Athletes comprise a bulk of the list of the highest paid people in the planet. This can be seen in rankings such as those made by Forbes annually. Each year we see familiar names- retired and current athletes. And while they aren’t necessarily in the highest of spots, their earnings are still massive and impressive considering they ‘play’ more than work to earn money. Forbes recently released a list of the highest earning athletes ever, accumulating its annual list. Of the Top 10, three are basketball players and four are golfers. In the list, there are four billion dollar earners, three of which are golfers.
So without further ado, here are the Top 10 richest sport athletes:
10. Shaquille O’ Neal $700M
Photo: CBS Sport
Who doesn’t know Shaq, the NBA’s most colorful big man off the court and the most dominant big man inside the hardwood?
Forget the poor free throw shooting. What counts in the end is how many rings you have around your finger. O’Neal has four, three of them he won in consecutive years with the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant. The fourth one he won in South Beach when he joined Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
It’s funny that his name literally means ‘Little Warrior’ because at 7-1 and over 300 pounds, he was the most physically imposing presence the NBA ever saw. Not only was Shaq big in the game, he was big time outside it. In 1996, O’Neal signed a 7 year deal worth $121M, the richest at that time. In 2015, he made $24.9M in a single season, $10M more than any other player in the league at that time. O’Neal left Los Angeles to sign a $100M deal with the Heat in 2005. In December 2015, O’Neal and Authentic Brands Group signed a partnership whereby AMG will own and manage Shaq’s intellectual property rights. According to Forbes, the lifetime deal will earn the Diesel some $230M to $270M.
9. David Beckham $730M
Sometimes, there are just people who seem to have it all. David Beckham is one of them. Gifted with ruggedly handsome looks, a killer corner kick and a pop star diva wife.
David Beckham met Posh Spice Victoria Adams of the Spicer Girls fame during a Manchester United match in 1997. The two began dating and because of the success of the Spice Girls and Manchester United, the couple became an instant hot item and generated a great deal of media attention. They married in 1999 and have four children. The entire family earns from endorsements and they are said to be worth more than the Queen herself.
David Beckham has come a long way after making his football debut for Manchester at the age of 17. He played nine seasons with the Red Devils and established himself as the most popular football player of his generation during his four year stint with Real Madrid. His move to the United States Major League Soccer team LA Galaxy was worth a whooping $250M for five years. In 2003, Beckham signed a lifetime deal with Adidas worth $160M. In his first full year of retirement, Beckham earned $75M which was the highest he’s ever made. That just proved that the Beckham Brand transcends beyond playing football.
8. Phil Mickelson $760M
Photo: USA Today
Phil Mickelson is right handed except when he plays golf. Known as Lefty in golf circles, Mickelson is one of the most successful golfers of all-time. And we don’t just mean on the green but outside it as well.
Lefty has won 42 tournaments on the PGA Tour, including five Majors. He is only one of 16 golfers in history to win three of the four major tournaments. The only one he hasn’t won is the U.S. Open, a major where he’s finished runner-up a record six times. But even without the U.S Open in his trophy case, Mickelson has been a major winner in the bank.
He has made over $80M in prize money alone, according to the PGA Tour. But while that may not be that much compared to the hundreds of millions of the others in this list, Mickelson is a steady earner outside the Golf course. According to Forbes, Mickelson makes $40M annually in appearances and endorsements alone. In 2016, Mickelson was Forbes’ highest earning golfer with over $52M. Only $2M of that amount was prize money.
7. Floyd Mayweather Jr. $765M
The man and his fans claim that he is TBE or The Best Ever in Boxing and while some can argue with that, there is no arguing that he is TRE or The Richest Ever in all of combat sports.
Known as the Money Man or Money, Floyd Mayweather Jr was boxing’s undisputed PPV king. He retired at an unbeaten 49-0 record, tying the longtime standard set by the legendary Rocky Marciano. In his 48th bout, he fought rival Manny Pacquiao in the richest fight in boxing history. The fight obliterated PPV records and raked in a mind boggling 4.4M buys. It never lived up to its billing as the Fight of the Century but it made Mr. Mayweather at least $250M richer. Mayweather’s career earnings are estimated to be at $700M.
Mayweather doesn’t have plenty of endorsement deals, like other athletes do. His other sources of income are from his boxing related ventures, TMT Promotions. Mayweather promotes fights and fighters and sells TMT merchandise as well. In 2015, Mayweather made well over $15M in merchandise sales. He is currently linked to a fight with MMA superstar Conor McGregor and although that fight isn’t a done deal yet, he claims his $100M purse should that fight push though is already signed and delivered.
6. Kobe Bryant $770M
Photo: Clutch Points
It’s hard to imagine now how 12 NBA teams passed on Kobe Bryant in the 1996 NBA Draft. But back then, he was just this skinny 18 year old high school phenom who had just dated superstar pop singer Brandy in his high school prom. Twenty years later, the kid would become the greatest Los Angeles Lakers player of All-Time.
