Players are making more than ever on and off the court, and basketball’s booming business means their pay should continue rising.
Having piled up four NBA championships and four MVP Awards—not to mention $1.2 billion in career earnings—LeBron James has nothing left to prove. But as the Los Angeles Lakers’ 37-year-old superstar heads into his 20th pro season, he is still breaking new ground.
In June, James became the first active athlete to be certified a billionaire by Forbes—which gave some weight to his comment last week that he hoped to become the owner of an NBA expansion team in Las Vegas. This season, if he stays reasonably healthy, he should pass the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the league’s career points record. And his paychecks along the way will set another all-time mark.
With pretax earnings of $124.5 million from his 2022-23 on-court salary plus annual off-court cash from endorsements, licensing fees and other business endeavors, James will be the highest-paid NBA player ever, topping the estimated $121.2 million he raked in over the 12 months ending in May. This is his ninth straight year atop basketball’s earnings ranking, and he is ahead of No. 2 Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors’ sharpshooting guard, by $29.4 million.
That isn’t to suggest that Curry and the other stars on the list aren’t reaching new heights themselves. Combined, the NBA’s ten highest-paid players are set to collect $751 million before taxes and agents’ fees, up 5% from last year’s record total of $714 million and a remarkable 122% rise from ten years ago.
A DECADE OF PAYDAYS FOR THE NBA’S TOP TEN
Thanks in large part to lucrative sneaker deals—which can exceed $20 million annually in the cases of James, Curry and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant—the top ten will haul in an estimated $330 million off the court. That is easily the best figure for any sports league: The NFL’s ten top earners will combine for $120 million this season—more than a third of it paid to Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady—followed by the $15 million posted by both MLB and the NHL. Even soccer can’t compare, with the world’s ten highest-paid players totaling $208 million off the field, according to Forbes estimates.
The NBA’s off-court total represents an 8% improvement on last year’s record of $306 million, and a 123% jump from a decade ago. But the on-court growth has been just as stark—120% since 2012-13. That reflects the broader gains in the sport, with league revenues believed to have soared past $10 billion last season, from $4.6 billion in 2012-13.
With players contractually guaranteed 50% of the NBA’s basketball-related income, the salary cap has spiked to $123.7 million this season, from $58 million in 2012-13, and the luxury-tax threshold has risen to $150.3 million, from $70.3 million. That has given teams more money to spend and pushed up the value of the league’s max salaries, including the so-called super-max extensions that were introduced in 2017 for veteran players who have met certain criteria, like winning MVP or the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
11 imagesView gallery
Assuming no major changes to the pay system under the next collective bargaining agreement—the current deal is set to expire in 2024, or next year if either side decides to opt out of the final year—the players are primed to continue their ascent alongside the league’s. The NBA currently gets an average of $2.66 billion a year from its national media contracts with ABC, ESPN and Turner Broadcasting, and experts believe its next round of deals, beginning with the 2025-26 season, could double in value. That, of course, would mean another salary-cap surge—and salaries that could make this season’s records look paltry.
THE NBA’S HIGHEST-PAID PLAYERS 2022
#1. $124.5 mil
AGE: 37 | TEAM: Los Angeles Lakers | ON-COURT: $44.5 mil • OFF-COURT: $80 mil
Only ten active athletes have surpassed $100 million in pretax earnings in a single year, according to Forbes estimates, and James is one of just five to have done so in a team sport (after soccer stars Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar and NFL quarterback Dak Prescott). But much of the 37-year-old Lakers forward’s work off the court, as an investor and entrepreneur, doesn’t show up in Forbes’ earnings estimates, including the SpringHill Co., the entertainment development and production business he cofounded that was valued at about $725 million in a deal last year. James also recently invested in German manufacturer Canyon Bicycles, carbon-neutral milk brand Neutral Foods and a Major League Pickleball team, and he is a cofounder of Ladder, a sports nutrition company whose supplements became available in retail stores for the first time in July through a partnership with the Vitamin Shoppe. Last month saw the release of the latest edition of his signature shoe, the LeBron 20—a number that highlights both his 20 years in the NBA and his 20 years working with Nike.
