LeBron James is one of the greatest basketball players to ever live. Whether you have him at No. 1, or think guys like Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Bill Russell may still come out ahead of him, it is indisputable that he has reached that very top tier of superstar, especially now that he has captured NBA titles with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and Los Angeles Lakers, all before the age of 35. It is no surprise that he’s been compensated like one of the greatest to ever play as well. His current Lakers contract pays out over $153.3 million over four years, a salary that will exceed $40 million in 2021-22. Throw in a historic lifetime Nike contract, which comes with his own line of signature shoes, as well as numerous other business ventures, and Forbes estimated his net worth at $450 million back in 2018. That will only continue to grow, even after his eventual retirement.
LeBron broke into the NBA in 2003, as the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. The Akron native became a superstar as a high schooler, and was dubbed The King while still at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He was given basically impossible standards to live up to, and has more than done so.
After making the lowly Cavaliers a contender, leading them to one NBA Finals appearance, James made the controversial decision to join his friend Dwyane Wade, along with Chris Bosh, on the Miami Heat. The team went to four straight Finals, winning the title in 2012 and 13. He returned to the Cavaliers following the 2014 season, and immediately transformed his home state franchise into a Finals team once again. They won four straight Eastern Conference Finals, and upset the Golden State Warriors dynasty in a legendary 2016 NBA Finals.
Now, James has helped the legendary Los Angeles Lakers out of their long rut. The team captured a championship in his second year in L.A., and first with superstar teammate Anthony Davis. He’s now two championships behind Michael Jordan, the man who most consider his main historic rival, and the true Greatest Of All Time.
LeBron James Net Worth, Basketball Contracts, and Salary:
While his interests have taken him to numerous other industries, LeBron has made the plenty on the basketball court. According to Spotrac, he made a base salary of $37,436,858 with the Lakers during the 2019-20 season. That continues to climb as he nears the end of his four-year deal with the team. He’s set to make $39,219,565 this coming season, and $41,002,273 in 2021-22 before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
When he entered the NBA, he signed a four-year, $18,788,540 deal with the Cavaliers as the No. 1 overall pick. After that first deal, he re-signed with the team, making $60,380,987 over four more seasons. In 2010, he became an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his NBA career.
After announcing his intention to sign with the Miami Heat during the much-criticized televised special The Decision, the two teams actually completed a sign-and-trade involving the superstar forward. He would ink a six-year, $109.8 million deal before being sent to South Beach. After four years with Miami, however, James opted out of his deal, electing to return home. He signed a two-year, $42.2 million deal, giving him flexibility to figure out his future. He’d win the championship with the team in 2016, and sign a three-year, $100 million deal with the team later that summer.
After two more years in Cleveland, and a pair of Finals defeats to Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and the Golden State Warriors, LeBron declined a player option to extend his deal at the end of the 2017-18 season. He’d go on to sign his four-year Lakers contract, after months of rumors about a potential jump to the team.
In total, Spotrac has LeBron James’ career earnings at an estimated $343,863,770. If he finishes out his Lakers deal, he’ll be up to an estimated $421,745,804 from his NBA deals alone.
Of course, those don’t tell his entire financial story, and don’t explain his estimate net worth, which was at $450 million per Forbes two years ago, and Celebrity Net Worth now estimates at $480 million.
LeBron James’ Nike Contract and Other Endorsements:
Like Jordan before him, LeBron’s most notable partnership is the one with Nike. In 2015, he signed what has been described as a lifetime contract with the apparel behemoth. While the exact contract figures are not public, LeBron’s business partner and childhood friend Maverick Carter indicated that it was worth over $1 billion—a long-rumored figure—in a 2016 interview with GQ‘s Mark Anthony Green.
So you just negotiated an unprecedented lifetime contract for LeBron with Nike. What’s your secret to being a great negotiator?
You have to go into the room understanding a couple things. You have to know what you want. You have to know how to clearly articulate those things. You have to know what’s important to the other side and what they want. Be able to articulate those things, too. And then you have to be willing to not take everything. If you go into the negotiation like, I’m gonna get every dollar, every piece of real estate—I’m just gonna take this guy’s fucking pants off—you may be able to do that once, maybe twice, but after that, people aren’t going to want to do business with you. When you’re negotiating something like the Nike deal, it’s gonna last a lifetime, literally. The minute this negotiation’s over, we’re gonna work with these people every day. So you don’t want to leave them with a bad feeling.
How much was the deal for?
I can’t say.
Come on, Mav! Can you ballpark it?
What are people saying?
Kanye said a billion. So a billion.
[Maverick smiles and points one finger skyward.]