He became the Black Mamba for his deadly scoring ability and knack to hit the big shots. Bryant led the Lakers to a total of five NBA titles, three with Shaq and two all by himself.
Aside from becoming the greatest Laker of all-time, Bryant became the highest earning player in franchise history. His first NBA contract was worth just $3.5M for three years. The Lakers paid him a total of $320M in the next 17 years. His total career salary in the NBA ranks only second to Kevin Garnett.
Bryant is the only player aside from Michael Jordan to make over $30M in a season. But that’s not saying he finished second to MJ all the time ( His five NBA rings is also one short of Jordan’s tally ). His total career earnings ( salary and endorsements ) of $680M are more than Jordan’s $465M.
5. Michael Schumacher $1B
The first billionaire earner entry in our list, Michael Schumacher is the top money maker driver in Formula 1 racing history.
Michael Schumacher is the most decorated driver in F1 history. With a record of 7 championships and 91 Grand Prix victories, Schumacher was the one who transcended his sport the way Michael Jordan did basketball and Muhammad Ali did boxing. In 2013, he suffered a freak skiing injury at the Swiss Alps and hasn’t been seen since then. He is currently recuperating in a $19M custom built state of the art medical facility in his home in Lake Geneva. His medical bills have reportedly reached $25M in three years but because of the massive wealth he has amassed, his estate hasn’t been affected.
Schumacher was the Top earning athlete from 1999-2000 and finished second to Tiger Woods in the next five years. His annual earning ballooned to $80M in 2004 when he won his 7th and final F-1 title.
4. Jack Nicklaus $1.15B
The Golden Bear is widely recognized as the greatest professional golfer of all-time with an unprecedented record of 18 Major Tournaments won. Nicklaus wasn’t a busy guy on tour but he picked the big tournaments to play.
At age 46, Nicklaus picked up his final Majors victory, becoming the oldest golfer to win the Masters. It’s surprising to see Jack high on this list because his career winnings totalled just $9.1M and his endorsement deals only brought him $77M. However, his business called Nicklaus Design built over 40 years ago continues to reap dividends for this retired legend.
To date, Nicklaus has designed close to 400 golf courses in more than 36 countries. With golf one of the more expensive sports in history, you can just imagine how much he’s made in over 40 years designing golf courses.
3. Arnold Palmer $1.35B
Arnold Palmer was one of the greatest golfers the sport had ever seen. Known as the ‘King’, Palmer was a 62 time PGA tour winner and a 7-time Majors champion. But his legacy goes beyond the 18 holes and has grown immensely since his retirement and even after his death.
Palmer was the first golfer to make $100K in a PGA Tour season and the first to reach the $1M career earnings mark in golf. Although his total career earnings were only $2.1M, his business ventures went big time. His Arnold Palmer Enterprises has 400 shops worldwide. In the 1970’s, APE joined forces with Japanese manufacturer Renown in the Far East and started to sell $100M annually in the area. Then there is the ice tea business which has sales of around $100M per year. Not to mention the over 300 golf courses he’s designed in five continents.
Palmer’s legions of fans were known as Arnie’s army. But really, the real Palmer army is the massive business empire he’s left behind.
2. Tiger Woods $1.7B
Not even his mid-life crisis could stop this Tiger from earning his stripes. The third golfer to earn a billion dollars and the richest of the three, Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods began as a protege who lived up to his billing and more.
After a standout college and amateur career, Tiger Woods turned pro at the age of 20. A year later, he already won his first major. In less than a year on the tour, he became its #1 ranked player and held on to the top spot in two separate long reigns. Woods was world number one 264 weeks from 1999-2004 and for another 281 weeks from 2005-2010.
After recovering from an image destroying scandal in 2010, Woods’ career earnings reached $1.3B in 2014 according to Golf Digest. The report estimated that 88% of his earning were derived from endorsements. This includes an estimated $100M in 2008 and 2009 or immediately before his fall from grace.
1. Michael Jordan $1.7B
Photo: Fox Sports
During his prime, Michael Jordan was an unstoppable scoring machine. As they used to say, you can’t stop MJ-you can only hope to contain him.
Jordan’s Bulls were ‘unstopa-Bull’ during his prime. They won six NBA titles in an eight year span and if Jordan didn’t retire after the first three peat, they would’ve likely won 8 in a row and put themselves at par with the Celtic Dynasty of the 80’s. But that’s another story. Just as unstoppable Jordan was on the hardcourt, so was he in the bank.
Jordan’s long retired but until now, he makes more money a year than any other NBA player. Jordan’s namesake shoe brand, produced by Nike, accounts for 8% of the shoe manufacturer’s annual sales. According to Forbes, the Jordan line sold $3B worth of shoes for the fiscal year 2016 alone. These monster numbers translate to at least $100M of earning for MJ. And the shoe is just the tip of the iceberg.
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