#2. $95.1 mil
AGE: 34 | TEAM: Golden State Warriors | ON-COURT: $48.1 mil • OFF-COURT: $47 mil
No player will make more on the court this season than Curry, who is just starting a four-year, $215 million contract extension that is set to pay him $59.6 million for the 2025-26 season. Curry also ranks second with his off-court earnings, behind only LeBron James, and his $95.1 million total would have been an NBA earnings record as recently as the 2019-20 season. The 34-year-old Warriors guard, who is also an avid golfer, is a playable character in the new video game PGA 2K23 and last month published a children’s book, I Have a Superpower. His content company, Unanimous Media, is co-producing an animated Netflix reboot of the 1970s sitcom Good Times, and Curry Brand, his imprint within Under Armour, is set to release the tenth edition of his signature sneaker as rumors swirl that the shoemaker is looking to lock him down with a lifetime contract.
#3. $88 mil
AGE: 34 | TEAM: Brooklyn Nets | ON-COURT: $43 mil • OFF-COURT: $45 mil
After unsuccessfully seeking a trade over the summer, Durant is settling back in with the Nets for the first season of a four-year, $198 million extension he signed in 2021. The 34-year-old forward struck a partnership with FanDuel in February through his media business, Boardroom, and backed League One Volleyball in the upstart women’s pro league’s Series A round two weeks ago. His venture capital firm 35V, which has investments in more than 75 companies, recently acquired stakes in the Premier Lacrosse League; Happy Viking, the nutrition brand cofounded by tennis champion Venus Williams; and Athletes Unlimited, which organizes women’s sports leagues.
#4. $86.5 mil
AGE: 27 | TEAM: Milwaukee Bucks | ON-COURT: $42.5 mil • OFF-COURT: $44 mil
For the second straight year, Antetokounmpo is the only one of the NBA’s top ten earners who has yet to turn 30. The 27-year-old Bucks forward, who was the subject of the film Rise, released on Disney+ in June, has added partnerships with online gambling site Novibet and luxury watchmaker Breitling and has been picking up stakes in a number of companies, including telemedicine platform Antidote Health. He also recently opened a shop, AntetokounBros, with his four brothers at the airport in his native Athens.
#5. $82.1 mil
AGE: 33 | TEAM: Los Angeles Lakers | ON-COURT: $47.1 mil • OFF-COURT: $35 mil
After a bumpy debut season in Los Angeles following a July 2021 trade with the Washington Wizards, Westbrook exercised his $47.1 million option to return to the Lakers this year. The 33-year-old guard, a Los Angeles area native who owns ten auto dealerships in southern California, launched a media business called RW Digital in July, partnering with marketing firm Causal IQ to help brands reach diverse audiences. He may have another big check coming his way soon: He recently listed his 13,000-square-foot mansion in Los Angeles for just under $30 million. (Forbes’ earnings ranking does not account for individuals’ property sales.)
#6. $60.6 mil
AGE: 32 | TEAM: Golden State Warriors | ON-COURT: $40.6 mil • OFF-COURT: $20 mil
Thompson, who got back on the court with the Warriors in January after missing two seasons with injuries, has been sitting on the sidelines during the preseason out of an abundance of caution as Golden State looks to keep him healthy. The 32-year-old guard, due to hit free agency in 2024, has added Buffalo Wild Wings, Mountain Dew and NBA Top Shot maker Dapper Labs to his long list of sponsors over the last year. He is also one of the four athlete founders behind the CBD brand Just Live.
