Some NBA players shouldn’t be afraid of lockout
We have entered the “nuclear winter of the NBA,” according to commissioner David Stern after players voted to dissolve their union on Monday and take the lockout battle to court through antitrust lawsuits. The lockout is in its fifth month and players missed their first paychecks this week, and chances of the entire 2011-12 season being cancelled are now a real possibility if the courts get their hands on this mess.
The average NBA salary is $5 million and players are quickly going to miss those hefty paychecks. But a small cadre of NBA players won’t: those lucky few with off court deals so lucrative that even if no games are played this year, they’ll hardly notice the difference to their fortunes. By our count there are 10 NBA players that earn at least $5 million annually from endorsement deals. These stars are best situated financially to handle the lockout.
Leading the way is LeBron James(notes) who earns an estimated $33 million annually through partnerships with Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, State Farm and Upper Deck. James’ $16 million playing salary with the Miami Heat is in jeopardy, but he’ll collect his entire endorsement income even if the season is cancelled.
|In Pictures: 10 players not afraid of a lockout|
The lockout has the unintended consequence of freeing up NBA players to do more for their sponsors. Nike is James’ biggest partner and pays him more than $10 million annually and last week James was in London shilling for the company instead of in the U.S. playing previously scheduled games against the New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets.
The lockout also gave James a chance to visit England in October when training camp would normally occur. James caught a soccer game between Manchester United and Liverpool, which he received a minority stake in after a marketing agreement in April with Liverpool’s owner Fenway Sports Group.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant(notes) arguably has more to lose than any other player by a lockout. He is due the NBA’s highest salary this season at $25.2 million. He’ll also be a year older next season as he chases a sixth NBA championship and the all-time record for points scored. Sources told SI.com that Bryant was open to the 50-50 split of revenue being proposed by owners.
But Bryant pulls in $28 million annually from deals with Nike, Smart Car, Panini and others. Nike took advantage of the lockout by sending Bryant on a tour of Europe this fall to visit Athens, Istanbul and Milan where he was a part of Nike store openings and basketball clinics.
James’ teammate Dwyane Wade(notes) is another member of the lucky list. Yes, he was scheduled to earn $15.5 million from the Heat this year as part of a six-year, $107 million contract he signed in July, 2010 with Miami (Wade’s total contract is for $2.6 million less than those of James and Chris Bosh(notes)). But Wade banks $12 million annually from his agreements with Nike’s Jordan Brand, T-Mobile, Gatorade and McDavid. And he added two lucrative new partners to his endorsement stable this year: watchmaker Hublot and Mission Skincare.
James, Bryant, Wade and other players earning $5 million per year off the court are a slim minority, the top 2 percent or so of the NBA’s 450 players. While the NBA’s other 98 percent of players have relationships with Nike, Adidas or Reebok, in almost all cases it is matter of getting free gear and little or no cash changes hands.
One thing saving NBA players right now is the return of escrow money from the 2010-11 season that was withheld from their paychecks. Players found out in September that they collectively would have almost $190 million returned to them because team owners failed to spend 57 percent of basketball related income as stipulated in the since expired collective bargaining agreement. Those checks have been rolling in during the past two months to the players.
For a player like Kobe Bryant that means a $2 million check. Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Luke Harangody(notes) who made the league minimum $473,604 last season will receive around $43,000 in returned money.
The top five:
1. LeBron James, off-court income: $33 million
2. Kobe Bryant, off-court income: $28 million
3. Dwyane Wade, off-court income: $12 million
4. Dwight Howard, off-court income: $11 million
5. Kevin Durant, off-court income: $9 million
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