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2011's Richest NBA Players: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant Top List

Update 2: If you would like to see the 2012 Forbes version of this NBA Player ranking, please FOLLOW THIS LINK.

Update: This post originally ran on June 16, 2011. I am updating and bumping it up here because of its relevance to the current CBA negotiations. Bill Simmons alluded to this dynamic in his most recent lockout post, and it is indeed pertinent to the discussion. It is not the superstars that are causing the financial structure of the league to fold, but the guys who are being paid like a superstar while not performing like one.

Sports Illustrated conducted its annual assessment of the wealthiest American pro athletes, and not surprisingly, almost 40% of those who made the list play in the NBA.

2011 Fortunate 50: The 50 Highest Earning American Athletes | Sports Illustrated

Not surprisingly, LeBron James topped the list for NBA players (3rd overall, behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson) in bringing in $44.5 million in total, making it the fourth consecutive year that James has finished number one amongst his peers. He is almost $10 million ahead of the second highest player, with Kobe Bryant coming in at #6 overall.

Kevin Durant checks in at 11th on the NBA list and 31st overall, with total compensation of $20.1 million. Three interesting things to note:

  1. Only Durant and LeBron earned more money in endorsements than NBA salary, although LeBron earned more than twice as much as Durant;
  2. Durant makes this list before even entering his new contract extension, which will pay him $13.6 million next season and jump to $15.0 million in the following year. Such a jump will catapult Durant into the top five or six players in total compensation;
  3. Durant's place on this list puts to rest the notion that the low-key Durant cannot earn the same kinds of dollars in endorsements that several of his more bombastic peers generate.

Lastly, consider the names on this list who have no business being on this list. I should not even have to point them out to you, since their ranking is so paradoxical. When David Stern talks about the league financial structure being broken, there are more than a few examples on this list that point toward what he is talking about.

Name Rank Salary ($M) Endorsements ($M) Total ($M)
LeBron James 3 $14.5 $30.0 $44.5
Kobe Bryant 6 $24.8 $10.0 $34.8
Kevin Garnett 7 $18.8 $14.0 $32.8
Dwight Howard 10 $16.6 $12.0 $28.6
Dwyane Wade 11 $14.2 $14.0 $28.2
Amare Stoudemire 16 $16.5 $8.0 $24.5
Carmelo Anthony 21 $17.1 $6.0 $23.1
Tim Duncan 24 $18.8 $3.5 $22.3
Vince Carter 27 $17.5 $3.0 $20.5
Rashard Lewis 29 $19.6 $0.4 $20.3
Kevin Durant 31 $6.1 $14.0 $20.1
Michael Redd 34 $18.3 $0.2 $18.6
Gilbert Arenas 36 $17.7 $0.2 $18.0
Zach Randolph 37 $17.7 $0.1 $17.8
Kenyon Martin 40 $16.5 $0.3 $16.8
Joe Johnson 43 $16.3 $0.3 $16.6
Elton Brand 45 $16.0 $0.5 $16.5
Paul Pierce 49 $13.9 $1.8 $15.7
Chris Bosh 50 $14.5 $1.0 $15.5

Notes: "Salaries, winnings and bonus figures from players' associations, tour records, agents and news reports. Endorsement estimates from Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, other sports-marketing executives and analysts, and agents...Salaries based on current or most recently completed season."