LeBron James becomes first player in NBA history to make $1 billion in earnings while still playing

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Fresh off ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ opening to $31 million at the box office, Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James’ pockets just got a lot deeper, as the four-time champion was just announced as the first player in NBA history to make $1 billion in career earnings while still playing, per Sportico. That’s no small feat, and it’s a testament to the diversity in projects and endorsements James has his hands in off the court.

According to the Sportico, LeBron has earned $330 million in playing salary since getting drafted in 2003, while bringing in a whopping $700 million through endorsements, merchandise, licensing and media. His endorsements with AT&T, Beats, Blaze Pizza, GMC, PepsiCo, Rimowa and Walmart bring in over $100 million annually alone. That’s on top of the gobs of money he makes through his partnership with Nike, with which he signed a lifetime deal back in 2016 that brings in $30 million annually on its own.

Not only is LeBron the first player in NBA history to pass that threshold while active, but he’s also only the sixth athlete globally to reach that mark, a list that includes Tiger Woods, Floyd Mayweather, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Roger Federer. Amongst other NBA players, the next closest player to reach him is Kevin Durant, who is currently sitting at $580 million in career earnings, followed by Stephen Curry at $430 million. 

James has reached a milestone that no other team sport athlete in the U.S. has ever reached, but he likely won’t be the last. Durant, for example, is only $420 million away from crossing that mark. He’s still owed $84 million by the Nets on his contract, and his shoe deal with Nike is expected to net him around $85 million through 2024, per Sportico. His investment deals through his company Thirty-Five Ventures also bring in a significant amount of money, and if he’s able to stay healthy he could play for at least five to seven more years.

Looking even further down the line, the next generation of NBA superstars could get to that number even sooner as guys like Luka Doncic and Trae Young are set to make hundreds of millions of dollars on their next contract. Factoring in signature shoe lines, endorsements with other companies and personal branding, NBA players have figured out how to make a significant amount of money outside of just playing basketball. James — and Jordan before him — certainly pioneered a lot of that for younger players to try and emulate, and now they can look at LeBron and see that his off-court success has been even more significant than what he’s done on the floor.

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