The 25 Best-Paid Athletes in the World

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods by Keith Allison (CC BY-SA)

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LeBron James
Alexandra Walt / Flickr

Bringing Home the Gold

The pandemic may have put a crimp in the earnings of the world's top athletes in recent years, but save your tears: They've still managed to rake in massive sums. As of mid-2021, the top 100 athletes from around the world had a total income of $4.2 billion based on estimates compiled by Sportico, which covers the business side of sports. Here’s a look at how the top 25 fared, starting with NBA star LeBron James, who just became a billionaire, according to Forbes.

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Lebron James

LeBron James, $101.8 million

Salary/Winnings: $31.8 million

Endorsements: $70 million

It’s no surprise that King James is the top NBA player on the list — even though he isn’t the highest-paid player in the league. An astute businessman as well as a future Hall of Famer, James has endorsement deals with Nike, Pepsi and Walmart. He also has numerous investments, including Beats Electronics, Liverpool FC, and rideshare company Lyft. Additionally, the athlete produced and starred in “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” James is officially a billionaire now, too, having earned more than $350 million from all his years in basketball and the rest from his years of lucrative endorsements and investments. 

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Trent Williams
Trent Williams by All-Pro Reels (CC BY)

Trent Williams, $42.9 million

Salary/Winnings: $42.8 million

Endorsements: $75,000

In March of 2021, Williams reached a new contract with the San Francisco 49ers for six years at $138 million, including $55.1 million guaranteed money and a $30.1 million signing bonus. The deal made him the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history, eclipsing David Bakhtiari’s deal from 2020.

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Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving by TonyTheTiger (CC BY-SA)

Kyrie Irving, $43.2 million

Salary/Winnings: $26.2 million

Endorsements: $17 million

After two seasons with the Boston Celtics, Irving signed a four-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets in 2019 worth $141 million. Known for his unique fashion sense, he originated a line of SpongeBob Squarepants-themed sneakers with Nike. What can we say? He’s a fan.

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Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson by Keith Allison (CC BY-SA)

Klay Thompson, $43.3 million

Salary/Winnings: $28.3 million

Endorsements: $15 million

The Golden State Warriors’ All-Star shooting guard tore his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals and only recently returned to the court. He signed a 10-year deal with Chinese shoe brand Anta in 2017 worth at least $80 million, one of the biggest in the NBA at the time.

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Joey Bosa
Joey Bosa by MGoBlog (CC BY-NC)

Joey Bosa, $43.8 million

Salary/Winnings: $43 million

Endorsements: $750,000

Bosa’s five-year, $135 million contract extension from 2020 will keep him with the Los Angeles Chargers through 2025. The deal includes $102 million in guaranteed money for the third overall pick in the 2016 draft out of Ohio State.

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Phil MickelsonPhil Mickelson
Phil MickelsonPhil Mickelson by Peetlesnumber1 (CC BY-SA)

Phil Mickelson, $46.1 million

Salary/Winnings: $4.1 million

Endorsements: $42 million

A longtime fan favorite, Mickelson scored a $2.2 million payday with his stunning win in the 2021 PGA Championship. That check undoubtedly looked nice next to his earnings from sponsors such as Amgen, Callaway Golf, KPMG, and Amstel Light. He’s second only to Tiger Woods in career earnings on the PGA Tour.

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Patrick Mahomes
Wikimedia Commons

Patrick Mahomes, $46.5 million

Salary/Winnings: $32.5 million

Endorsements: $14 million

The Kansas City Chief’s quarterback has a monster 10-year, $503 million contract in his pocket and a long line of corporate endorsements. He’s inked deals with Oakley, Essential Water, Adidas, and DirectTV, to name a few. But does a guy with that kind of dough really need a special deal on insurance from State Farm?

