“So you had to work during the off-season.” In fact his first contract with the Pistons was worth a mere $15,000 a year. His largest contract, $225,000, came near the end of his career in 1977 with the Washington Bullets.
But perhaps this all worked out for the best. Bing’s need for employment during the off-season led him to spend seven years as a banker for the National Bank of Detroit. Starting in 1966, Bing worked off-seasons as a management trainee, bank teller and eventually branch manager. But while the background in banking and finance proved useful down the road, Bing soon realized it wasn’t the life he wanted to lead after basketball. So he jumped ship one summer and began a two-year stint with the Chrysler dealer training program, thinking for a time he might want to own a car dealership when he left the NBA. But he still had doubts. “By this time I knew my NBA career was coming to an end, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do as a second career.”
One of the early offers Bing got was to come on board with a local steel company as a public relations spokesman. But he declined. “I knew as a soon-to-be former athlete, your star doesn’t shine for long when you’re no longer playing” says Bing. “I didn’t want to go out and just use my name and shake hands. I wanted to learn the nuts and bolts of business.”
Instead, Bing entered a two-year training program with a local steel company, Paragon, after retiring from the NBA in 1978. He worked in practically every segment of the company during that span including warehousing, shipping, accounting, international sales, marketing and purchasing. When the program ended in 1980, Bing took his newfound knowledge and some $150,000 of his savings from the NBA and created Bing Steel.
Originally a four person start-up, Bing Steal is now a full-service steel company. It acts as the middle man between mills and user firms, where it cuts, shapes and bends raw steel to different specifications depending on the needs of each buyer. Bing Steel had sales of $1.7 million in its first year. In t
he subsequent 18 years, Bing Steal has grown to a 65-person outfit with 1997 revenues of $76 million.
It’s a thriving business today. But those first few years were arduous. As a retired black athlete, Bing says he battled dual prejudices. “As a black with the stigma of being an ex-jock, the toughest thing for me was getting people to realize I had the intellect to get things done and that I was serious about making the leap from athletics to business,” he says. Bing’s potential customers and banks that he looked to for financing were both skeptical. “Too many athletes had come before me and taken an easy route by using their names to get in a door with no real risk,” says Bing. “So it was, ‘Who is this black guy trying to get into this