“I’m not a businessman—I’m a business, man,” Jay-Z famously rapped more than a decade ago. It’s a lesson that NBA superstars are taking to heart as they recognize their ability to call the shots on and off the court.
The biggest stars, including LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, have set up companies to manage the opportunities in media, marketing and investing that come along with being global icons.
The NBA’s top 10 earners will make an estimated $540 million this year from salaries, endorsements, appearances, royalties and media pacts.
The tally is up more than $180 million for hoops’ top earners from five years ago. James is the NBA’s highest-paid player for the fifth-straight year, with $88.7 million, including $53 million off the court. (Kobe Bryant was the last active basketball player to outearn King James.)
James, Curry and Durant are among the rare breed of players who make more off the court than on it. Endorsements provide the bulk of the off-court earnings for the trio. Shoe deals are the driving force, but these stars are increasingly pushing their personal brands into other areas.
James took control of his own marketing in 2006 when he launched what is now LRMR Ventures. A Hollywood production company, SpringHill Entertainment, followed in 2008.
It has created TV shows like The Wall and Survivor’s Remorse and is working on remakes of the films House Party and Space Jam. James expanded his business empire with his digital media firm Uninterrupted in 2015. It got a boost via a $15.8 million investment from Time Warner the same year.
James has moved past the traditional endorsement model in many cases. He eschewed a $15 million renewal of his endorsement deal with McDonald’s to double down on Blaze Pizza, where he is an investor and franchisee.
He teamed up last year with Cindy Crawford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lindsey Vonn to launch Ladder, a health and wellness company, selling protein powders to start. James’ net worth is an estimated $450 million.
-Kurt BadenhausenForbes Staff
The World’s 100 Highest-Paid Celebrities
The pop singer Taylor Swift lands the number 1 spot on the Forbes 2019 Celebrity 100 list, her highest earnings year yet.
|#1||Taylor Swift||29||$185 M||Musicians|
|#2||Kylie Jenner||21||$170 M||Personalities|
|#3||Kanye West||42||$150 M||Musicians|
|#4||Lionel Messi||32||$127 M||Athletes|
|#5||Ed Sheeran||28||$110 M||Musicians|
|#6||Cristiano Ronaldo||34||$109 M||Athletes|
|#8||The Eagles||–||$100 M||Musicians|
|#9||Dr. Phil McGraw||68||$95 M||Personalities|
|#10||Canelo Alvarez||28||$94 M||Athletes|
|#11||Roger Federer||37||$93.4 M||Athletes|
|#12||Howard Stern||65||$93 M||Personalities|
|#13||J.K. Rowling||53||$92 M||Authors|
|#14||Russell Wilson||30||$89.5 M||Athletes|
|#15||Dwayne Johnson||47||$89.4 M||Actors|
|#16||Aaron Rodgers||35||$89.3 M||Athletes|
|#17||LeBron James||34||$89 M||Athletes|
|#18||Rush Limbaugh||68||$87 M||Personalities|
|#19||Elton John||72||$84 M||Musicians|
|#20||Beyoncé Knowles||37||$81 M||Musicians|
|#22||Ellen DeGeneres||61||$80.5 M||Personalities|
|#23||Stephen Curry||31||$79.8 M||Athletes|
|#24||Chris Hemsworth||–||$76.4 M||Actors|
|#26||Kim Kardashian West||38||$72 M||Personalities|
|#27||Ryan Seacrest||44||$71.5 M||Personalities|
|#28||Sean Combs||49||$70 M||Musicians|
|#28||James Patterson||72||$70 M||Authors|
|#31||Robert Downey Jr.||54||$66 M||Actors|
|#32||Kevin Durant||30||$65.4 M||Athletes|
