The NBA's 3 biggest stars make more money off the court than they do playing basketball and it could explain why big-name players are so quick to switch teams

  • The NBA is known for its huge contracts, but for the top players in the league, endorsement deals are even more lucrative.
  • According to Forbes’ Kurt Badenhausen, superstars LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant – the top three total earners in the league this season – will all make more money in endorsements than they will from salaries and bonuses in 2019.
  • The remaining seven players on Badenhausen’s top-10 NBA earners list – who all play for teams in smaller media markets – do not have endorsement deals that outweigh their salaries.
  • This phenomenon, in which top players in big media markets get a larger endorsement payout, may explain why big-name players like Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving may be enticed to ditch their current teams for franchises located in big cities like New York and Los Angeles.

The NBA is known for its big names and even bigger contracts, but the league’s three biggest stars make more money off of the court than they do playing basketball.

Superstars LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant – the top three total earners in the league this season – will all make more money in endorsements than they will from their huge NBA salaries, per Forbes’ Kurt Badenhausen.

Between his salary and bonuses, James will take home $US35.7 million in earnings in 2019, but he’ll make an additional $US53 million through endorsements with Nike, Coca-Cola, Beats By Dre, Blaze Pizza, and 2K Sports. Likewise, Curry – who leads the NBA with a $US37.5 payday from the Golden State Warriors – will more than double his earnings on the year with $US42 million in endorsement deals and his teammate, Durant, will make $US30 million in salary and bonuses and an extra $US35 million through endorsements.

Steph curry under armourUnder ArmourStephen Curry has an incredibly lucrative shoe deal with Under Armour.

The trend stops there, with the next seven players on the total earnings list – including Russell Westbrook and Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder, James Harden and Chris Paul of the Houston Rockets, and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks – making more money from their teams than they do from sponsorships.

Notably, James, Curry, and Durant all play for big-market franchises in Los Angeles and San Francisco which explains, in large part, why their endorsement payouts outweigh their salaries. Predictably, the next seven players on the list play in much smaller markets and, consequently, garner significantly less attention than the players on teams in bigger cities. In addition, Curry and Durant have the added bonus of playing on the best team in the NBA in recent years.

The promise of a larger payout could explain why some big-name players are eager to leave their teams for larger cities, brighter lights, and contenders. The Anthony Davis saga is the perfect example of this phenomenon playing out in real-time. A consensus top-five NBA player who has spent the first seven seasons of his impressive career in New Orleans, Davis recently requested a trade from the Pelicans a full year and a half before the start of his free agency.

Read more: The NBA’s recent history of trading superstars is a bad omen for the Pelicans

Davis indicated that he would be willing to sign long-term contracts with four NBA franchises: the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers, and Milwaukee Bucks, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Three of those teams call the two largest cities in the United States home, and the fourth currently sits atop the NBA with a 43-14 record. Likewise, both Durant and Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving has been linked to the Knicks and the Lakers in rumours surrounding their upcoming free agency.

Whether or not the weight of the purse outweighs the will to win likely varies from player to player, but money, exposure, and the promise of larger-scale endorsement deals, undoubtedly factor into the conversation for the top players in today’s NBA.

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