Basketball’s top players can’t match the social media followings of soccer’s biggest stars; their TV audiences are a fraction of those that watch elite NFL QBs; and their CBA restricts contract lengths to five years, which means no $300 million contracts like you see in baseball.
But when it comes to annual earnings, the NBA’s superstars are unmatched.
The 15 highest-paid basketball players will earn an estimated $969 million this season in salary and endorsements, well ahead of the tally for those in soccer ($755 million), the NFL ($675 million) and MLB ($541 million). NBA stars can credit soaring playing salaries, as well as sponsorships, led by the sneaker companies that are typically rooted in the world’s biggest economy but also have a strong global reach. Endorsements represent 35% of the $969 million in expected earnings for the NBA’s top 15 this season.
LeBron James scores the top spot with $119.5 million, including an estimated $75 million from sponsors, memorabilia, royalties and media. James’ lifetime agreement with Nike is his most lucrative deal and represents roughly 40% of his off-court earnings. Other major sponsors include AT&T, Beats, GMC and PepsiCo. He added Crypto.com as a partner in early 2022 but otherwise has cut back on his sponsor commitments; his agreements with Blaze, Rimowa and Walmart expired this year.
Recently retired tennis great Roger Federer is the only other athlete on the planet who can match King James on endorsement earnings.
James has increasingly focused his off-court game on building equity in businesses during the back half of his NBA career. His endorsement deal with Blaze ended, but he is still an investor in the fast-casual pizza chain and is part of a group that owns roughly 20 franchises. The four-time NBA MVP holds stakes in Calm, Ladder/Openfit and Lobos 1707 tequila. James also owns a sliver of the Fenway Sports Group conglomerate, an arrangement forged from a 2011 marketing agreement with FSG. Its sports portfolio includes the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool, NESN, Pittsburgh Penguins and a NASCAR team. James’ latest addition: a small stake in a Major League Pickleball franchise.
The Lakers star’s biggest asset is SpringHill Company, which includes production company SpringHill Entertainment, media platform Uninterrupted and brand consultancy Robot. Last year, SpringHill sold a minority stake to a consortium led by Gerry Cardinale’s sports-focused RedBird Capital that valued the company at $725 million. Revenue for SpringHill is expected to top $100 million this year.
Stephen Curry ($93.1 million), Kevin Durant ($91 million), Giannis Antetokounmpo ($86.5 million) and Russell Westbrook ($72.1 million) fill out the top five behind James. Curry has the NBA's highest salary for the sixth straight season at $48.1 million. Milwaukee Bucks star Antetokounmpo is the only player in the top 10 under the age of 32. Los Angeles’ two clubs, Lakers and Clippers, each landed three players among the top 15 earners, although the Houston Rockets are paying 86% of John Wall’s $47.4 million salary this season after a buyout.
The playing salaries of the NBA’s top earners are their full base salaries without any bonuses calculated—most of these players have maximum salaries under the CBA and are not eligible for individual incentives. The final salaries could ultimately drop lower, depending on the league’s financial performance this season. The CBA typically calls for 10% of salaries to be held in an escrow account to ensure the revenue split between teams and players is roughly 50-50 after every dollar is counted from tickets, sponsorships, concessions, TV and the like. Revenue shortfalls from COVID-19 upended those calculations dramatically for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. Last season was much improved, but teams still held an elevated 15% in escrow, due to the uncertainty. Players ultimately had half the escrow payments returned with owners keeping the balance. All players will have 15% of their salaries held in escrow again for the 2022-23 season, according to multiple sources.
Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar all earn higher playing salaries than any NBA star, but soccer can’t match the depth of big contracts in basketball. Those four are the only soccer players expected to make $30 million in base salary this season (bonuses will also push Erling Haaland over that mark). In the NBA, more than 40 players will earn at least $30 million this season.
Off-court earnings estimates were compiled through conversations with those familiar with NBA endorsement deals. Also included are royalties from sneaker deals, as well as earnings from memorabilia, appearances, media and businesses tied to their celebrity. We exclude investment income unless it is connected to an endorsement agreement. The figures are all before taxes and any agent fees.
The Highest-Paid NBA Players 2022-23
1. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers): $119.5 million
Salary: $44.5 million | Endorsements: $75 million | Age: 37
James’ number of social media followers trails the top soccer players, but his 133 million fans on Instagram are three times what Curry has. James moved his Uninterrupted talk show, The Shop, from HBO to YouTube this year, giving SpringHill more control over the IP around the show.
2. Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors): $93.1 million
Salary/bonus: $48.1 million | Endorsements: $45 million | Age: 34
Curry has more than 10 endorsement deals, led by Under Armour and its Curry Brand. In March, he won an Oscar for short documentary as an executive producer of Queen of Basketball. He added some more hardware three months later with his fourth NBA title and first NBA Finals MVP. In between, he completed his college degree at Davidson, 13 years after leaving the campus. The golf aficionado will be a playable character in the PGA Tour 2K23 video game.
3. Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets): $91 million
Salary: $43 million | Endorsements: $48 million | Age: 34
Durant has endorsements deals with Nike, NBA 2K, Coinbase, Dapper Labs, Call of Duty, Weedmaps and FanDuel, while his media company has expanded with Boardroom.TV and projects on Showtime and Apple TV+. The venture capital arm of the four-time scoring champ, 35V, has more than 75 investments, including sports-oriented ones like Athletes Unlimited, Gotham FC, League One Volleyball, Philadelphia Union and Premier Lacrosse League.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks): $86.5 million
Salary: $42.5 million | Endorsements: $44 million | Age: 27
The two-time NBA MVP has more than 15 endorsement agreements, and Nike just released the fourth iteration of his signature shoe, Zoom Freak 4. Earlier this year, WhatsApp tapped Giannis to be its first global brand ambassador. Last month, the popular message app released a 12-minute film that chronicles Antetokounmpo’s origin story. He bought a minority stake in the Milwaukee Brewers last year.
5. Russell Westbrook (Los Angeles Lakers): $72.1 million
Salary: $47.1 million | Endorsements: $25 million | Age: 33
The Lakers guard has endorsement deals with Nike’s Jordan Brand and Hennessy, as well as his own businesses with RW Digital and his fashion brand, Honor the Gift, which opened its first retail store in Los Angeles last month. In addition, Westbrook has more than a half-dozen car dealerships in southern California that carry his name.
6. Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors): $61.6 million
Salary: $40.6 million | Endorsements: $21 million | Age: 32
Thompson added Mountain Dew to his deep endorsement roster that is led by Chinese shoe and apparel brand Anta. Curry’s fellow Splash Brother returned to play 32 games last season after missing the previous two years with knee and Achilles injuries. The 2023-24 season is the final year of his current five-year, $190 million contract with the Warriors.
7. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers): $59.5 million
Salary: $42.5 million | Endorsements: $17 million | Age: 32
Lillard signed a two-year extension with the Trail Blazers in July, which ties him to the club through the 2026-27 season and is worth $63.3 million in that final year. His endorsement partners include Adidas, Bose, Gatorade, Hulu, Modelo, Oakley and Tissot.
8. James Harden (Philadelphia 76ers): $52 million
Salary: $33 million | Endorsements: $19 million | Age: 33
The 2017-18 NBA MVP opted out of the final year of his contract with the 76ers worth $47.4 million and agreed to a pay cut under a new two-year contract that pays $33 million this season and includes a $35.6 million player option for year two. Harden banked a payout of more than $15 million as an early endorser and stakeholder in BodyArmor when Coca-Cola bought the sports drink brand for $8 billion in 2021.
9. Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers): $51 million
Salary: $42.5 million | Endorsements: $8.5 million | Age: 32
Injuries limited the forward to only 31 games last year, but the return of George and Kawhi Leonard has the Clippers among the betting favorites to win the NBA title. George has endorsement deals with Nike, Crypto.com, Chime, American Express, Recur and Therabody.
10. John Wall (Los Angeles Clippers): $47.9 million
Salary: $47.4 million | Endorsements: $500,000 | Age: 32
Wall did not appear in any games for the Houston Rockets during the 2021-22 season, as the club rebuilt around a young core. In June, Wall and the Rockets reached a buyout agreement for the final year of his four-year, $171 million contract. He accepted a $6.5 million cut and subsequently signed a two-year, $13.3 million deal with the Clippers. Only Curry will earn more in playing salary this season than Wall.
11. Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards): $47.8 million
Salary: $43.3 million | Endorsements: $4.5 million | Age: 29
Beal signed a five-year, $251 million supermax contract extension this summer, which is the NBA’s largest contract after Nikola Jokic’s $272 million pact that kicks off next season. Nike’s Jordan Brand is Beal’s biggest off-court endorsement, and he also has deals with Purina, Hotels.com, Recur and LMNT.
12. Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets): $47.5 million
Salary: $36.5 million | Endorsements: $11 million | Age: 30
Irving exercised his $36.5 million player option for 2022-23, which is the final season of his four-year, $136.5 million Nets contract. Most of Irving’s endorsement deals have expired, and Nike is unlikely to extend its lucrative deal with Irving beyond this season, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.
13. Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers): $47.5 million
Salary/bonus: $42.5 million | Endorsements: $5 million | Age: 31
Leonard missed the entire first season of his four-year, $176 million contract extension with the Clippers while recovering from a partial tear in his ACL that occurred during the 2021 playoffs. Four years ago, New Balance jumped back into the basketball market for the first time since the 1980s, making Leonard the face of its push.
14. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers): $47 million
Salary/bonus: $38 million | Endorsements: $9 million | Age: 29
The oft-injured big man missed half the 2021-22 season, which helped keep the Lakers out of the playoffs. Davis has endorsed PepsiCo brands Mountain Dew and Ruffles—he even has his own brand of lime- and jalapeno-flavored Ruffles.
15. Luka Dončić (Dallas Mavericks): $45.6 million
Salary/bonus: $37.1 million | Endorsements: $8.5 million | Age: 23
Dončić enters the 2022-23 season as the favorite to win the NBA MVP award. It is the first season of the five-year, $215 million contract extension he signed with the Mavericks in 2021 that escalated because he was voted first-team All-NBA twice. This year also marks the first signature shoe for the Slovenian guard with Nike's Jordan Brand. His shoe deal is worth roughly $6 million annually, plus royalties, according to a source. Biosteel, NBA 2K and Nerf are his other partners.
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