If your dream is to play professional sports and you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA) could be one of your best bets. Unlike NFL contracts, almost all NBA contracts are fully guaranteed. We want you to sit back and think of all the NFL legends to hit the field on Sundays. Now ready for your mind to be blown? “Gordon Hayward’s new 4-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets will bring his career earnings to $270 million, which is more than any NFL player in history — active or retired,” Huddle Up reports. Crazy, right?
If an NBA player signs a massive four-year contract and is injured for three of those seasons, guess what? The player will collect every penny of that deal whether he’s on the court or sitting on the sidelines. Several high-profile NFL players have taken note of this and have urged their union to fight for fully guaranteed contracts (via SBNation).
At the time of this writing, that remains to be seen, but until then, NBA players are making bank. So, lace ’em up, and let’s take a look at the highest paid athletes in the NBA by annual salary during the 2020-2021 season.
Tobias Harris felt the pressure of his max contract
Selected with the 19th pick by the Charlotte Bobcats in the 2011 NBA Draft and immediately traded to the Milwaukee Bucks on draft night, forward Tobias Harris bounced around the league before finding a permanent home with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2019 (via NBA). After six months with his new team, Harris signed a 5-year $180 million max contract with a base salary of $34,358,850 during the 2020-2021 season.
During an appearance on the “The Woj Pod” hosted by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Harris revealed the pressure that comes with that type of money. “When I signed the deal, I knew the expectation, and that was to win a championship,” he said. “Last year, playing on that deal, and as a team, when we are underachieving, and the expectation is, well how come you’re not putting up max player numbers?”
Once considered “the most overpaid player in the NBA,” Harris had a breakout season in 2020, averaging career highs in field goal and three-point percentage (via Forbes). While Harris is feeling the pressure on the court, he’s helping relieve stress for others off the court. In a partnership with Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia, Harris helped pay three months’ worth of mortgage during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for twelve families (via Habitat Philadelphia).
Kemba Walker struck gold with the Boston Celtics
Despite spending his first eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets and becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and minutes played, point guard Kemba Walker took his talents up north in 2019 by signing a four-year, $141 million contract with the Boston Celtics that gave him a base salary of $34,379,100 during the 2020-2021 season.
And it didn’t take long for the March Madness legend to put that money to good use. A few months after securing his contract, Walker dropped $11.2 million on a 1.5-acre plot of land in Boston’s upscale suburb of Brookline (via Realtor). His plans for the land? “Six bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms in nearly 10,000 square feet of living space” that boasts “10-foot front doors made of iron” and “a grand foyer with double bridal staircase, large kitchen, au pair suite, and paneled library.”
While he spared no expense for his new digs, Walker won’t do the same for what he puts in his closets. “I still don’t buy super-expensive stuff. I literally only shop sale section,” the four-time NBA All-Star told MassLive in 2019. “I do have a few expensive pieces, but for the most part, I only shop in the sale section.” Walker credits his Bronx upbringing for his frugality. “Yeah, I just can’t. I just can’t,” he says about buying expensive clothing. “If I spend $5,000 on a jacket, I’m probably only going to wear it once that year. So I don’t buy it.”
Kawhi Leonard is a multi-millionaire who panics when he loses coupons
Kawhi Leonard entered the NBA in 2011 with the San Antonio Spurs and has gone on to become one of the best players in the league. Two NBA Championships, two NBA Finals MVP trophies, five All-Star appearances, and two NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards. That’s quite a resume. So when the small forward hit free agency in 2019, teams were lining up to pay for his services. Leonard decided Los Angeles would be his new home and signed a three-year, $103M maximum contract with the L.A. Clippers that gives him a base salary of $34,379,100 for the 2020-2021 season.
Although Leonard has made millions over the course of his career, he is notoriously cheap. During a 2016 profile in Sports Illustrated, Leonard revealed that he drives the same 1997 Chevy Tahoe he drove as a teenager. When asked why a millionaire in their 20s would still drive the vehicle he affectionately calls “Gas Guzzler,” Leonard replied, “It runs and it’s paid off.” Fair enough.
His love for Wingstop’s Mango Habanero flavor convinced him to endorse the franchise that included coupons for free wings. Leonard reportedly “panicked” when he lost them. “You’d think we were talking about a starving journeyman in the D-League,” Randy Shelton, San Diego State’s strength and conditioning coach at Leonard’s alma mater said.
