“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 NBA’s Highest-Paid Players 2019-20: LeBron James Scores Record $92 Million
NBA salaries have skyrocketed in recent years, but the biggest stars have earned more off the court than on it to this point in their careers. LeBron James, who tops the ranking for the 2019-2020 season, has made more than twice as much from endorsements than his $270 million in playing salary over his first 16 years. Kevin Durant’s on-court earnings of $187 million in 12 seasons is dwarfed by his current ten-year, $275 million Nike deal.
At $92 million, including salary and endorsements, James is the NBA’s highest-paid player for the sixth straight year. It is a record haul for an active basketball player. Nike is his biggest backer, and the company is naming a new research lab at its Beaverton, Oregon, corporate campus after James. Last month, the 17th iteration of his Nike signature shoe, the LeBron XVII, hit stores.
The four-time NBA MVP added a pair of endorsement deals in 2019 with Rimowa luggage and Walmart, which joined Coca-Cola, Beats By Dre, Blaze Pizza and NBA 2K in his sponsorship stable.
He also has a budding digital media company, Uninterrupted, and a production firm, SpringHill Entertainment, which will release a sequel to the 1996 Michael Jordan vehicle Space Jam in conjunction with Warner Bros. in 2021. All of the off-court work is worth an estimated $55 million for James this season.
The Los Angeles Lakers star’s comments about the NBA’s geopolitical mess in China also reveal the precarious position everyone in the league is in as political unrest in Hong Kong shows no signs of abating.
As the league’s 74th regular season tipped off Tuesday night, the NBA was still reeling from the crisis set off by a tweet from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.
Commissioner Adam Silver backed Morey’s right to free speech, but some players didn’t, including James, who called Morey “misinformed or not really educated” on the situation. “We love China,” said Rockets point guard James Harden.
It was a rare misstep for two of the league’s more media-savvy stars, both of whom have close ties to China. Adidas, which has Harden as the face of its basketball business, generated more revenue in China last year than in North America, and the Rockets are China’s most popular team after drafting native son Yao Ming in 2002.
Nike’s China revenue topped $6 billion during the last fiscal year, and the country is a growth leader for the brand. James has represented Nike on 15 off-season trips to China. The sports giant pays James more than $30 million annually to pitch its products around the globe.
And the threat of losing its growth trajectory in China could have far-reaching consequences for team valuations.
But back at home, the financials of NBA franchises remain solid, which is good for player salaries. The league’s salary cap is soaring, fueled largely by the nine-year, $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and TNT signed in 2014.
NBA players are entitled to 51% of the league’s “basketball-related income” as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement. The rich TV deal and budding international business means 46 players will earn a playing salary of at least $25 million this season, according to Spotrac. The $25 million club had zero members five years ago. And unlike in the NFL, every dollar is guaranteed upon signing.
On-court salaries in the NBA are capped based on a player’s number of years in the league and accolades earned in cases in which an award like MVP entitles them to a bigger percentage of a team’s salary cap.
So the pecking order for the elite stars is ultimately determined by their off-court income, with the shoe deal the biggest component of those earnings. There are ten active NBA players who will make at least $10 million from their shoe contracts this year, by Forbes’ count.
Stephen Curry comes in at No. 2 on the earnings list this year and is expected to generate $85 million this season, including $45 million off the court. Under Armour represents nearly half of his off-court income.
Curry’s $40.2 million salary from the Golden State Warriors is the highest in the history of the NBA; he’s in the third season of the five-year, $201 million contract he signed in 2017. Curry’s production company, Unanimous Media, has a development deal with Sony Pictures.
Unanimous’ first movie, Breakthrough, was released in April, with Curry playing a role in marketing the Christian-oriented film, which grossed $50 million on a $14 million budget.
Durant has the NBA’s second-biggest annual shoe contract after James’ at an estimated $26 million this season. His total earnings from his playing salary and endorsements is $73 million. Nike sells more KD shoes in China than in North America, according to Durant’s business partner Rich Kleiman.
Like James and Curry, Durant has his own production company, which is co-producing a new basketball-themed drama, Swagger, that is inspired by Durant’s youth basketball experience and will air on the Apple TV+ streaming service.
The NBA’s ten highest-paid players are expected to earn a cumulative $600 million this year, including $250 million from endorsements, appearances, merchandise and media.
