Who wears the NBA crown when it comes to making money in 2022?
It would be easy to decipher that by just rolling through the highest salaries for every player suiting up in the league this season, but that’s no fun. What about all those bucks that players make when they’re not, for instance, playing for the Bucks?
There are obviously a few names that pop to mind right away, but as we alluded to in the intro, the first name is the one that calls himself the king: LeBron James.
A self-made billionaire unto himself, with aspirations of one day owning an NBA team after he retires, James gets plenty of green on and off the court, especially playing for one of the most glamorous franchises in any sport: the Los Angeles Lakers.
There are rivals vying for the throne who might supplant James at the top, such as Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and several others who you see with other business ventures and endorsements galore.
Let’s bounce through the top 10 in the NBA this year in terms of total earnings, thanks to the trusty money folks over at Forbes and writer Brett Knight.
10. Jimmy Butler — $49.7 million ($37.7 salary, $12 off-court)
33-year-old Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler has a swagger about him than emanates into his own coffee business, as well as permeating the much-ballyhooed “Heat Culture”. Butler has risen up the ranks of superstars thanks in large part to his run to the NBA Finals during the league’s bubble season amidst the 2020 pandemic and lockdowns, where his coffee venture, BigHead, began and has kept going.
Oh, uh, he’s going to release a country album as well?
9. Paul George — $51 million ($42.5 salary, $8.5 off-court)
Paul George plays in a very large market, Los Angeles, which gives him a lot of opportunities to make money away from basketball. It helps that he is one of the NBA’s highest-paid players, as well. Working with American Express, Chime, and Crypto.com (which owns naming rights to the arena formerly known as Staples Center), George is a bit of a surprise in the top 10.
8. James Harden — $53 million ($33 salary, $20 off-court)
The bearded one would be higher on this list in previous years, but James Harden actually took what people call, with straight faces, a “pay cut” to play for the Philadelphia 76ers again this upcoming season, giving the team more money to sign other players. That’s where his big money off the floor comes into play, with Harden a very recognizable figure in large part thanks to that iconic beard.
Harden has a stockade of fitness franchises back in Texas, where he used to play for the Houston Rockets, as well as a restaurant in said city, plus two alcohol-related ventures with Tequila Gran Diamante and Accolade Wines.
7. Damian Lillard— $60.5 million ($42.5 salary, $18 off-court)
So far everyone on our list is over 32 years old, which is also the age of Portland Trailblazers star Damian Lillard. the six-time All-Star has an established and respected rapping career outside of the hardwood, as well as lots of endorsements including with, naturally, audiophile experts Bose.
6. Klay Thompson— $60.6 million ($42.5 salary, $18 off-court)
The son of a former NBA player, Klay Thompson has it all going for him (even with those devastating injuries in years passed): he’s likeable, a proven winner, and he plays in one of the richest cities in the world, San Francisco.
The Golden State Warriors guard barely edges past Lillard, and he doesn’t go the traditional route, instead promoting establishments that fit his Bay Area vibe such as Mountain Dew and Buffalo Wild Wings. Sticking with the whole vibes theme, the California resident also takes advantage of his state of residency as a founder behind the budding CBD business named Just Live.
5. Russell Westbrook— $82.1 million ($47.1 salary, $35 off-court)
The biggest shocker on the list so far, if you rely on press coverage alone. Former MVP Russell Westbrook was viewed as a highly-likeable, fun, and vibrant personality for years, but being traded three times in consecutive seasons put a dent in his star power, as teams seemed very willing to get rid of him. As another player in Los Angeles, Westbrook rakes it in both on and off the court.
The former UCLA standout owns 10 car dealerships in California, and he also recently started a media-based business called RW Digital.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo — $86.5 million ($42.5 salary, $44 off-court)
We’re into the territory where the player salaries are all going to look very similar (albeit still staggering), but the money coming in off the floor is what makes the difference.
A worldwide superstar by way of Greece, Giannis Antetokounmpo is easily the biggest player in the smallest market on this list, playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, which he led to an NBA championship just a year ago. There’s always a big cash flow to come from being a face for a watch brand, with The Greek Freak having a lucrative deal with luxury brand Breitling.
The two-time MVP is also the youngest member of our top 10, coming in at just 27 years old right now, plus he is the first player on this list to have his off-court earnings eclipse even the staggering amount he makes in NBA salary.
3. Kevin Durant — $88 million ($43 salary, $45 off-court)
Even as Kevin Durant continues to garner bad publicity with trade demands and weird press conferences, the former Texas Longhorn is pure money as a shooter on the court, and a money making machine off the court. Often considered one of the three best players in the league, the now 34-year-old Durant has a big deal with FanDuel, and his own media business called Boardroom. Not to mention a venture capital firm, stakes in lacrosse and volleyball, a partnership with Venus Williams, and at least 75 investments spanning all sorts of businesses.
They say diversify your investments, and Durant is doing that within the sports world and even outside of it, currently earning more off the court than on it.
2. Stephen Curry — $95.1 million ($48.1 salary, $47 off-court)
Perhaps the most revered basketball player in the world right now, Stephen Curry is known for changing the way the game is played on the hardwood, and has four NBA titles to prove his mettle.
Our second player based in the Bay, the 34-year-old Warriors guard is the highest-paid player in the NBA for the upcoming 2022-23 season and is second in off-court earnings to only one person, the top earner on the list who you might be guessing at right now. Curry has his own company, a content brand called Unanimous Media, which refers to the time he won the NBA MVP award unanimously. The two-time MVP is also is the biggest face endorsing the athetlic apparal brand Under Armour, where he has his own sub-brand called Curry Brand, kind of like Michael Jordan has with Nike.
1. LeBron James — $124.5 million ($44.5 salary, $80 off-court)
There you have it, the answer to our query — a resounding, runaway “yes!”. Lebron James surpasses Curry’s amount here by nearly $30 million, with his off-court earnings far and away the highest amount of any player in the NBA. Forbes also states that James is one of five athletes worldwide to ever have earned more than $100 million in one year (pretax) along with Dak Prescott of the NFL, and soccer stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 37-year-old Los Angeles Lakers superstar was the first active athlete to be named a billionaire by the same publication that made this list, Forbes, and the man is recognizable probably just about anywhere in the world with TV screens. His entertainment development and production company, called SpringHill Co., is valued at three-quarters of a billion dollars. On top of that, James has investments in a German bike company, a carbon-neutral milk company, a sports nutrition company, he recently invested in the Major League Pickleball sports league, and of course, an annual signature shoe with Nike that rakes in the cash year after year, with this being his 20th edition of the shoe to match his 20th season playing in the NBA.
This is James ninth year in a row that he was on top of this list, according to Forbes, and something tells us he’s likely to stay on top as long as he’s an active player in the NBA.