By Ryan Velez
The top earner on the list is Kevin Garnett, with $326,362,956 earned over his 21 seasons, which included 15 All-Star Game Appearances and 1 championship. Interestingly, the top earner for a single season, LeBron James, is only 8th on the list. James once had a $31 million season, but it is important to note that his career is still ongoing (more on this later). Filling out the top five on the list are Kobe Bryant, with $323,321,307 earned, Shaquille O’Neal with $286,344,668 earned, Dirk Nowitzki with $241,646,342 earned, and Tim Duncan with $238,262,300 earned. As you can see, skill and fame come with a high salary, but being part of this list also requires a long career.
After seeing the names on this list, you may be a bit confused. What about NBA stars turned business successes like Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson? Well, for one thing, it’s important to realize that this list is focused on who earned the most during their careers in terms of salary. Johnson and Jordan are two of the most prominent examples of athletes leveraging their fame and skill into success in the business world—but much of their wealth comes from business deals after their NBA careers ended, such as Jordan’s deal with Nike, a major part of what has made him the current athlete with the highest net worth ever to date. The same applies to the many deals and investments that Johnson has made.
Another thing to be mindful of is the fact that the nature of sports and salaries means that players are likely to make more and more due to the fact that:
A. More and more money is being funneled into the sport via advertising, etc.
B. Players have more means to command a higher payday. This is especially the case if they initially sign with a team for a certain term, then suddenly have a surge of success that allows them to ask for more money when their contract is up, whether it be with another team or their current one.
As a result, if we revisit this list ten years down the line, we are very likely to see some major shifts on the list. Some players on the list, like LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony are still active and desired by teams, meaning the potential for their salaries may grow. In addition, there are still people just coming into their career primes who could break onto the list before career’s end.