Forbes released its top 10 list of off-the-court NBA earners this week, and not surprisingly, a couple of the game’s biggest stars lead the pack.
Before we get to the complete list, something stands out when looking at the dollars the top NBA athletes rake in, especially when compared to other sports’ stars.
Thanks to basketball boasting the biggest shoe sponsorship deals, no one comes close to making as much in total sponsorship dollars as NBA players do, and that includes sports that are more popular — like the NFL in the U.S., and soccer internationally.
And the gap between NBA players and others in team sports all starts with the shoes. The NBA’s biggest stars can command more than $10 million annually from Nike and Adidas. Nike represents almost half James’ off-court income, and James was the NBA’s leading shoe salesman in 2013 with $300 million in retail sales in the U.S. of his Nike signature shoes, according to research firm SportsOneSource. Rose signed a 13-year, $185 million contract with Adidas in 2012. A $1 million a year shoe deal is extremely rare for an NFL or MLB star. Basketball players move product unlike their counterparts in other sports.
Basketball players can also take advantage of the global nature of the sport. Bryant has made trips to China the past eight years for Nike and he is one of the brand’s main chips in its battle against Adidas in China. Bryant partnered with Turkish Airlines in 2010 and has been featured in commercials with global soccer star Lionel Messi. James’ Dunkin’ Donuts deal is for Asia only, and he entered into a new partnership with Chinese Internet services firm Tencent last year. These deals are not available to football and baseball players.
And now, the list:
Player/total endorsement income/shoe sponsor
LeBron James: $42 million (Nike)
Kobe Bryant: $34 million (Nike)
Derrick Rose: $21 million (Adidas)
Kevin Durant: $14 million (Nike)
Dwyane Wade: $12 million (Li Ning)
Carmelo Anthony: $9 million (Jordan/Nike)
Amar’e Stoudemire: $6.5 million (Nike)
Dwight Howard: $6 million (Adidas)
Blake Griffin: $6 million (Jordan/Nike)
Chris Paul: $4 million (Jordan/Nike)
Remember, the shoe sponsor noted isn’t where all of the income originates, but it’s certainly where the bulk of it comes from. Stoudemire’s ranking is a function of him playing in New York, and for NBA players seeking a bigger piece of the sponsorship pie, there’s a reason free agent stars flock to large markets.
Only Kevin Durant plays in a smaller one, and although Miami technically fits the bill, the pairing of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the same team, along with the exposure the Heat has gotten in winning consecutive titles, certainly has made them high-profile stars where sponsors are concerned.