|#33||Akshay Kumar||51||$65 M||Actors|
|#34||Tiger Woods||43||$63.9 M||Athletes|
|#35||Gordon Ramsay||52||$63 M||Personalities|
|#37||David Copperfield||62||$60 M||Magicians|
|#38||Kevin Hart||40||$59 M||Comedians|
|#39||Jackie Chan||65||$58 M||Actors|
|#39||Travis Scott||28||$58 M||Musicians|
|#41||Katy Perry||34||$57.5 M||Musicians|
|#41||Justin Timberlake||38||$57.5 M||Musicians|
|#43||Bradley Cooper||44||$57 M||Actors|
|#43||Adam Sandler||52||$57 M||Actors|
|#47||Scarlett Johansson||34||$56 M||Actresses|
|#48||Ben Roethlisberger||37||$55.5 M||Athletes|
|#49||Lewis Hamilton||34||$55 M||Athletes|
|#49||Anthony Joshua||–||$55 M||Athletes|
|#49||Khalil Mack||28||$55 M||Athletes|
|#52||Russell Westbrook||30||$53.7 M||Athletes|
|#53||Billy Joel||70||$52 M||Musicians|
|#54||Bruno Mars||33||$51.5 M||Musicians|
|#55||Novak Djokovic||32||$50.6 M||Athletes|
|#55||Mike Trout||27||$50.6 M||Athletes|
|#57||Jimmy Buffett||72||$50 M||Musicians|
|#59||Fleetwood Mac||–||$49 M||Musicians|
|#59||Judy Sheindlin||76||$49 M||Personalities|
|#61||Phil Mickelson||49||$48.4 M||Athletes|
|#62||Ariana Grande||26||$48 M||Musicians|
|#62||Paul McCartney||77||$48 M||Musicians|
|#64||James Harden||29||$47.7 M||Athletes|
|#65||Conor McGregor||30||$47 M||Athletes|
|#66||DeMarcus Lawrence||27||$46.9 M||Athletes|
|#67||Sean Hannity||57||$46 M||Personalities|
|#67||The Chainsmokers||–||$46 M||Musicians|
|#69||Steve Harvey||62||$45 M||Personalities|
|#70||Bryce Harper||26||$44.5 M||Athletes|
|#71||Guns N’ Roses||–||$44 M||Musicians|
|#72||Chris Paul||34||$43.8 M||Athletes|
|#73||Chris Evans||–||$43.5 M||Actors|
|#74||Kyrie Irving||27||$43.3 M||Athletes|
|#75||Giannis Antetokounmpo||24||$43.2 M||Athletes|
|#76||Jennifer Lopez||49||$43 M||Musicians|
|#76||Sofía Vergara||47||$43 M||Television actresses|
|#78||Luke Bryan||42||$42.5 M||Musicians|
|#79||Drew Brees||40||$42.4 M||Athletes|
|#80||Simon Cowell||59||$42 M||Personalities|
|#81||Aaron Donald||28||$41.4 M||Athletes|
|#82||Damian Lillard||28||$41.1 M||Athletes|
|#83||Paul Rudd||–||$41 M||Actors|
|#83||Jerry Seinfeld||65||$41 M||Comedians|
|#83||Rolling Stones||–||$41 M||Musicians|
|#86||Sebastian Vettel||32||$40.3 M||Athletes|
|#87||DJ Khaled||43||$40 M||Musicians|
|#87||The Weeknd||29||$40 M||Musicians|
|#90||Lady Gaga||33||$39.5 M||Musicians|
|#91||Blake Griffin||30||$39.1 M||Athletes|
|#92||Dave Matthews Band||–||$39 M||Musicians|
|#92||Rory McIlroy||30||$39 M||Athletes|
|#94||Paul George||29||$38.6 M||Athletes|
|#95||Zac Brown Band||–||$38.5 M||Musicians|
|#95||Calvin Harris||35||$38.5 M||Musicians|
|#95||Kendrick Lamar||–||$38.5 M||Musicians|
|#98||Brandin Cooks||25||$38 M||Athletes|
|#98||Shawn Mendes||20||$38 M||Musicians|
|#100||Celine Dion||51||$37.5 M||Musicians|
Hip-Hop’s Next Billionaires: Richest Rappers 2019
Back in 2007, Jay-Z made a bold statement in song about both his lyrical prowess and his future financial fortunes: “I’m already the G.O.A.T.–next stop is the billie.”
Sure enough, Forbes declared him hip-hop’s first billionaire earlier this month. The news caught the attention of observers around the world—not only due to the breadth of Jay-Z’s financial achievement, but because of what it means for others looking to follow in his footsteps.
“Jay-Z’s entire life is the real blueprint,” says hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, longtime host of the show Yo! MTV Raps. “He’s one of the best examples in our lifetime of one who’s truly achieved the American dream and billionaire status.”