Jimmy Butler had an ingenious side hustle
Jimmy Butler entered the league as the 30th pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 2011 NBA Draft. After leaving the team, he had one-year stints with Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers before signing a four-year, $142 million maximum contract with the Miami Heat in 2019. The contract gives the star shooting guard a base salary of $34,379,100 during the 2020-2021 season.
But, hey, just because Butler is a millionaire that doesn’t mean he can’t make a little more with a side hustle. While in the NBA Bubble due to COVID-19, Butler brought along his French press and sold coffee to his fellow players for $20 — no matter the size. “You can’t get coffee nowhere here,” Butler said in an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. “So I might bump it up to 30 bucks a cup … People here can afford it, so ain’t nobody complaining.”
During his time in Chicago, Butler dropped serious coin on a 10,000-square-foot mansion in the River North neighborhood. He sold it for $4.2 million in 2018, but even though he’s no longer in the state, he still owns real estate in the Windy City. According to the Chicago Tribune, Butler bought not one, but two, $1 million-plus loft condominium units. “I think he likes the exposed brick, the high ceilings, and the privacy,” Chicago realtor Colin Hebson said. “It’s a high-end building. It’s kind of rare to have that in River North.”
Mike Conley exercised his right to cash in big
Drafted fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2007 NBA Draft, point guard Mike Conley became a centerpiece for the team and cashed in nine years later with a five-year, $153 million deal contract extension in 2016 (via ESPN). Conley’s deal was the first in NBA history of $100 million or more with an average annual salary of $30 million per year.
After 12 years with the team, Conley was traded to the Utah Jazz in 2019 then immediately declined the early termination option in his contract, thereby giving him a base salary of $34,502,130 for the 2020-2021 season. Not only is Conley one of the richest players in the NBA, he can also talk trash on the court over the fact that he’s an Academy Award winner. That’s right, Conley served as an executive producer on the 2020 Oscar-winning short film, “Two Distant Strangers,” that examines police violence against Black Americans (via NBA) “I didn’t know it would blow up to what it is now,” Conley said. “We were just trying to get it into the Sundance Festival, and look where we are today.”
A multi-millionaire, an Oscar-winner, and a great teammate. For Christmas 2020, Conley bought every single of his teammates a PlayStation 5. “That was love,” Conley’s teammate, guard Jordan Clarkson said (via NBA). “A great Christmas gift. Everybody’s been kind of thirsting over those.”
Klay Thompson has yet to play on the massive contract he signed two years ago
Once entering the league as the 11th overall pick by the Golden State Warriors in the 2011 NBA Draft, shooting guard Klay Thompson immediately became a force to be reckoned with. Now considered one of the best pure shooters in NBA history, he and teammate Steph Curry, dubbed “The Splash Brothers”, have hit more combined three-pointers in a season than entire NBA teams. Yes, you read that right.
During the 2019 playoffs, Thompson tore his ACL, but that (rightfully) didn’t matter to Golden State who signed the three-time NBA Champion and five-time NBA All-Star to a five-year, $190 million maximum contract the following offseason that gave him a base salary of $35,361,360 during the 2020-2021. Unfortunately for Thompson, he missed the entire 2019-2020 season while rehabbing his ACL. And once he returned to practice, Thompson then tore his right Achilles tendon, forcing him to miss the entire 2020-2021 season (via NBA).
But don’t think that amount of money will change him. “I’m pretty simple. My tastes aren’t that extravagant,” he said (via CNBC). “Wealth is a mindset. If you have relationships and experiences around you, those are priceless. That’s better than any car or big house you can get.” In 2017, in an effort to help with California wildfire relief, Thompson donated $1,000 for every point he scored during specific home games and ended up raising over $300,000 (via The Mercury News).
Paul George raked it in with the LA Clippers
Since being drafted by the Indiana Pacers with the 10th overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft, Paul George has been one of the NBA’s most dependable players. While his name isn’t usually mentioned with the usual modern-day greats, the seven-time NBA All-Star produces year in and year out. After seven years with the Pacers, and a brief stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder, George was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers where he signed a four-year, $190 million contract that didn’t include his guaranteed base 2020-2021 salary of $35,450,412 from his previous contract. (via ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski).
In short, George will earn $226 million over the next five years. Nice work if you can get it, right? George didn’t waste any time making himself at home in California. According to Dirt, coughed up $16 million for a three-story Pacific Palisades mansion owned by former Clipper DeAndre Jordan that holds seven bedrooms and ten bathrooms.
