A gym is a curious place to rendezvous with a real estate agent, but in Solomon Alabi’s case, it makes perfect sense. The former Toronto Raptors center not only discovered a legit post-retirement basketball scene inside the Washington Athletic Club, a posh hangout for Seattle power players along Sixth Avenue, he also found a second career.
Sliding his seven-foot frame into a booth at Hagerty’s Sports Bar, one of the downtown club’s restaurants, Solomon explains on a recent Tuesday afternoon how a man who once guarded LeBron came to hunch over countertops during house tours as a real estate agent for Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty in Seattle.
In 2015, Solomon settled in the city after his wife, Briana, landed a job in the buying department at Nordstrom. By then Solomon had already transitioned from a short-lived NBA career to an itinerant hooper life overseas. Three years later, the Nigeria native retired from basketball. He was tired of spending so much time away from his growing family—he and Briana were expecting their second daughter.
The couple would need more room than their downtown Seattle apartment could offer. So the Alabis embarked on their first house-hunting experience. It wasn’t the breeze Solomon expected; turns out those one-year international contracts weren’t sufficient for securing a loan. The couple instead leaned on Briana’s gig to guarantee financing for a home in Shoreline. Solomon was a bit taken aback by the experience. The NBA hadn’t prepared its young millionaires for the ins and outs of the real estate game, at least not when he was in the league. Players’ advisors often handled their property investments. “And a lot of athletes, sometimes they cannot rely on their agents or managers,” Solomon notes.
As he contemplated the next stage of his life, Solomon heard through the athlete grapevine that the Washington Athletic Club was a good place to play pickup hoops with former international and Division 1 college players, to scratch that competitive itch. The club recruited him to star for its travel team against foes in San Francisco and New York City. In 2019, Solomon helped lead the squad to a national title; he can proudly point to a banner bearing his name and the rest of the roster above the WAC’s court.
But Solomon also came to appreciate the WAC’s longtime status as a nexus of Seattle power, the type of place where CEOs confab in the sauna. In this province of successful bankers and brokers, Solomon met Stephen Saunders, a longtime local real estate agent who encouraged Solomon to pursue his budding interest in the field. Solomon shadowed him during home tours, observing how he talked to clients and about properties
Solomon would go on to complete Coldwell Banker Bain’s eight-week virtual real estate agent training in 2020 and, shortly thereafter, he’d help some old downtown neighbors acquire a three-bedroom condo in Kenmore. He’d also later close a deal on a $1 million estate in Des Moines. His secret? Keeping his cool even in a red-hot market. “It takes [enduring] so much mental pressure to be a top athlete, and I feel like that mentality, I can apply that to real estate,” he says.
Solomon’s combination of skill and height made him a coveted prospect coming out of Nigeria. An NBA-sponsored Basketball Without Borders trip to the U.S. helped him stand out on the high school recruiting circuit; he’d ultimately commit to Florida State University, where he played for three years before getting drafted in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft (he recently finished up his bachelor’s degree online).
But professional basketball is the rare space that caters to the estimated 3,000 seven-footers around the world. Cars, planes, restaurants, doorways—all not so accommodating from Solomon’s point of view. One of the things that sold him on the Shoreline house was the bathroom. The shower head was high enough that he could stand up straight beneath it.
The physical side of home shopping can indeed pose challenges. Solomon’s knees are sometimes near-level with countertops, and Seattle’s “cozy” properties frequently test his upper-body flexibility. “Some of them are a million dollars, but every basement, I have to duck,” he says. Still, there are advantages to testing a property’s dimensions. “I jokingly use my height. I say, ‘Hey, look, the ceilings are very high. If I can stretch my arms up, you’re good to go!’”
It can get tiresome talking about his towering stature. On a tour of the WAC after lunch, nearly everyone brings it up with Solomon who, ever-gregarious and patient, doesn’t betray his inner side-eye. As he walks toward a set of elevators on his way out, a group behind him whispers about his height. The next question is usually inevitable: Do you play basketball?
Lately Solomon’s been having some fun with it. “No,” he’ll say, a little wily, a little defiant. “I’m a real estate agent.”