#7. $60.5 mil
AGE: 32 | TEAM: Portland Trail Blazers | ON-COURT: $42.5 mil • OFF-COURT: $18 mil
Lillard—who signed a two-year, $122 million extension in July that, along with his existing contract, could delay his free agency until 2027—will try to take the Trail Blazers back to the postseason after missing the playoffs in April for the first time since his rookie year in 2012-13. Late last year, he cofounded Move, which makes footwear insoles targeted at athletes, and he recently bolstered his already-deep stable of endorsements by signing with Bose and sneaker retailer Kicks Crew. The 32-year-old guard also reportedly played a part in designing the Trail Blazers’ new “Statement Edition” uniform.
#8. $53 mil
AGE: 33 | TEAM: Philadelphia 76ers | ON-COURT: $33 mil • OFF-COURT: $20 mil
Harden declined a $47.4 million player option for this season and re-signed with the 76ers on a two-year, $68.6 million contract with a player option for the 2023-24 season. The new deal will pay him $14.4 million less in 2022-23 than he was due to make with his option but allowed Philadelphia to be active in the off-season, with the additions of De’Anthony Melton, P.J. Tucker and Danuel House. Harden, who has leaned toward equity deals over traditional endorsements in recent years, invested in Tequila Gran Diamante this year and added to his fleet of Crunch Fitness franchises with a location in Katy, Texas. The 33-year-old guard also released a signature wine collection through a partnership with Accolade Wines and opened an upscale restaurant in Houston called Thirteen by James Harden.
#9. $51 mil
AGE: 32 | TEAM: Los Angeles Clippers | ON-COURT: $42.5 mil • OFF-COURT: $8.5 mil
After missing three months last season with an elbow injury, George is back to lead the Clippers alongside Kawhi Leonard, who is himself returning from a knee injury that cost him the entire 2021-22 season. George, a 32-year-old swingman, has recently signed sponsor deals with American Express, banking app Chime and NFT startup Recur, as well as Crypto.com, the new naming rights partner of the arena the Clippers share with the Lakers.
#10. $49.7 mil
AGE: 33 | TEAM: Miami Heat | ON-COURT: $37.7 mil • OFF-COURT: $12 mil
Last year, Butler signed a three-year, $146.4 million extension with a player option for 2025-26, and he immediately justified the Heat’s faith in him, leading Miami on a postseason run that fell five points short of the NBA finals. After selling $20 cups of coffee out of his hotel room at the NBA’s 2020 playoff bubble in Florida, Butler turned his half-serious side hustle into a legitimate business by launching the coffee brand BigFace last October. His startup then got plenty of exposure in an activation at the Miami Open tennis tournament in the spring. That’s not Butler’s only connection to racket sports, either: He is an enthusiastic fan of the up-and-coming sport padel and served as the honorary chair of the Miami Padel Open in February. The 33-year-old forward has also said he is preparing to release a country album.
METHODOLOGY: The Forbes ranking of the NBA’s highest-paid players reflects on-court earnings for the 2022-23 season, including base salaries and bonuses. Incentives that are based on 2022-23 individual or team performance are not included.
The off-court earnings estimates are determined through conversations with industry insiders and reflect annual cash from endorsements, licensing, appearances and memorabilia, as well as businesses operated by the players. Forbes does not include investment income such as interest payments or dividends but does account for payouts from equity stakes athletes have sold.
Forbes does not deduct for taxes or agents’ fees.
MORE FROM FORBES
MORE FROM FORBESLeBron James Is Officially A BillionaireBy Chase Peterson-WithornMORE FROM FORBESHighest-Paid NHL Players 2022: Young Stars Are Making The Most Of Hockey's Hard RealityBy Brett KnightMORE FROM FORBESThe World's Highest-Paid Golfers 2022: LIV Golf Reshuffles Top Earners And Sends Pay SoaringBy Justin BirnbaumMORE FROM FORBESThe World's Highest-Paid Soccer Players 2022: Kylian Mbappé Claims No. 1 As Erling Haaland DebutsBy Justin BirnbaumMORE FROM FORBESThe World's 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams 2022By Mike Ozanian