Many NBA players earn big money on court with lucrative contracts paying in the millions of dollars a year. But most court stars earn the bulk of their dollars through even more lucrative endorsement deals.
In 2020, Rookie LaMelo Ball was drafted 3rd overall by the Charlotte Hornets and inked a $35.5 million that will span four years. That salary pales into insignificance however, when you compared to his $100 million shoe deal with Puma.
The better the player, or in terms of LaMelo, the brighter their future, the bigger the level of endorsement. Add to that fierce competition amongst brands to be associated with these superstars and you have a perfect storm of dollars.
With Puma, Under Armour, Adidas, Nike, Reebok and more, battling for the public’s hard-earned money, the winners are the athletes paid to wear their brand. So, what are the biggest endorsement deals in the NBA?
The NBA’s biggest ever endorsements
Considered to be one of the greatest athletes to ever grace the NBA or professional sport, Lebron James is always going to be on this list. A No. 1 overall draft pick straight out of high school he became a millionaire through endorsement offers.
Aged 18, Lebron turned down $10 million from Reebok to not meet with Nike and Adidas. The footwear giant snapped him up and in 2015 rewarded him with a $1 Billion lifetime deal – thought to be the largest Nike endorsement deal in history.
Stephen Curry earns $34.9 million with Golden State Warriors but that figure is exceeded by his estimated endorsement income of $42 million. American sportswear company Under Armour used Curry as its entry into the basketball market when it signed him in 2013.
Curry has gone on to win a pair of NBA MVP awards and three NBA titles, proving a sound investment, and this season the Warriors are amongst the favorites for the playoffs according to the latest NBA playoffs odds, so he’s clearly value for money. His endorsement deal with Under Armour is the fourth-highest endorsement deal of any athlete globally, and makes him one of the highest endorsed athletes of all time.
His deal runs to 2024 and it’s believed he also retains equity in the company, potentially boosting his income even higher.
If Curry can lead his team to the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the fourth time in eight seasons, his endorsement earnings will rise even further.
After leaving Duke, Williamson signed a mega shoe and apparel deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand for a reported $13 million per year. Deals with Gatorade, 2K, Panini, and others have further boosted Williamson’s earnings to an estimated $20 million a year.
College basketball’s most outstanding player was snapped up by Nike after a bidding war with Adidas and Puma. One of the most popular NBA players on Instagram, Williamson has over 4.8 million followers on the social media platform, further enhancing his value.
No list about the NBA is complete without the name of Michael Jordan. Just because he hasn’t stepped foot on a court 2003, doesn’t mean he isn’t still a highly attractive endorsement proposition for companies.
One of the first companies in the world to realize the benefits of sponsoring athletes was Nike. They struck a unique deal with the athlete, allowing him the chance to design and create his own shoes which were called Air Jordan.
The brand became one of the most popular shoes of all time and is widely regarded as being the deal that powered Nike into a truly global brand. Despite ending his career nearly 20 years ago, Jordan earns more than $100 million a year through his Nike endorsement.
One of the biggest basketball endorsement deals of all time was Dwayne Wade’s deal with Li-Ning, the Chinese shoe company. Wade was previously with Nike, but when his contract came up for renewal an offer of $12 million a year saw him put pen to paper.
Wade spent most of his 16-year NBA career with Miami Heat and is a 3 x NBA Champion and a 13 x NBA All-Star. He continues to work with the Chinese footwear manufacturer, despite retiring in 2019.
The Brooklyn Nets superstar, Kevin Durant knows how to make money, with multiple endorsements and investments to his name. He has a lucrative deal with Foot Locker that earns him millions of dollars every year and another with Nike.
Durant signed a $285 million deal with Nike in 2014 that runs for 10 years. The contract also allows his earning to rise even further based on profit sharing and other factors.
Saturday April 16th sees the start of the 2022 NBA playoffs, with the Conference Finals due to take place across May 17th-18th. The NBA Finals Game 1 will take place on June 2nd and game 7 is scheduled for June 19th.
Whoever comes out on top will be more than a NBA Champion, they will be prime targets for some lucrative endorsement deals.