Lillard signed a four-year, $196 million supermax extension in July with the Portland Trail Blazers that kicks in for the 2021-2022 season. The final year is worth $54.25 million for the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year and four-time All-Star. Lillard’s Adidas shoe deal is worth roughly $10 million annually.
The “Greek Freak” is eligible for a five-year, $248 million contract extension next summer with the Milwaukee Bucks. It would be the richest deal in the history of the sport. In June, Nike unveiled the first signature shoe, Zoom Freak 1, for the 2019 NBA MVP.
Only Curry will earn more on the court this season than Paul, who was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in July. Paul was an early investor and ambassador for Beyond Meat, whose stock price has quadrupled since its initial public offering in May.
Thompson’s coach, Steve Kerr, says the sharpshooter is likely to miss the entire season after tearing his ACL during the NBA Finals in June. But he’ll still collect his full $32.7 million salary—almost double last year’s—under the first season of the five-year, $190 million pact he signed in July. Thompson is the basketball face of Chinese shoe brand Anta.
Irving joins his third team in four years this season. His four-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets is worth $136 million and includes an additional $4.3 million in potential incentives. A viral Pepsi ad campaign featuring Irving as the elderly Uncle Drew eventually led to a 2018 feature film; Irving has partial ownership of the character. Irving is another Beyond Meat investor.
The 2018 NBA MVP purchased a minority stake in the Houston Dynamo of MLS this summer for $15 million. Harden also holds equity stakes in BodyArmor, Stance socks and Art of Sport. His salary with the Rockets jumps $8 million this season with the start of a contract extension he signed in 2017.
Westbrook’s five-year, $207 million contract is the largest deal in the NBA right now. The eight-time All Star extended his deal with Nike’s Jordan brand in 2017 for another ten years and in 2018 received his first signature shoe, the Why Not Zer0. Westbrook has averaged a triple-double for three straight seasons.
Durant is likely to miss the entire season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in June during the NBA Finals. He’ll still pocket his full first-year salary from the Brooklyn Nets under the four-year, $164 million deal he signed in July. He’s invested in more than 30 startups, including Postmates and investing app Acorns.
The two-time MVP used some of his hoops money in June to buy a $31 million home in Atherton, California, with his wife, Ayesha. He also made a seven-figure donation this summer to Howard University to help launch a golf program at the school and recently signed an endorsement partnership with Callaway Golf. Curry became the only player to win the NBA MVP unanimously when he won his second of back-to-back awards in 2016.
James signed an endorsement in 2019 with Walmart that is rooted in community work. He worked with the retail giant on its Fight Hunger. Spark Change. initiative, as well as the company’s back-to-school campaign. James is part of an investment group that owns 19 Blaze Pizza franchises across Illinois and Florida.
-Forbes; Kurt Badenhausen
These Are The Biggest Givers On The Forbes 400
This has been a year of record-setting in billionaire philanthropy. In September, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of POM Wonderful and Fiji Water, pledged $750 million to the California Institute of Technology for environmental sustainability research.
In June, Blackstone cofounder Stephen Schwarzman donated $189 million to the University of Oxford—the largest single gift to the school since the Renaissance—to fund its work on humanities. The same month, Broadcom billionaire Henry Samueli pledged $100 million to UCLA’s engineering school, the largest gift ever to the department.
Forbes tracks gifts and pledges like these as part of our ongoing coverage of charitable giving by the country’s richest people.
For the second year in a row, Forbes tracked the philanthropic giving of the richest 400 individuals in the U.S. and gave each member of The Forbes 400 list a philanthropy score. The score ranged from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most philanthropic. List members for whom we could find no charitable giving information received an N.A. (not available).
Though the number of the biggest givers—those who scored a 5—stayed flat in 2019, those who received scores of 4 and 3 increased compared with a year ago.
The changes reflect two things: The country’s richest have gotten somewhat more generous, and Forbes had more information to work with this year. Some billionaires were willing to share information on charitable giving for the 2019 list who didn’t in 2018. As a result, four dozen people got higher scores this year than a year ago.
This year, Warren Buffett led the list of top givers with $38.8 billion in lifetime giving, which is 32% of his net worth, and earned the top score of 5.
He was followed by last year’s biggest giver, Bill Gates, who has donated $38.5 billion so far. Two people who scored a 5 last year—Paul Allen and David Koch—passed away.
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Billionaires like DreamWorks Pictures founder David Geffen and WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton moved up to the top score after each scored a 4 last year. According to the latest tax filings, Geffen gave $38 million to his foundation in 2017, which brought his lifetime giving to about $1 billion.