George also uses his money for good causes. While with the Pacers, the 2019 NBA steals leader wanted to change his jersey number from 24 to 13. Well, in order to do that George had to buy out all his jersey merchandise from Adidas. He then donated all the jerseys to the students and staff of Knight High School where he graduated in 2008 (via Bleacher Report).
LeBron James remains the king of NBA investors
What else can be said about LeBron James that already hasn’t been said? Four-time NBA Champion, four-time league MVP, 17 All-Star appearances, three Olympic medals, and a movie star. One of the greatest players to ever hit the hardwood, James signed a four-year, $153.3 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018 that gave him a base salary of $39,219,565 for the 2020-2021 season. A year after signing the deal, James did what he does best – delivering the franchise a championship while earning his fourth NBA Finals MVP trophy (via CBS Sports).
James has earned over $346 million during the course of his legendary career, and he made sure that money is working for him. In 2011, James bought a 2% stake in the historic football club, Liverpool F.C. According to Business Insider, that investment for James is now worth an estimated 43.6 million. Ten years later, James increased his stake in the club and became a full partner (via BBC). In 2021, James bought a minority stake in the famed Boston Red Sox, making him a partial owner (via The New York Times).
So how does “King James” live? Just like his title suggests. Per the Los Angeles Times, James purchased a Beverly Hills mansion for a staggering $36 million in 2020. The property sits on 2.5 acres and includes “9,100 square feet with two bedroom suites and seven fireplaces.” Long live the king.
Kevin Durant is ready to invest in your startup
As the second overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Kevin Durant was an instant star in the league due to his imposing 6’10” height combined with his guard abilities. Built for the modern NBA, the former Texas star won Rookie of the Year and has enjoyed a spectacular career ever since: back-to-back NBA Championships in 2018 and 2019, two NBA Finals MVP awards, 11 All-Star appearances, and the NBA’s MVP in 2014.
After massive success with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors, Durant signed a four-year, $164 million max contract with the Brooklyn Nets in 2019 that gave him a base salary of $40,108,950, making him (spoiler alert) one of only six players to earn $40 million or more during the 2020-2021 season. With over $264 million in career earnings during his 13 seasons, Durant is an aggressive investor and all about tech startups.
According to Yahoo! Finance, Durant was an early investor in such companies as Uber, Postmates, the micro-lending firm Acorns, the stock trading app Robinhood, and the cloud data management firm Rubric. However, his investment in the cryptocurrency platform CoinBase has reaped him untold millions. MarketWatch reports that Durant’s 2017 investment in the company is now worth over 53 times what it was since then. We assume Silicon Valley all wear Kevin Durant jerseys.
John Wall is a generous teammate
Sometimes being the first overall draft pick isn’t always best as John Wall found out in 2010 when he found himself with the Washington Wizards. Although the former Kentucky phenom is a five-time NBA All-Star, the Wizards never posted more than 46 wins during his nine seasons with the club. However, Wall cashed in 2017 by signing a four-year, $170 million contract extension only to be traded to the Houston Rockets two years later. The contract gave him a base salary of $41,254,920 for the 2020-2021 season.
Wall has no problems spending money. In 2017, Wall dropped $640,000 to lavish all 16 of his teammates with $40,000 Rolex watches for Christmas (via TMZ). Where do we sign up to be Wall’s teammates? The former NBA Slam Dunk champion went house hunting in 2013 and splurged on an “eight bedroom, 12 bath, 17,350 sq. ft.” Potomac mansion (via The Washington Post).
Whether it be buying an ownership stake in the South East Melbourne Phoenix, a professional basketball team in Australia, or investing in the California-based cannabis company, LEUNE, the Raleigh native is setting himself up for the future in case his injury-plagued career ends prematurely. But he’s not betting on that just yet. “I still think I’m an All-Star in this league. I still think I’m a big-time player in this league,” he said (via Rockets Wire). “I feel like when I’m healthy, I can go against the best of them.”
It pays to be one of James Harden's favorite rappers
James Harden, simply known as “The Beard”, has been lighting up defenses with his prolific scoring prowess ever since being selected third overall in the 2009 NBA Draft. During his 13 years in the league, Harden has nine NBA All-Star appearances, a league MVP award, was the NBA’s scoring leader for three straight years, and has the most 50 point triple-doubles in NBA history. Buckets all day.
