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.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

8 Surprising Facts About Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris.
Chuck Norris.
Jason Merritt, Getty Images

For decades, martial artist and actor Carlos Ray Norris Jr. has been kicking his way into the hearts of action film fans. In addition to his competitive karate career, Norris has starred in a string of successful movies as well as the long-running CBS drama Walker, Texas Ranger. With Norris having reached the milestone age of 80 years old back in March 2020, we’re taking a look at some of the more interesting facts about his life and career.

1. Chuck Norris is a military veteran.

Chuck Norris in Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)
Chuck Norris stars in Lone Wolf McQuade (1983).
MGM Home Entertainment

Born on March 10, 1940 in Ryan, Oklahoma, Norris was the oldest of three boys and a self-described “shy” child. After a move to California, Norris attended North Torrance High School. After graduating, he joined the U.S. Air Force, where he became a member of the military police in the hopes of pursuing a career in law enforcement. It was in the service, while being stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea, that Norris first discovered the martial arts. When he once found himself unable to control a rowdy drunk in a bar while on patrol duty, Norris realized he needed combat skills. He studied Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do before returning to California. When he was discharged from the Air Force in 1962, Norris began teaching the skills he had acquired to students.

2. Steve McQueen got Chuck Norris into acting.

Norris became a world champion in karate contests, which lent credence to his abilities as a martial arts instructor. He taught several celebrities the finer points of self-defense, including the Osmonds, Priscilla Presley, and Steve McQueen. Norris even trained Price Is Right host Bob Barker. But not all his schools were doing well, and after retiring from competition in 1974, Norris was looking for other opportunities. McQueen suggested that Norris try his hand at acting. McQueen was right—eventually. It took several years and nine films, but Norris had a breakthrough with 1982’s Lone Wolf McQuade.

3. Chuck Norris needed to obey a producer’s request in order to face off against Bruce Lee.

While Norris didn’t become a household name until the 1980s, his turn as a villain in 1972’s Return of the Dragon (also known as Way of the Dragon) opposite Bruce Lee wound up being a seminal meeting of two onscreen martial arts legends. When Lee was looking for an adversary for the climactic fight, he called Norris, whom he knew and was friends with. But the film’s producer insisted that Norris gain 20 pounds so that he would appear to be much larger than Lee on camera. “That’s why I don’t do jump kicks [in the movie],” Norris told Empire in 2007. “I couldn’t get off the ground!”

4. Chuck Norris founded his own martial arts system.

Taking the knowledge he had acquired over many years of training in Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do, Norris developed his own unique martial arts system and philosophy that he eventually dubbed Chun Kuk Do. In addition to combat techniques, the system encourages students to develop themselves to their maximum potential and look for the good in other people. It was renamed the Chuck Norris System in 2015.

5. Chuck Norris once marketed Chuck Norris Action Jeans.

Thanks to his fame in the martial arts world, Norris was sought after to endorse athletic products. In 1982, martial arts equipment company Century recruited Norris to be a spokesperson for their Karate Jeans, which featured flexible fabric sewn into the crotch that would presumably allow the wearer to deliver a bone-crunching kick while looking fashionable. Eventually renamed Action Jeans, Norris promoted them for years.

6. Chuck Norris had his own cartoon series.

At the height of his popularity in the 1980s, Norris teamed with animation company Ruby-Spears for an animated series, Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos. The show featured Norris and a team of martial artists fighting villains like Superninja and The Claw. Although 65 shows were planned, just a few aired. “We only did six of them, and then a woman at CBS said, ‘Those are too violent,’” Norris told MTV News in 2009.

7. Chuck Norris is a real Texas Ranger.

For eight seasons, Norris pummeled bad guys as the star of the 1990s CBS television series Walker, Texas Ranger, which became the first primetime show shot on location in Texas at Norris’s insistence. In 2010, Norris was named an honorary member of the Texas Rangers by state governor Rick Perry in acknowledgment of Norris’s work in raising awareness for the elite unit and for his work helping underprivileged youths via martial arts programs. Norris’s brother, Aaron Norris, who was an executive producer on the show, also received the designation.

8. Chuck Norris’s role in Dodgeball was a surprise to Chuck Norris.

Norris is generally good-humored about his persona and is often willing to poke fun at himself. But when he was asked to do a cameo in the 2004 comedy Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, he passed because he didn’t feel like driving three hours to the movie’s set in Long Beach, California. When star Ben Stiller called to ask personally, Norris agreed, but didn’t read the script. He simply shot his scene where he offers a thumbs-up to the dodgeball competitors.

When Norris saw the movie in theaters, he was surprised at the context. “But in the end, when Ben’s a big fatty and watching TV, the last line of the whole movie is, ‘F***in’ Chuck Norris!,'” Norris told Empire in 2007. “My mouth fell open to here… I said, ‘Holy mackerel!’ That was a shock, Ben didn’t tell me about that!”