People become professional athletes because it’s what they love to do; it’s also not a bad idea to get paid doing what you love. If you want to know what sport makes the most money in the world, you came to the right place.
In this particular piece, we are going to find out which players earn more, basketball or football players. No doubt, basketball and football are two of the highest paid sports in the world, but who’s getting the bigger slice of the money pie? Let’s see.
How Much Do NBA Players Make on Average?
The salaries of NBA players fluctuate depending on the salary cap, but we can pretty much figure out their average pay by looking at the numbers the past few years.
Dating back to 2017, the NBA salary cap allowed its players to have an average salary of 5 million dollars across levels. That climbed higher at $6.39 million in 2018, up to $8.32 million in 2019, $8.2 million in 2020, and $7.7 million in 2021.
The numbers fell off a bit from 2020 to 2021, but it’s not that you can’t feed your family for seven million.
How Much Do Football Players Make on Average?
The NFL, or National Football League, is the most popular sport in America. It draws about 66,000 viewers per game in attendance and millions more watching at home. Still, when we’re talking about football players’ salaries, that’s mere peanuts compared to a basketball player salary.
NFL players make $2.7 million on average, but that does not reflect the reality of what’s going on. To put that in perspective, there are a lot of minimum-salary guys in the NFL, but the average number is pulled by the large contracts of superstar players, mainly quarterbacks. A more realistic look is through the median salary, which in this case, is at $860,000.
Since NFL rosters are over 50 players each, it is also helpful to know the average salary by position. The five most valuable positions based on average salary are the quarterback ($16 million), defensive end ($13 million), wide receiver ($12 million), offensive lineman ($11 million), and linebacker ($11 million).
Of course, these average salaries are by no means set in stone, but any change wouldn’t be too drastic.
Top 10 Highest Paid NBA Players
In this list, we will look at the highest paid basketball players in the NBA for the 2021-22 season:
1. Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
Steph has been at it for a while now, five years to be exact. Last season, he has topped out at over $43 million and is set to make $45 million this year. That is by virtue of the five-year, $201.2 million deal he inked in 2017. He just got another four-year, $200 million-plus deal which locks him up until 38 and has him earning over $50 million annually starting in 2022-23.
2. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Harden earned $41.25 million in 2020-21 and will be up for a slight increase this upcoming season at over $47 million. Of course, a couple more million dollars is not exactly the definition of “slight” for the common folk.
3. John Wall, Houston Rockets
Harden and Wall have the same salary for 2020-21 and will be due $44 million and $47 million in the next two seasons.
4. Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers
Westbrook was paid as much as CP3 in the 2020-21 season and will be paid a lot more at least for next year. He may negotiate a contract extension now that he’s back home in Los Angeles, but as of the last season and the next, he’ll be among the highest paid basketball players in the league.
5. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Lillard will make over $43 million this season and hit $50 million annually in the next two years. Well, it’s about Dame time!
6. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Bron just became the youngest billionaire basketball player, so it feels like his $41 million income for 2021-22 was chump change. Still, eight figures is eight figures, even if you’re LeBron James. He will be a free agent after this season, so it will be interesting to see what’s he going to do afterward.
7. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
KD inked a four-year, $162 million deal in 2019 with Brooklyn, putting his salary at $40.92 million for 2021-22. He will be earning close to $43 million next year, which is not bad considering he was paid $40 million in 2019-20 just for rehabbing his ruptured Achilles tendon.
8. , Los Angeles Clippers
Say what you want about PG, he is one of the highest earners in the NBA. He won’t top $40 million until next year, but $39.34 million is not too shabby either.
10. , Milwaukee Bucks
The 2021 NBA FInals MVP is still 26 years old, so this won’t be the last time he will strike gold. For this year, he will settle for $39.34 million like Paul George. In a few years, though, that figure jumps to $48 million and before we know it, he will become the select few to earn $50 million a year in salary.