Harden’s marksmanship earned him the richest contract in the history of the NBA in 2017 when he signed a four-year, $160 million contract extension with the Houston Rockets while still under contract with his previous deal. In essence, Harden signed a six-year, $228 million fully guaranteed deal (via NBA). The move gave the former Arizona State standout a base salary of $41,254,920 for the 2020-2021 season.
Before being traded to the Brooklyn Nets, Harden dropped $10 million on a 26,000-square-foot mansion in Houston (via Forbes). It also pays to be one of Harden’s favorite rappers. For Lil Baby’s birthday in 2020, Harden gave him a Prada bag stuffed with $100,000 in cash and a $200,000 Richard Mille watch (via Clutch Points). Harden’s massive wealth also allowed him to buy a minority stake in the MLS club, Houston Dynamo. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time,” he said per the team’s website.
Chris Paul dropped serious coin to make his teammates more fashionable
Point guard Chris Paul, better known as “CP3,” entered the league in 2005 and instantly became a star. After winning the Rookie of the Year award, Paul has played eleven All-Star games and led the league in assists and steals a combined ten times.
In 2018, Paul signed a four-year, $160 million maximum contract extension with the Houston Rockets, giving him a base salary of $41,358,814 for the 2020-2021 season. The Wake Forest legend was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 2020 where he helped the young team reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. With over $299 million in career earnings, Paul has made habit of treating himself and others to the finer things in life.
During his one-season stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul gifted the entire roster with custom-tailored designer suits of their choice. “That was important to me. Everybody has their own style, so we gave the guys that experience,” he told GQ in 2019. “That’s the biggest thing when it comes to fashion. It’s all individual — it’s your personality, it’s an opportunity to show the world what you’re like.” We assume Paul has quite a few himself and he gets to keep them in the closet of his $11.1 million, 2,000 square foot Los Angeles mansion he bought in 2020 (via The Los Angeles Times).
Russell Westbrook is ready to sell you a car
Russell Westbrook entered the NBA as the third overall pick of the Seattle Supersonics (who relocated to Oklahoma City the following week) in 2005. Since then the fiery point guard has been nothing short of spectacular: nine All-Star games, one league MVP, two-time scoring leader, and three-time assist leader. Oh, and he averaged triple-doubles for three consecutive seasons and holds the record for most triple-doubles in NBA history with 182, breaking a record that stood for over 45 years.
In 2017, Westbrook signed a five-year, $205 million contract extension with the Thunder. “The deal starts with the 2018-19 season and delivers Westbrook the biggest guaranteed contract in NBA history — six seasons and $233 million through 2022-23,” ESPN reported. This gave the 6’3″ dynamo a base salary of $41,358,814 for the 2020-2021 season.
With a lot of disposable income, Westbrook stepped up in a big way during the COVID-19 pandemic by purchasing 650 laptops for underprivileged kids when schools switched to online classes (via USA Today). The future Hall of Famer also has a second career — car dealership owner. “I like cars. It’s a passion of mine,” told Automotive News about the four dealerships he owns in his home state of California. “It’s a lucrative business … if you think of the long term and not thinking of making quick money. [It’s] something for my kids down the line, for their kids. It’s something that lives on forever. People need cars.”
Stephen Curry was the first player in NBA history to sign a supermax contract
Coming out of Davidson College in the 2009 NBA Draft, Stephen “Steph” Curry has his share of doubters. Per NBA Draft, considered “extremely small for the NBA shooting guard position” and lacking “explosiveness and athleticism,” by scouts, Curry was selected seventh overall by the Golden State Warriors and all he did was revolutionize the game of basketball by placing the three-point shot front and center. Widely considered the greatest shooter in NBA history, Curry has spent his entire career with the Warriors where he’s led them to three NBA Championships while winning two league MVP and scoring titles.
The Warriors rightfully decided Curry would retire with the team by signing him to a five-year, $201 million extension in 2017, making him the first NBA player to sign a supermax contract in excess of $200 million (via ESPN). It was the richest contract in NBA history at the time, and his base salary of $43,006,362 for the 2020-2021 season tops the league.
So if you’re Steph Curry, you don’t need one residence: you need two. In 2019, he purchased a $31 million mansion in the San Francisco suburb of Atherton (via Variety). A year later he purchased an $8 million condo in downtown San Francisco that’s two miles from his office, Chase Center (via Fox News). As far as investments go, Curry dropped enough cash to become the actual owner of the bottled water company, OXIGEN (via BusinessWire).
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