Professional athletes gravitate to newer properties that have home theaters and are located in guard-gated communities, real estate brokers who cater to sports figures say.
Sports-related amenities such as basketball and tennis courts not so much.
“Most athletes, particularly basketball players, like to live near workout facilities rather than work out at their homes,” said Re/Max Olson & Associates estate director Jordan Cohen, who has sold and bought homes for some of L.A.'s biggest sports figures over the last three decades. “They like to be at the gym, training with other guys, and then they like to leave it all there and come home.”
Close proximity to Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo is a main reason why the South Bay is an attractive destination for members of the Kings and Lakers. Equally, the Clippers practice facility in Playa Vista has drawn its share of players to the area.
Whereas older generations adhered to the idea that bigger is better, especially in real estate, today’s athletes value privacy above all else, real estate agents say. Guard-gated communities are a fairly common request from athletes, particularly among those with families, with most willing to pay a premium for the added layer of privacy and security. Home theaters are generally the most desired amenity among home features, followed by large master suites, chef’s kitchens and pools.
Cohen said his clients, who have included Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Marcus Allen, prefer different home styles, but they generally shy away from older homes.
“Some athletes love contemporary homes, some love Mediterranean, but the common thread is newer builds,” Cohen said.
Newer, modern homes are also in demand for athletes looking to lease, particularly with a growing number of players splitting time between different parts of the country throughout the year. Seasonal athletes, however, tend to favor the glamour and glitz that comes with the L.A. experience.
“They want the Hollywood lifestyle,” said Lee Mintz, a Realtor with Partners Trust Residential Brokerage and Acquisitions, whose celebrity and sports clientele often require three- to four-month rentals during the offseason.
Over-the-top homes with panoramic views are among the top requests from athletes renting short-term in L.A.
“Most of the rental properties I find for my clients are modern homes in Hollywood Hills, Brentwood or Studio City,” Mintz said. “Players want that ‘wower home’ they can show off, something in the hills with that Hollywood vibe.”
Over the summer, Mintz lined up penthouse rentals for Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings and former Bucks forward Jeff Adrien, with the latter indulging in a private rooftop unit.
Not every player wants to be in the thick of it, however. Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, averse to dealing with L.A. traffic, leased a compound in Encino that could accommodate larger groups.
“He wanted a spot for entertaining,” Mintz said. “I found him a place where people could come to him.”
Today’s athletes are also making smarter financial decisions by leasing first, said Ikem Chukumerije, chief executive of Sports Relocation Inc. Athletes often wait to buy a home until they have the financial security that comes with the second, third or fourth contract.
“Leasing is less of a hassle compared to purchasing, especially when you factor in free agency and non-guaranteed contracts,” said Chukumerije, who handles all aspects of the athlete relocation process, including real estate, transportation and even identifying potential school districts.
To help his clients avoid burning through their millions, Chukumerije works closely with agents and advisors to keep an eye on a player’s finances and current contract status. “I don’t want to put someone in a situation where they call me a year from now because they are underwater.”
When athletes do seek out homes with amenities that relate to their profession, they are often over the top.
When O’Neal, then with the Orlando Magic, was in Los Angeles to film the action-comedy “Kazaam,” the notoriously bad free-throw shooter had one request for his $20,000-a-month rental in Beverly Hills: an area for shooting baskets. After signing with the Lakers the following year, in 1996, he converted the tennis court at a Beverly Hills home he bought into a basketball court. It featured a blue hue and a “Superman” symbol.
Olympic gold medal diver Greg Louganis’ Malibu property had a pool, of course, but it certainly wasn’t garden variety. The home, which he sold this year, featured a custom swimming pool and spa with a diving platform personalized for the diving champion. The Olympic rings insignia, set off by blue tiling, added a distinctive finish to the bottom of the pool.
Some athletes resort to unconventional means to keep their sport close to home.
Built along a hillside in Hollywood Hills West, Barry Zito’s contemporary residence doesn’t offer much in the way of flat land. However, the Cy Young Award winner managed to outfit a small strip on the tiered grounds with a practice mound complete with pitching rubber and home plate, set off by views of the Los Angeles skyline.
Other athletes opt to stay away from their sports — at least at home.
During an expansion of his Hawaii home in 1989, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar added a tennis court — said to be a retirement gift from the Lakers’ brass — to his compound. Seven years later, while renovating his Beverly Crest residence, the legendary Laker again passed on adding basketball hardwood, opting instead for an indoor squash court.
For former Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre, now with the Texas Rangers, one sport wasn’t enough when it came to his onetime mansion-estate in Bradbury. Tailored to his trade, the home featured a 2,500-square-foot rec room outfitted as an indoor batting cage. But that was just the start. The property offered a full range of athletic outlets: a tennis court, a basketball court, two tees and two putting greens with sand traps.