10. Klay Thompson
Klay hasn’t played a game in two seasons, but if I’m him, I won’t be losing sleep over it. Thompson pockets over $37 million this season and will hit the $40 million thresholds the next two years.
Top 5 Highest-Paid NFL Players in Every Position
The 10 highest paid NFL players all feature quarterbacks, so to get a pretty good idea of the salary distribution of the players, let’s take a look at the rates per position.
- , Chiefs ($45 million)
- , Cowboys ($40 million)
- DeShaun Watson, Texans ($39 million)
- , Seahawks ($35 million)
- Jared Goff, Lions ($33.5 million)
- Christian McCaffrey, Panthers ($16.015 million)
- Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys ($15 million)
- Alvin Kamara, Saints ($15 million)
- Dalvin Cook, Vikings ($12.6 million)
- Derrick Henry, Titans ($12.5 million)
- Kyle Juszczyk, 49ers ($5.4 million)
- Derek Watt, Steelers ($3.25 million)
- C.J. Ham, Vikings ($975,000)
- Andy Janovich, Browns ($833,333)
- Keith Smith, Falcons ($670,000)
- DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals ($27.25 million)
- Julio Jones, Titans ($22 million)
- Keenan Allen, Chargers ($20.025 million)
- Amari Cooper, Cowboys ($20 million)
- Michael Thomas, Saints ($19.25 million)
- George Kittle, 49ers ($15 million)
- Travis Kelce, Chiefs ($14.3 million)
- Jonnu Smith, Patriots ($12.5 million)
- Hunter Henry, Patriots ($12.5 million)
- Austin Hooper, Browns ($10.5 million)
- Trent Williams, 49ers ($23.01 million)
- David Bakhtiari, Packers ($23 million)
- Laremi Tunsil, Texans ($22 million)
- Kolton Miller, Raiders ($18 million)
- Garret Bolles, Broncos ($17 million)
- Joe Thuney, Chiefs ($16 million)
- Andrus Peat, Saints ($11.5 million)
- Rodger Saffold, Titans ($11 million)
- Ali Marpet, Buccaneers ($10.825 million)
- Joel Bitonio, Browns ($10 million)
- Frank Ragnow, Lions ($13.5 million)
- Corey Linsley, Chargers ($12.5 million)
- Ryan Kelly, Colts ($12.4 million)
- J.C. Tretter, Browns ($10.85 million)
- Ryan Jensen, Buccaneers ($10.5 million)
- Brandon Scherff, Redskins ($18.036 million)
- Brandon Brooks, Eagles ($14.05 million)
- Zack Martin, Cowboys ($14 million)
- Graham Glasgow, Broncos ($11 million)
- Shaquille Mason, Patriots ($9 million)
- Ryan Ramczyk, Saints ($19.2 million)
- Lane Johnson, Eagles ($18 million)
- Braden Smith, Colts ($18.5 million)
- Tayler Moton, Panthers ($17 million)
- Jack Conklin, Browns ($14 million)
- Aaron Donald, Rams ($22.5 million)
- Leonard Williams, Giants ($21 million)
- DeForest Buckner, Colts ($21 million)
- Chris Jones, Chiefs ($20 million)
- Jonathan Allen, Redskins ($18 million)
- Joey Bosa, Chargers ($27 million)
- Myles Garrett, Browns ($25 million)
- Khalil Mack, Bears ($23.5 million)
- Demarcus Lawrence, Cowboys ($21 million)
- Frank Clark, Chiefs ($20.8 million)
- Ed Warner, 49ers ($19.045 million)
- Bobby Wagner, Seahawks ($18 million)
- CJ Mosley, Jets ($17 million)
- Zach Cunningham, Texans ($14.5 million)
- Shaq Thompson, Panthers ($13.54)
- Justin Simmons, Broncos ($15.25 million)
- Buddha Baker, Cardinals ($14.75 million)
- Eddie Jackson, Bears ($14.6 million)
- Kevin Byard, Titans ($14.1 million)
- Landon Collins, Redskins ($14 million)
- Jalen Ramsey, Rams ($20 million)
- Marlon Humphrey, Ravens ($19.5 million)
- Tre’Davious White, Bills ($17.25 million)
- Darius Slay, Eagles ($16.68 million)
- Byron Jones, Dolphins (($16.5 million)
- Justin Tucker, Ravens ($5 million)
- Graham Gano, Giants ($4.67 million)
- Ka’imi Fairbairn, Texans ($4.41 million)
- Jason Sanders, Dolphins ($4.4 million)
- Brandon McManus, Broncos ($4.3 million)
- Johnny Hekker, Rams ($3.75 million)
- Michael Dixon, Seahawks ($3.67 million)
- Tress Way, Redskins ($3.31 million)
