Across 258 playoff contests, James has played what essentially amounts to more than three full regular seasons. But how much has he actually been paid for playing all that extra basketball?
As outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NBA and the NBPA, the players receive a “Playoff Pool in the amount of $20 million for the 2017-18 Season, changing by a percentage in each Season thereafter” based on year-over-year percentage change in league-wide basketball related income. This season, a total of more than $23 million (a number that is unaffected by the irregular circumstances of a postseason without fans) will be distributed among the 16 playoff teams based on their regular season and playoff success.
For teams that lose early in the postseason, this sum of money is relatively minuscule, but if the Los Angeles Lakers win the title tonight, they would secure more than $6 million dollars to split among their players.
Over his career, James’ teams have cumulatively earned approximately $35 million from the pool, less than his individual salary of $37.4 million this season. Of course, franchises give him that kind of money because they understand that employing LeBron James practically guarantees a deep playoff run, but that amount is still guaranteed to be paid, regardless of postseason results.
Splitting the money is the responsibility of teams, and traditionally they’ve done so with equal shares. Assuming that and that the distribution formula has remained constant since LeBron’s first playoff appearance, Sportico calculates that the entirety of James’ playoff success (and the extra mileage put on his body across 14 postseasons) has only directly earned him around $2.5 million.
While paltry by James’ standards, the amounts distributed from the playoff pool are not insignificant for lower-end players, and the postseason success driven by James over the past two decades has provided some nice paychecks for his teammates. For example, former Miami Heat guard Norris Cole, who played in 60 playoff games for the Heat, made $8.4 million in total annual salary over the course of his career, but earned an additional $665,000-plus from the playoff pool between 2012 and 2014, assuming equal payouts to all Heat players.
An unusual number of faces in this season’s Finals started out their careers as unknowns. Fifteen players competing in the NBA Finals have played in the G League at some point. For many of them, the additional paycheck earned from playoff success is a meaningful sum of money. But for James, even if he manages to lead the Lakers back to championship glory, he’ll still be wildly underpaid for his postseason performance, as he always has been.