Naturally, Jay-Z tops this year’s ranking of hip-hop’s richest stars. Who will be the next billionaire from the rap world? The answer is almost certainly one of the names below.
The 32-year-old Canadian is the youngest on this list by a decade, but he’s quickly gaining ground on hip-hop’s elder statesmen. Drake’s fortune grew 50% over the past year, boosted by holdings ranging from real estate to his Virginia Black whiskey, as well as a lucrative tour and new residency at the XS Nightclub in Las Vegas.
“Every year, we just want to get more prepared and better at touring and better at things that make money,” he told Forbes in 2013 (his average gross has since surged from $500,000 to more than $2 million per stop). “That’s pretty much my objective every year, other than making good music.”
4. Kanye West
A onetime protégé of Jay-Z, the superproducer has been making headlines recently for his Sunday Service, an invitation-only get-together mostly in Southern California that is reportedly frequented by the likes of Courtney Love and Tyler, the Creator. He took the show on the road in April for a Coachella service on Easter Sunday featuring appearances by Chance the Rapper, DMX and a gospel choir—while hawking socks and “holy spirit” sweatshirts. But selling church clothes alone won’t be enough to push West into ten-figure territory.
Despite declaring himself $53 million in debt and beseeching Mark Zuckerberg for $1 billion to fund future creations in 2016, West makes his debut on this list thanks to a another patron: Adidas, which lured West and his Yeezy shoe line from Nike several years ago. Our accounting of West’s wealth is almost entirely predicated on a conservative estimate of that brand’s value. As it continues to scale up, he could one day join his sister-in-law, Kylie Jenner, as a billionaire.
“I started my business career at age 12, delivering newspapers,” Diddy explained two years ago in our centennial issue, where we named him one of the world’s greatest living business minds. “Since then, I’ve always understood that if I give the customers my best and service them differently, whether music, clothing or vodka, I’ll get a return on my hard work.”
The artist formerly known as Puff Daddy dips to No. 3 on this list as industry trends weigh on some of his holdings, including cable network Revolt and clothing line Sean John (though Diddy has sold much of his stake in the latter, he retains a sizeable piece). But Ciroc, the main driver of his fortune, is growing again after case volumes fell from all-time highs in recent years—making the impresario perhaps the most likely candidate to join Jay-Z in the billion-dollar club.
2. Dr. Dre
It’s been five years since Dr. Dre proclaimed himself a billionaire, but Forbes still doesn’t agree with the assessment made in the wake of Apple’s $3 billion 2014 purchase of his Beats By Dr. Dre headphone line. The superproducer owned an estimated 20%-25% of the company at the time; of the $2.6 billion Apple paid upfront in cash, another $295 million was earmarked to cover debt payments, leaving Dre with a little over $500 million.
Even with the vesting of his final slug of Apple stock last summer, Dre hasn’t quite made it into billionaire territory. He has spent heavily over the years on property (he paid $40 million for Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen’s Los Angeles estate) and charitable donations (along with Beats cofounder Jimmy Iovine, he gave $70 million to start a school at USC). And with his formal involvement at Apple seemingly wrapping up, Dre will likely need to get back on the festival circuit—or start a new company—if he’s to make good on his 2014 declaration.
Though he’s hip-hop’s first billionaire, Jay-Z’s lead on the rest of the pack is even larger if his entire family fortune is taken into consideration: He and wife Beyoncé are now worth a combined $1.4 billion. So much for the notion that music is a dying business.
“To convince artists that you can’t be an artist and make money … was the greatest trick in music that people ever pulled off,” Jay-Z told Forbes in 2010. “I think the people that were making the millions said that.”
In order to compile our ranking of the richest rappers, we use the same procedures employed in the calculation of our annual billionaires list: poring over financial documents, valuing major assets, and consulting with analysts, managers, attorneys and other industry insiders.
Cover photographs: Getty Images (Dr. Dre: AP Images)
-Zack O’Malley Greenburg; Forbes Staff
World’s Highest-Paid Athletes 2019: What Messi, LeBron And Tiger Make
Major League Baseball had a staggering run this year when, over a four-week period, a quartet of its biggest stars—Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Mike Trout—signed blockbuster, long-term deals worth a combined $1.3 billion. They ranked as four of the biggest playing contracts in the history of sports.
