How much do NBA players make?

It’s no secret that NBA player salaries are impressive. In fact, they’re among the highest-paid professional athletes on the planet.

Top earners make more in one year than most people make in their entire life. But the basketball players on max contracts are heavily outnumbered by the rest of the pack. Today, we’ll be looking at just how much NBA players actually earn.

We’re mainly talking about their NBA contract, but we’ll show endorsements some love towards the end.

How much does an average NBA player make per season

The top earners easily clear $40 million per season, but you’re probably aware that the average NBA salary doesn’t even come close to that number.

According to Basketball Reference, the average NBA salary at the time of writing is $7,455,059.

If you’re a statistician, you probably know how much outliers can shift the average, so let’s talk median. Just a brief explanation if you’re hearing the term “median” for the first time: 50% of players earn more than the median, and the other 50% make less than the median. 

Basketball Reference has calculated the median NBA salary to be $3,549,383. That’s a far cry from the max, and it’s not even half of the average salary. How is that possible?

Every year sees a fresh crop of rookies come into the league, and the top 15 have contracts above the mean, but a majority earn less than the mean salary. The other, and probably the less obvious factor, are veteran players.

You’ve probably seen it a lot of times already. Veterans in the twilight of their careers signing for a playoff team at the so-called veteran’s minimum to try and win one final ring. These contracts are usually way below their market value and they come at about $1 million per season.

The two-way contracts also play a small part in bringing the median salary down, but when you combine rookies and ring chasing veterans, you get quite a few players earning below even $2 million.

Top NBA earners for the 2020-21 season

The proud recipient of the highest salary for the 2021-22 season is Stephen Curry who’s getting an insane $45,780,966 in what is the final season of his contract. With the way he played this season, he’s probably looking at signing one more max, or even supermax contract.

The second spot belongs to former Wizards and current Rockets point guard, John Wall. At $44,310,840 for the next season, plus an even more expensive player option for next year, Wall represents what is probably the most untradeable contract in the league.

At the time he signed his supermax extension, it seemed like a good deal for an All Star-caliber basketball player, but an Achilles injury robbed Wall of some of the explosiveness and speed he based so much of his game around. 

He has enjoyed a decent comeback season with the Rockets, even showing flashes of the old John Wall. It’s doubtful that he’ll live up to his contract, but it won’t look as bad as many have expected.

The third-highest salary for next season belongs to Russell Westbrook. Unlike Curry’s, Westbrook’s contract is up there as one of the worst in the NBA. 

Despite his constant triple-doubles, many people see Westbrook as a liability rather than an asset because of his inefficient style of play. Wizards are on the hook for at least two more seasons, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be in the Finals any time soon.

The fourth highest paid player for next season is a pretty curious case. It’s Chris Paul, the man once regarded as having THE absolute worst contract in the NBA. However, that narrative has been turned around completely since he joined the Suns and took them to a potential NBA title.

Chris Paul has a player option for 2021-22 valued at $44,211,146. That’s a lot of money, but there have been a lot of rumors going around that he is going to decline this option in favor of a long-term contract. 

Given what he has done with the Suns, his value is the highest it has been in the past couple of years.

Believe it or not, the lowest NBA player salary for next season is “just” $92,857. It belongs to a player who isn’t even in the NBA anymore. He last played for Philadelphia on a two-way contract, where he averaged 3.7 points and 0.8 assists per game in six games. 

The money he’s due to receive next season is the last remnant of his NBA contract. The 76ers waived him in 2019 in what was seen as both sides doing each other a favor. The Sixers needed a roster spot and Jackson had an offer from China.

Salary Caps in the NBA

The NBA sets a salary cap on teams, limiting the total amount of money they can spend paying their players in that year.

For example, in the 2020-21 season, the salary cap was $109.1 million. This is a soft cap, meaning exceptions can be made, but in any case, it would be difficult to build an NBA team with multiple players on 8 figure salaries.

There is even less flexibility when it comes to the salary of rookies. The National Basketball Association itself sets the salary for first-round draft choices in what is known as the “rookie scale salary”. Basically, the first pick first overall pick receives more than the second, the second more than the third, and so on. 

However, there is some leeway in rookie salaries, as they can negotiate between 80% to 120% of the pre-determined contract value. For example, Zion Williamson, who was the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was signed at 120% of the rookie scale. This meant he would earn $9.7 million in his debut season.

How much do NBA players earn from endorsements?

While every last detail of NBA contracts is known to the public, the same is often not the case with endorsement deals.

Some local endorsement deals just don’t make the news. Some details of big endorsements which do make the news still aren’t known because companies (understandably) sometimes want to keep such details confidential.

With that being said, you’ll probably understand why we can only go off of estimates instead of hard data for this section.

Those estimates say that the highest-paid NBA player in terms of endorsements is, to nobody’s surprise, LeBron James. 

LeBron’s prowess for securing endorsements is well-known to both NBA fans and business people around the world. Forbes estimates LeBron’s endorsement income at around $64 million.

That number doesn’t include LeBron’s various investments. If you factor those, on top of his endorsement income and close to $40 million salary, he’s earning hundreds of millions. In fact, recently it has been reported that he is the first active player in NBA history to become a billionaire.

San Francisco’s darling, Steph Curry, is the estimated runner up with an estimated $40 million in endorsement income last year. Given his meteoric rise to stardom, it’s not hard to see why everyone wants Curry as the representative of their brand. 

Kevin Durant rounds up the top three with an estimated $34 million if endorsement-related income.

No running away from taxes!

Of course, all the figures mentioned so far have been gross pay. That means they don’t account for other factors, like income tax (federal and city/state), as well as agent fees, 401k pension contributions and more.

When everything is accounted for, the net pay typically works out to around 50% of their gross pay. Even players who live in no-income-tax states have to pay substantial taxes because of “jock tax”, which is tax for playing in other states.

Conclusion

There’s no question that professional basketball players in the US make a lot of money. It also makes sense, because the NBA is the third most lucrative sports league in the world after the NFL and MLB, with the smallest roster sizes between the three.

In case you’re curious about how much others in the NBA make, you can find out how much an NBA referee makes and how much NBA coaches make.

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