- Brett Kern, Titans ($3.18 million)
- Britton Colquitt, Vikings ($3 million)
- Reid Fergusson, Bills ($1.33 million)
- Clark Harris, Bengals ($1.212 million)
- Jeffrey Jansen, Panthers ($1.212 million)
- Luke Rhodes, Colts ($1.212 million)
- Morgan Cox, Titans ($1.212 million)
- Kameron Canaday, Steelers ($1.212 million)
- Jon Weeks, Texans ($1.212 million)
Why the NBA Pays More Than the NFL?
Because the NFL is the most popular sport in the United States, it also brings in more revenue. For example, in 2018, the NFL had $16 billion in profit. Around that same time, the NBA only brought in over $8 billion. That begs the question, why does the NBA pay its players more than the NFL? Consider some of the reasons:
- While both leagues had 32 teams, most NFL clubs pay for 53 players on their roster. The NBA pays only 13-15 players.
- The nuances of their respective Collective Bargaining Agreements are very different. For example, the NFL’s CBA rules rarely allow players to reach free agency. Hence, no other team can start a bidding war for their services.
- The NBA allocates more of the revenue money to their players, at almost 50%. The NFL rules on this are quite complex.
- The NBA rules on the max and supermax contracts inflate the value of the middle and lower-class players. If you offer LeBron James a $40 million contract, then suddenly, a role player like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope getting 12 million a year isn’t so bad.
- In all honesty, the talent pool in the NBA is shallow. That means there are fewer players who are worthy of a roster spot. You can still make it in the NFL as a small, quick guy or if you have a particular skill like a placekicker or a punter. In the NBA, you are expected to do a little bit of everything. Even if you are skilled but short, expect someone who’s just as skilled but taller to take over your roster spot.
Other Top Highest Paying Sports
Besides basketball, soccer, and American football, the other top highest paying sports are:
- F1 Racing
- Ice Hockey
Wrapping Things Up: Who Earns More: Basketball or Football Players?
To answer the question directly, basketball players earn more on average than football players. An NBA basketball player salary, on average, is $7.7 million in 2021 (that’s even lower than the two previous years), while the average NFL salary is $860,000.
While the highest paid basketball players and highest paid basketball player almost go toe-to-toe (Patrick Mahomes and both have $45 million salaries), the rest of the field do not. In the NFL, most of the top salaries are based on position. Long snappers earn $1 million or less, and fullbacks earn $5 million or less.
Why would NBA players earn more than NFL players when the National Football League is easily the most profitable sports league in the world? It is because of several reasons: the size of the roster, shallow talent pool, the salary cap and collective bargaining agreement rules, and the inflation of contracts.
Aside from basketball and football, you may turn your attention to other well-paying sports. Fight sports like boxing and MMA make good money, while auto racing, tennis, hockey, and baseball are also among the highest paid sports. In fact, MMA icon Conor McGregor banked $180 million in salaries and endorsements, making him the highest-paid athlete in the world.
But still, if someone asks what sport makes the most money, the answer is the NFL. However, since the NBA has four times fewer personnel in their roster, the money distribution is a lot better than the top-heavy NFL. That is why a basketball player salary, on average, is still considerably larger than the average NFL player’s salary.