Babe Ruth made $80,000 when he signed a new contract with The New York Yankees in 1930. Adjusted for inflation, the number is in the millions of dollars. His comment at the time was that he made more than President Herbert Hoover. When asked what he thought, his answer was “Why not?” At the other end of the spectrum, some superstars take less than what they might make in the open market to allow their teams to spend more money on other players. Tom Brady is well known for this. His reasoning is that he would rather have another Super Bowl ring than make a few more million.
To determine the most overpaid athlete in pro sports, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Sports Reference data on how NHL, NFL, NBA and MLB athletes performed in the most recently completed regular season and compared that performance with their salary using data from Spotrac. Players who opted out, retired or missed most or all of the season due to injury or illness were not considered.
The sports landscape has all but gotten back to normal after a year of uncertainty due to COVID-19. Games were moved, seasons were shortened and fans were not allowed to watch their teams in person, not to mention that many players caught COVID-19 or opted not to play because of the virus. While some athletes were able to thrive in their altered environments, others struggled. In some cases, the dip in performance could just be a blip in an otherwise sterling career. For other players, it could be a sign of the inevitable decline that comes with age.
Many of the most overpaid athletes we looked at are former MVPs and all-stars who are nearing the end of enormous nine-figure contracts they signed while they were in their prime. Franchises often achieve success by drafting these kinds of players and making championship runs with blossoming superstars on rookie contracts, which pay much less than veteran deals, before having to secure them with high-value long-term contracts.
John Wall is the most overpaid athlete. This point guard for the Houston Rockets had his cap hit $41.3 million during the 2020-2021 season. Yet, he struggled on the court, making him the most overpaid athlete in pro sports. His cap hit was tied for the fourth highest in the NBA, but he had negative win shares, indicating that he hurt the Houston Rockets more than he helped them while on the court.
Wall shot just 40.4% from the floor, the lowest percentage of his career. His assists and rebounds per game also fell to career-low levels. Things went from bad to worse for Wall when a hamstring injury ended his season in late April. He played in only 40 games. Wall is set to earn over $91 million over the next two seasons.