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Ronnie Stanley
Will Newton / Contributor/ Getty Images Sport

Ronnie Stanley, $47.2 million

Salary/Winnings: $47.1 million

Endorsements: $100,000

The Baltimore Ravens made an investment in the team’s star left tackle in 2020 with a five-year deal worth $98.8 million. That includes a $22.5 million signing bonus and $1.3 million in Pro Bowl incentives each year, according to

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David Bakhtiari
David Bakhtiari by Mike Morbeck (CC BY-SA)

David Bakhtiari, $48.2 million

Salary/Winnings: $48 million

Endorsements: $250,000

Bakhtiari became the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history when he signed a four-year extension with the Packers in 2020 worth up to $105.5 million, including a signing bonus of $30 million. If you’re Green Bay’s quarterback, that’s money well spent.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo by Keith Allison (CC BY-SA)

Giannis Antetokounmpo, $49.2 million

Salary/Winnings: $22.2 million

Endorsements: $27 million

The Milwaukee Bucks superstar has a nice balance of salary and endorsements. He got his first signature shoe in 2019 in a Nike deal that pays him around $10 million a year and signed a $228 million five-year extension with the Bucks in 2020.

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James Harden
James Harden by Keith Allison (CC BY-SA)

James Harden, $51.1 million

Salary/Winnings: $33.1 million

Endorsements: $18 million

Known as The Beard, this nine-time NBA All-Star, acquired by the Brooklyn Nets in January in a multiplayer trade, is in the middle of a 13-year deal with Adidas worth as much as $200 million. He also reps BodyArmor sports drink and has a stake in the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer.

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Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka by Peter Menzel (CC BY-SA)

Naomi Osaka, $55.2 million

Salary/Winnings: $5.2 million

Endorsements: $50 million

The tennis ace scores a record for a female athlete on the list. Big-name companies — including Nike, Louis Vuitton, Levi’s, and Beats — have been lining up for a chance to be associated with the four-time Grand Slam winner. She’s also CEO of her own company, Kinlò, and has a line of swimwear with Frankies Bikinis. What’s next? Stay tuned.

Russell WestbrookRussell Westbrook
Russell WestbrookRussell Westbrook by Erik Drost (CC BY-SA)

Russell Westbrook, $61.1 million

Salary/Winnings: $33.1 million

Endorsements: $28 million

The Washington Wizards guard and nine-time All-Star has one of the largest NBA contracts. Forbes says he owns five car dealerships in Los Angeles and extended his deal with Nike in 2017 for another 10 years, scoring his own signature shoe a year later. He’s also had deals with PepsiCo and Samsung.

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Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods by Keith Allison (CC BY-SA)

Tiger Woods, $62.2 million

Salary/Winnings: $191,000

Endorsements: $62 million

Woods’ endorsement fortunes have mirrored his career. He was the first athlete to cross the $1 billion earnings mark, boosted by a long-term deal with Nike. Forbes says he made $105 million in endorsements in 2009, but that dropped to $37 million in 2017 as a result of Woods’ off-the-course problems. Virtually all of his income is tied to endorsements now.

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Canelo Álvarez
Canelo Álvarez by TheDailySportsHerald (CC BY-NC-ND)

Canelo Álvarez, $63 million

Salary/Winnings: $61 million

Endorsements: $2 million

The only boxer on the list, Álvarez ended a lucrative contract with Golden Boy Promotions recently and restructured his deal with streaming service DAZN. He picked up a $25 million payday in a May 2021 TKO win against Billy Joe Saunders at a sold-out AT&T Stadium — at the time, the largest gathering of sports fans in North America since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton by Carlina Xavier (CC BY-SA)

Lewis Hamilton, $64 million

Salary/Winnings: $50 million

Endorsements: $14 million

The British Formula One driver is one of the best of all time, boasting seven world titles, more all-time pole positions than Ayrton Senna, and more wins than Michael Schumacher. 

