The Highest-Paid NBA Players Earn A Massive Salary

As the 2024 NBA playoffs get closer to crowning a champion, the association's players and teams might find themselves looking forward to next season and the potential for more pay. Like with other major sports, NBA players can negotiate salary and even multi-year contracts depending on their level of play and how much money they arguably bring into a franchise. However, not all players are able to command as significant a salary as others. Even worse, (as many have only recently realized with Caitlin Clark's mere $76,535 salary for her first season with the WNBA) not all leagues or games are able or willing to pay as much as others (looking at you and your player salaries, PGA).

The NBA, however, does not have that problem, as it consistently has the largest salaries out of all United States professional sports, averaging $10.8 million (for reference, the average NFL salary is around $2.8 million). This means NBA players consistently rank among the top-paid athletes in the entire world. In fact, the league has the most overall players included in the top-25 earners for 2024 with 10.

During the 2023-24 season, 18 NBA players earned at least $40 million, with the league's first $60-million player (Milwaukee's Damian Lillard) set to hit this salary for the 2026-27 season. Another six players are due to also reach $60 million salaries beginning in the 2027-28 season. While these salary changes could ultimately change the top-paid players in a few years, for now, Golden State's Stephen Curry maintains his place as the top-paid NBA athlete, earning $51.9 million this season.

Contract pay in the NBA

A player's official contract pay is a significant part, if not the entirety, of what an athlete might ultimately earn. Also, while every sports league generally imposes its own salary cap, this cap can vary significantly depending on the league. The projected salary cap for the 2024-25 NBA season will be about $141 million. The NBA, unlike the NFL, uses a soft cap, which means players are often paid over the cap amount due to a variety of exceptions the league has created for itself. For instance, during the 2022-23 season, even though the salary cap was around $122.7 million, several teams spent as much as $191 million for pre-tax salary offerings. The NBA also has a relatively unique arrangement in which both players and owners split the league's overall basketball-related income 50-50. All of this is negotiated into a player's contract, which can last up to four seasons.

Stephen Curry, who has been the highest-paid NBA player since the 2021-22 season, is due to continue being the highest-paid player for at least the next two seasons thanks to his four-year $215.3 million contract. The second highest-paid player is Kevin Durant of the Phoenix Suns, with $47.6 million during the second year of his four-year $194.2 million deal. Tied for the third-highest player are Denver's Nikola Jokic, Los Angeles' Lebron James, and Philadelphia's Joel Embiid, who all earned $47.6 million this season. It's also worth mentioning these NBA earnings don't include the millions of dollars in playoff bonuses awarded to teams (similar to the NFL's playoff bonuses).

Endorsements and sponsorships

For pro athletes, a fair amount of their earnings often comes in the form of sponsorship deals with large brands, like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour. However, not all players can command lucrative endorsement deals. Since brands typically look for popular players, it can be tricky to determine what player might make for a successful brand ambassador, and on-court play can be a deciding factor (by the way, see our guide on where the money from players' fines goes). Also, not to be left out, leagues and individual teams participate in team-level sponsorships. During the 2023-34 season, NBA team sponsorship revenue hit a record $1.5 billion. It's worth noting, however, this is the one area where the National Basketball Association isn't the clear financial victor. MLB also has $1.5 billion in team sponsorship money, while the NFL's team sponsorship revenue currently sits around $2.35 billion.

According to Sportico, when factoring in individual brand endorsements on top of their salaries, the list of highest-paid NBA players gets significantly rearranged. For instance, though Golden State's Stephen Curry brings in the highest salary amount, he only comes in second for overall pay with total earnings of $101.9 million. The Lakers' Lebron James, with a whopping $80 million in endorsement money, comes out as the highest-paid NBA player for the 2023-24 season with $127.6 million in total earnings. Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo comes in third with $90.6 million in total earnings ($45 million of which is endorsements), and in fourth is Phoenix's Kevin Durant with $88.4M.