Acton and his wife Tegan, on the other hand, have been expanding their philanthropic network, Wildcard Giving, which they founded in 2014 after Acton sold WhatsApp to Facebook. The couple has given away more than $1 billion to charitable causes.
Forty-one billionaires, including Netflix cofounder Reed Hastings and software billionaire Philip “Terry” Ragon, got higher scores this year than last year. Some, like Stephen Schwarzman, earned a higher score thanks to giving in the past year.
Others scored higher because we were able to find more information about their lifetime giving, through new public documents or details provided to us by Forbes 400 members or their spokespeople. In September, a Los Angeles Times report revealed that B.
Wayne Hughes, cofounder of self-storage behemoth Public Storage, had anonymously donated about $400 million to the University of Southern California in his lifetime. Hughes, who scored a 2 last year, jumped up to a 4.
Private equity tycoon Robert F. Smith’s pledge in May to wipe out the student debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College generated lots of headlines but did not end up changing his score because the gift wasn’t big enough to move him up a notch. In many cases, fortunes grew faster than lifetime philanthropic giving.
To come up with the information on which we based our score, Forbes reporters looked at tax filings for charitable foundations, annual statements, SEC filings and news about new gifts. When possible, we interviewed Forbes 400 members and executives from their foundations. Some Forbes 400 members said they have chosen to donate anonymously, citing religious or privacy concerns.
Our score is based on total lifetime giving and what percent of their fortune members had given away. We weighted these two factors equally. Some individuals were then bumped up or down based on several other factors, including whether they had signed the Giving Pledge, whether they had pledged significant donations, how personally involved they were in their charitable giving, and how quickly and effectively their private foundations distributed dollars. We didn’t count pledges or announced gifts that have yet to be paid out, but we took commitment to philanthropy—or lack thereof—into account.
Forbes has been tracking the wealth of the richest Americans since 1982. “Some of [the members] told us to drop dead,” James Michaels, veteran editor of Forbes, told the New York Times in a 1982 story about the list’s debut. “They said they wanted no part of it, that they’d sue us.
This happens in reporting.” At times, our reporting on philanthropic giving received a similar response. “The new philanthropy ranking is fundamentally flawed, in that it is biased in favor of those who make their gifts widely known, and against donors who choose to make their charitable contributions anonymously,” one current Forbes 400 member (who did not wish to be named) wrote to us last year.
-Deniz Çam; Forbes
The Highest-Paid Tennis Players 2019: Roger Federer Scores A Record $93 Million
Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are kicking off play at the U.S. Open as the three favorites to win the title and take home a Grand Slam-record $3.85 million payday as the singles champion. The Big Three are a good bet, having captured 53 out of 63 Slams since the start of 2004, including the last 11.
The on-court dominance has produced a combined $373 million in career prize money for the trio, light years ahead of their peers. But the money off the court is even sweeter for Federer, Djokovic and Nadal, to the tune of a cumulative $1.2 billion during their careers from endorsement partners and appearance fees.
Federer is the highest-paid tennis player for the 14th straight year, with $93.4 million from prize money, endorsements and appearance fees in the 12 months ending June 1. It is a record tally by a tennis player.
His sponsor portfolio is unmatched in sports, with a dozen partners together paying him more than $60 million a year, well ahead of other global sports icons like Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Credit Federer’s long run at the top—his Slam titles span 15 years—and the strong demographics of tennis fans, who spend heavily on equipment, apparel, cars, watches and financial services. The global nature of the sport also allows brands to use the players in marketing around the world.
Federer turned 38 this month, and Father Time will catch up at some point, but Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo is betting $300 million that Federer will continue to resonate with fans long after he hangs up his racket.
After two decades with Nike, Federer signed a ten-year deal with Uniqlo last year that is guaranteed whether he is playing or not. In the coming months, Federer will also likely take back control of his RF logo, which stayed with Nike after their split.
After a two-year Slam drought, Djokovic has roared back to capture four of the past five majors. The titles helped push his 12-month earnings to $50.6 million, including $30 million off the court from appearances and sponsors Lacoste, Head, Asics, Seiko, NetJets and Ultimate Software. He ranks as the second-highest-paid tennis player.
Rounding out the top five players are Kei Nishikori ($37.3 million), Nadal ($35 million) and Serena Williams ($29.2 million).