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Stephen Curry
Ezra Shaw/Staff/Getty Images News/Getty Images North America

Stephen Curry, $74.5 million

Salary/Winnings: $34.5 million

Endorsements: $40 million

Nielsen says the Golden State Warriors star is the second-highest ranked NBA player in terms of marketability, but he also has a lot of projects going off the court. A 2018 endorsement deal with Callaway included a major donation to start a golf program at Howard University. His production company, Unanimous Media, has a development deal with Sony Pictures, and he recently took a stake in fitness company Tonal.

KEVIN DURANT by All-Pro Reels (CC BY-SA)

Kevin Durant, $80.1 million

Salary/Winnings: $32.1 million

Endorsements: $48 million

The 12-time NBA all-star has an interesting connection to Alaska Airlines, where he’s not just a spokesman but an official adviser to the chief executive. He also signed a 10-year endorsement deal with Nike in 2014 worth up to $300 million.

Tom Brady
Jonathan Daniel / Staff / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images North America / Getty Images CC

Tom Brady, $80.4 million

Salary/Winnings: $58.4 million

Endorsements: $22 million

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback — which still seems odd to say — had a two-year, $50 million guaranteed contract with the club and another $9 million in possible incentives. Sportico estimated that he pulled in another $22 million in endorsements as of the middle of 2021. His recent product partners have included Under Armour, Molecule Mattresses, and Upper Deck. What does his retirement mean financially for the Buccaneers and Brady himself? CBS Sports breaks it all down, but suffice it to say that he won't be hurting for cash in his post-NFL years. 

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Roger Federer
Roger Federer by Beth Wilson (CC BY-NC-ND)

Roger Federer, $84 million

Salary/Winnings: $46,000

Endorsements: $84 million

The winner of 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles has been sidelined by knee surgeries, putting him at the bottom of the Sportico list in terms of salary and winnings. But the popular tennis star still managed to rake in big money via endorsement deals with brands that include Rolex, Mercedes-Benz, Credit Suisse, and Wilson.

Neymar, $100 million

Salary/Winnings: $75 million

Endorsements: $25 million

The Brazilian soccer star signed a contract extension with Paris SG in 2021 that will keep him with the team through the summer of 2025 for a reported $36.5 million per season. He left Nike after 15 years to sign with Puma, a deal worth an estimated 25 million euros a year.

Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott by Keith Allison (CC BY-SA)

Dak Prescott, $108.4 million

Salary/Winnings: $97.4 million

Endorsements: $11 million

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott had earnings of $97.4 million — including a $66 million signing bonus on top of his $31.4 million salary — and topped Sportico’s list for salary and winnings. His $11 million in endorsement deals wasn't too shabby, either.

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Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo by Анна Нэсси (CC BY-SA)

Cristiano Ronaldo, $120 million

Salary/Winnings: $70 million

Endorsements: $50 million

The famed Portuguese forward has scored hundreds of goals for Juventus, Real Madrid, and Manchester United. He has a lifetime deal with Nike as well as many other endorsements, and was the third athlete to reach $1 billion in earnings while still playing (behind Tiger Woods and Floyd Mayweather).

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Lionel Messi, $126 million

Salary/Winnings: $91 million

Endorsements: $35 million

Undoubtedly one of the greatest soccer players ever, Messi is ranked by Nielsen as the most marketable athlete in the world. He has a lifetime deal with Adidas including a sub-brand of their shoes. But his endorsements only rank him 10th on the Sportico list. His contract with Barcelona expired in June, and he's now playing for Paris Saint-Germain under a two-year deal. 

Conor McGregor
Steve Marcus / Stringer/ Getty Images Sport

Conor McGregor, $208 million

Salary/Winnings: $28 million

Endorsements: $180 million

The mixed martial arts star hasn’t been in the ring much since November 2016, but he netted a big payday when his Irish whiskey brand Proper No. Twelve recently sold a majority stake to Proximo Spirits, which also owns Jose Cuervo and Bushmills. Sportico says McGregor pocketed $170 million from the roughly $600 million deal, and he’s expected to continue to represent the brand.

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