Yeah. It’s a fantastic deal. Nike feels great about the deal. That’s the most important thing. As great as I feel, as great as LeBron feels—Nike feels fantastic about it. It’s the largest deal in the history of the company. Their hope is he makes even more. And our hope is that, too, obviously.
James initially signed with Nike out of high school, inking a seven-year deal worth over $100 million, per reports. That obviously outpaced his NBA earnings by a decent amount through those early seasons on his rookie deal and second Cavaliers contract.
He’s also had good fortune with some of his other endorsements and investment decisions. James bought a stake in Beats Electronics, before Apple purchased the headphones company for $3 billion back in 2014. He dropped McDonald’s in order to focus on Blaze Pizza, in which he was an early investor. Rather than sign a contract with McDonald’s, which would’ve guaranteed $14-15 million per year, he helped grow Blaze, which is one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the country. According to a 2015 ESPN piece by Darren Rovell, he owns more than 10-percent of Blaze Pizza, and is a franchisee in cities like Chicago and Miami. Per a 2017 Forbes report, he owns at least 17 franchises.
LeBron is also a major player in the media space. He owns the Uninterrupted platform, which has an HBO show The Shop: Uninterrupted, where James and other athletes and celebrities have free-flowing conversations about a range of topics. His production company SpringHill Entertainment has already launched a few television programs, including NBC gameshow The Wall, and Starz sitcom Survivor’s Remorse.
Career Stats and Accolades:
Even with all of these investments and outside interests, LeBron James’ focus has never drifted too far from basketball. With the numbers and career accolades that he’s had, that much is clear.
James is a four-time league MVP, winning in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013. He’s been in contention just about every other year as well, though he may be experiencing some of the same MVP voter fatigue that limited Michael Jordan to five MVPs. He has also won the Finals MVP in all four of his championships.
LeBron has made every All-Star Game since 2005, his second year in the league. He also has an incredible 13 All-NBA First-Team selections, making it in 2006, every year between 2008-18, and again in 2020. He missed a selection in 2019, the only year that he dealt with significant injuries in his entire career. His 55-games was a career low. Outside of the shortened seasons in 2019-20 (pandemic) and 2011-12 (CBA negotiation), his previous career low was 69 games in 2014-15. He has played in at least 74 of 82 games in every other season, as well as 260 career postseason games.
In his career, he has 34,241 total points, putting him at third all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. After leading the NBA in assists for the first time in his career this season, he is eighth all time with 9,346, and he’s 54th in career rebounds at 9,405.
LeBron’s Philanthropy and Other Off-Court Interests:
LeBron James has been involved with various philanthropic causes since the start of his NBA career, and has become more active in social justice causes in recent years.
Early in his career he launched the LeBron James Family Foundation, which serves his home community in Akron. Education has been a major focus of his efforts. In 2015, he partnered with the University of Akron to provide scholarships for thousands of local students.
In 2018, he took things to the next level, opening the I Promise School in his hometown, a public school opened in conjunction with the local school department. From ESPN, on the school:
The I Promise School has a longer school day and longer school year. More than 40 staff members will attempt to accelerate the development of children who qualify for the program based on performance and socioeconomic factors.
For those who complete the program, which has been operating for years, James has arranged for free tuition to the University of Akron starting in 2021. He also created a program for parents of the at-risk children to return to complete their high school educations, and he has planned an institute to help prepare high-school-age students for college.
In all, James and his foundation leaders hope that more than 1,200 children will pass through the program and into college by 2029.
It is one of the most impressive ventures that we’ve ever seen an athlete undertake, and has cemented his legacy in Ohio, even as his basketball and media careers have taken him out to the West Coast.
In addition to charity work, he has also gotten into some acting. He has hosted Saturday Night Live and made television cameos, including HBO’s Entourage. He was lauded for his comedy work after his supporting role in Judd Apatow’s 2015 movie Trainwreck, playing a fictionalized version of himself who happened to be friend’s with one of the leads played by Bill Hader. He did voice work in the 2018 animated movie Smallfoot, and will star as himself in the upcoming Space Jam: A New Legacy, a sequel to the famous 1990s hit starring Michael Jordan, which is expected to come out in 2021.
In 2020, he supported Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ successful Presidential Election run, after endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016. He also helped support the “More Than A Vote” campaign, helping turn out the vote around the country, as well as signing up young, healthy poll workers to do that important work amid the pandemic.
Odds are that at 35, LeBron James’ basketball career will wind down over the next few years, even if he hasn’t shown it yet. The things that he has done off the court will make sure that his legacy goes far beyond sports for years to come.
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