Tennis is the only major sport in which women and men are in the same zip code in terms of earnings. The U.S. Open was the first Slam to offer equal payouts for the men’s and women’s events, and now each of the four Slams has equal pay. While Williams was the only woman to crack Forbes‘ 100 highest-paid athletes this year, the top ten earners in tennis are split evenly between men and women.
The top ten collectively made $312 million, up 23% from last year, fueled by huge gains by Federer, Djokovic and Naomi Osaka. See the full top ten below.
10. Sloane Stephens
Total earnings: $9.6 million
Prize money: $4.1 million
Endorsements: $5.5 million
The 2017 U.S. Open champion returns to Flushing Meadows this year wearing a tennis shoe based on the “Aqua” colorway of Nike’s retro Air Jordan VIII. Her Nike pact, which began last year, is one of the biggest in the sport. Stephens recently announced her engagement to soccer star Jozy Altidore.
9. Simona Halep
Total earnings: $10.2 million
Prize money: $6.2 million
Endorsements: $4 million
Halep has won only one event in 2019, but it was a big one: Wimbledon, and its $3 million payday, her second career Grand Slam title. The Romanian pro counts Nike, Wilson, Mercedes-Benz and Hublot among her sponsors.
8. Angelique Kerber
Total earnings: $11.3 million
Prize money: $5.3 million
Endorsements: $6 million
Kerber triggered lucrative bonuses from sponsors, namely Adidas, with her 2018 Wimbledon title and year-end rank of second in the world. In addition to Adidas, the German pro has also renewed deals with SAP, Generali and NetJets since Wimbleon and recently inked a new pact with Procter & Gamble’s Head & Shoulders brand. Other endorsements include Yonex, Porsche, Rolex and Lavazza.
7. Alexander Zverev
Total earnings: $11.8 million
Prize money: $6.3 million
Endorsements: $5.5 million
The 22-year-old German is a rising star on the ATP Tour and has 11 career titles, including the 2018 year-end ATP Finals, which was worth $2.5 million in prize money. He has a large deal with Adidas, in addition to endorsements with Head, Peugeot, Richard Mille and Zegna.
6. Naomi Osaka
Total earnings: $24.3 million
Prize money: $8.3 million
Endorsements: $16 million
Osaka will see her endorsement number soar even higher, having signed a series of deals since her 2018 U.S. Open win. The biggest is with Nike, which was inked just ahead of our June 1 cutoff and is worth an estimated $10 million annually. She also recently added a series of endorsement partners—Hyperice, BodyArmor and Muzik—where she received equity stakes in the businesses.
5. Serena Williams
Total earnings: $29.2 million
Prize money: $4.2 million
Endorsements: $25 million
The world’s highest-paid female athlete four years running had a record year off the court after her return to tennis following the birth of daughter Olympia. She added deals with Pampers, Axa Financial and General Mills to her roster. Williams’ next act is tackling venture investing, focused largely on companies led by women or people of color.
4. Rafael Nadal
Total earnings: $35 million
Prize money: $9 million
Endorsements: $26 million
The Spaniard is one of the biggest draws in tennis and can command appearance fees of more than $1 million a pop. His primary sponsors include Nike, Babolat, Kia Motors, Telefónica, Richard Mille and Mapfre.
3. Kei Nishikori
Total earnings: $37.3 million
Prize money: $4.3 million
Endorsements: $33 million
Nishikori and Zverev are the only non-Slam winners among the ten highest-paid tennis players. But Nishikori’s robust endorsement portfolio is fueled by his status as the most successful Japanese player ever. He is set to be one of the faces of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. His sponsors Asahi, NTT, Japan Airlines, Lixil, Procter & Gamble and Nissin are all official Olympics partners.
2. Novak Djokovic
Total earnings: $50.6 million
Prize money: $20.6 million
Endorsements: $30 million
There have been ten tennis seasons in which a player won more than $12 million in prize money. Djokovic owns seven of those years. His $135 million in career prize money has him $9 million ahead of Federer. Djokovic’s Lacoste endorsement is one of the richest deals in the sport.
1. Roger Federer
Total earnings: $93.4 million
Prize money: $7.4 million
Endorsements: $86 million
In addition to his blockbuster Uniqlo pact, Federer added a multimillion-dollar deal with Rimowa last year. The luggage brand joined Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, Moet & Chandon, Barilla and others in Fed’s endorsement stable.
-Kurt Badenhausen; Forbes
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