Special Report

The Highest Paid Athletes in Sports History

Detailed findings & methodology:

Many contracts are not evenly distributed, either paying the player the bulk of their earnings at the beginning or end of the deal, or paying the player a large bonus instead of a consistent salary. Bonuses and endorsements were not considered when ranking athletes’ average annual salaries. 

Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, and Nikola Jokic signed identical deals that tied for the 49th highest paying contract in pro sports. Only Embiid and Wiggins made the list because their deals are fully guaranteed, while Jokic’s is not.

Players were only eligible to appear once on the list. Even though LeBron James made over $33 million per year in his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which would have also qualified him for this list, he makes significantly more in his Los Angeles Lakers contract, so that is the salary we used for his entry.

Over time, salaries have been getting higher. In fact, all of the highest paid athletes in sports history signed their lucrative deals in 2015 or later. Some players, like Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers, have signed extensions to their existing deals that will make them among the highest paid athletes. Since these deals are guaranteed, they were considered to be their own separate contracts and considered for this list. 

Each of the nine highest-paying contracts in pro sports were signed by Basketball players. NBA contracts make up the bulk of this list, with 32 of the 50 highest paid athletes. There are also 12 MLB players and six from the NFL — all quarterbacks. The highest paying NHL contract is worth just $12.5 million per year — nowhere close to enough to qualify for this list.