Top 50 Highest-Paid Athletes of All Time

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The Top 50 earners among athletes all time have brought home a combined $50 billion when adjusted for inflation and $35.5 billion on a nominal basis through the end of 2023. They represent nine different sports and 17 countries around the globe. NBA players lead the way with 12 entries, headed by Michael Jordan and his decades of Nike earnings. Serena Williams is the lone female athlete to make the cut. (For a full analysis, click here.)

Our earnings estimates are based on conversations with industry insiders, Sportico research and historical estimates in media outlets, such as Forbes and Sports Illustrated.

Earnings include salaries, bonuses, prize money, purses, endorsements, licensing, royalties, memorabilia, book deals, media, appearance fees and golf course design fees. The salary components do not include deferred compensation until it is paid out.

We included cash earned from equity stakes in sponsor companies when those companies were sold, such as LeBron James’ stake in Beats Electronics and James Harden’s shares of BodyArmor. Also factored in was Lionel Messi’s piece of Inter Miami as part of his agreement to join the MLS club, and the equity payments by Authentic Brands Group to secure marketing rights for David Beckham and Shaquille O’Neal. We did not factor in traditional investment income.

Sportico included earnings during playing careers and in retirement through 2023 and adjusted them for inflation. For Arnold Palmer and Kobe Bryant, earnings are calculated up until the time of death. All earnings are pre-tax and before any fees for agents and lawyers.

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