The deals will create generational wealth for their families, but only Trout, ranked 17th with $50.6 million, cracks the top 20 of the world’s highest-paid athletes.
The difference: Those four baseball stars generate barely $10 million in combined endorsement income while the top earners in basketball, soccer, tennis and golf all individually bank at least $30 million from sponsors annually; eight of the 11 best-paid athletes come from those four sports.
Most of the athletes ranked above Trout follow a similar path: Reach the highest levels of a global sport, and marketers swarm with endorsement deals to pitch their wares around the world.
Barcelona soccer legend Lionel Messi leads the way on this year’s list with $127 million, including $35 million off the pitch from partners Adidas, MasterCard, PepsiCo and more. Messi translates into every language.
Messi is only the fourth athlete to land in the No. 1 spot over the past 19 years, joining Tiger Woods (12 times), Floyd Mayweather (4) and Cristiano Ronaldo (2).
Messi succeeds Mayweather, who failed to get in the ring for a pro bout over the past 12 months but is likely still counting last year’s $285 million haul, which he earned largely from his 2017 bout against UFC star Conor McGregor.
READ MORE | The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes
Messi is joined by fellow global soccer icons Cristiano Ronaldo ($109 million) and Neymar ($105 million) at the top this year. It is the first time that soccer players have ranked as the top three earners in sports since Forbes began tracking athlete earnings in 1990.
Elite stars in other global sports are also extremely marketable on any continent. Roger Federer ranks fifth with $93.4 million, including $86 million off the court.
Federer will turn 38 in August and is a dinosaur in tennis years. Yet Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo signed the 20-time Grand Slam winner in 2018 to a 10-year contract worth $300 million. Federer has a dozen sponsors looking to tap the cash-rich tennis fan demographic.
Basketball’s leading trio of LeBron James ($89 million), Stephen Curry ($79.8 million) and Kevin Durant ($65.4 million) rank seventh through ninth, having earned a combined $130 million beyond their respective playing salaries.
Their shoe deals, with Nike (James, Durant) and Under Armour (Curry), are by far the biggest endorsement for each player and dwarf what an MLB player can earn pitching baseball cleats and gear.
Sportswear brands, including Adidas, have used NBA stars in China for more than a decade to help establish a foothold in the world’s biggest market, sending big names like James and Durant there every summer on promotional tours. The NBA estimates 640 million people in China watched some kind of NBA programming during the 2017-18 season—that’s nearly twice the population of the U.S.
Golf is another sport that reaches almost every corner of the globe, and no golfer has benefited more than Tiger Woods: He has made $1.4 billion during his career from endorsements and appearance fees, more than 10 times his prize money, and his net worth is a staggering $800 million. Woods ranks 11th on this year’s athletes list with earnings of $63.9 million, including $54 million off the course.
Tiger roared back over the past 12 months with his first win in five years (Tour Championship) and his first major title in 11 years (The Masters). Last year, he signed an exclusive multi-year global content partnership with Discovery’s GolfTV. Head-to-head matches are part of the deal, and most will take place outside the U.S.
The 100 highest-paid athletes earned a combined $4 billion over the past 12 months, up 5% over the previous year. The increase jumps to 16% if you strip out the one-time stimulus of the 2017 Mayweather-McGregor fight. Endorsements fueled much of the gains, with sponsor-driven income at $987 million, up 12% from the previous year.
Overall, athletes from 10 sports and 25 countries made the top 100. Basketball (35 athletes) is the most dominant sport, and Americans (62) are the most dominant nationality.
Tennis ace Serena Williams ranked 63rd with $29.2 million, including $25 million off the court. She is the only woman to crack the top 100 for the second time in three years.
No female athletes qualified last year, when Williams was just returning to tennis after a 12-month layoff for her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter, Olympia. Williams is lining up her next act with a new clothing line and a venture capital fundfocused on investing in female and minority founders.
Our earnings include prize money, salaries and bonuses earned between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019. Endorsement incomes are an estimate of sponsorships, appearance fees and licensing incomes for the same 12-month period (click here for a more detailed methodology and the numbers behind the top 100).
-Kurt Badenhausen; Forbes Staff
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