunt doubles and green screen. How can I get excited about that?"

7. FILMING EXPENDABLES 3 ALMOST KILLED HIM.

For all the authenticity that Statham likes to bring to the screen by doing his own stunts, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. While filming an action scene for Expendables 3, the brakes failed on a three-ton stunt truck Statham was driving, sending it off a cliff and into the Black Sea.

If you've ever wondered if the real Statham was anything like the movie version, his underwater escape from a mammoth truck should answer that.

"It's the closest I've ever been to drowning,” Statham said on Today. “I've done a lot of scuba diving; I've done a lot of free diving ... No matter how much of that you've done, it doesn't teach you to breathe underwater ... I came very close to drowning. It was a very harrowing experience."

8. HE PRACTICES A RANGE OF MARTIAL ARTS.

Statham’s fitness routine is about more than just weights and core work. The actor is also involved in a variety of different fighting disciplines like boxing, judo, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Out of everything he does to stay in shape, it’s the martial arts that have the been most helpful for Statham’s onscreen presence. “That’s what I have to give most of my time to these days: training for what I have to do in terms of providing action in an authentic manner," he told Men's Health

Statham is not alone in his passion for martial arts; director Guy Ritchie is also a black belt in jiu-jitsu and a brown belt in karate. When Men’s Health asked Statham if the two ever sparred, he responded, “I remember when we started out, we’d go on a press tour for Lock, Stock… and we’d be moving all the furniture out of the way in the hotel room, trying to choke each other out.”

After all, what are collaborators for?

9. HE’S WELL AWARE SOME OF HIS MOVIES HAVE BEEN DUDS.

When asked by Esquire if he ever watched one of his movies during the premiere and thought "Oh, no ...," his response was a very self-aware: "Yeah, I think I've said that more often than not. Yeah."

He went on to rattle off his Guy Ritchie movies, The Bank Job, Transporter 1 and 2 (not 3), and Crank as being among his favorite films. As for the others, the actor joked, “And the rest is sh*t."

He clarified that remark as a joke and said, “I mean, you do a lot of films. You're always aiming for something and trying to push yourself to do something good.”

He then compared his work to the inner workings of a watch, saying, “A movie, it's like a very complicated timepiece. There's a lot of wheels in a watch. And some of those wheels, if they don't turn right, then, you know, the watch ain't gonna tell the time."

10. HIS MOVIES HAVE MADE MORE THAN $1.5 BILLION IN THE U.S. ALONE.

Statham's films may have a tough time impressing critics, but audiences and studio executives can’t get enough. Taken as a whole, Statham’s filmography has raked in just a touch more than $1.5 billion in the United States, with the worldwide total standing at $5.1 billion.

A lot of this is due to his more recent entry into the Fast and Furious franchise, but he’s also had seven movies cross the $100 million mark worldwide outside of that series. This isn’t an accident; Statham knows exactly what type of movie keeps the lights on, as he explained in an interview with The Guardian.

“So if you've got a story about a depressed doctor whose estranged wife doesn't wanna be with him no more, and you put me in it, people aren't gonna put money on the table. Whereas if you go, 'All he does is get in the car, hit someone on the head, shoot someone in the f*cking feet,' then, yep, they'll give you $20 million. You can't fault these people for wanting to make money.”

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