The global sports industry is valued at almost half a trillion dollars. That’s FIVE, followed by 11 zeroes. What are we getting into here? One pretty obvious point is that if you’re a professional athlete, you will get paid a lot of money for playing a game. And if we’re talking big money, among the highest paid sports athletes either play basketball or soccer. How much do the superstars of each sport actually earn? Let’s find out.
How Much Does a Basketball Player Make a Year?
It is no secret that if you’re riding the bench in the NBA for a couple of years, you are normally set for life as far as money is concerned. (That is if you are wise with your earnings, which is a story for another day.)
Out of all four major North American sports, the NBA pays a lot of money to its players. On average, an NBA player makes eight million a year. Those numbers dwarf the average salary of MLB players ($1.15 million), as well as the NFL ($860,000) and NHL ($3 million). To put things in perspective, Zion Williamson, the top pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, earned $9.7 million in the first year of his contract. Veteran superstars earn a lot more, and if things don’t go south, Williamson could make north of $40 million a year someday.
The story is quite different among international or overseas basketball players. They still make a lot of money, but not as much as the NBA. For example, Euroleague non-stars earn $65,000 to $100,000 basketball player salary, while superstars fetch $2 million to $5 million. The Chinese Basketball League typically offers $1 million to $3 million for the best players they could get (mostly former NBA players). In comparison, the Turkish BSL could also go as high as $2 million.
How Much Does a Soccer Player Make a Year?
Generally, soccer players earn way less than basketball players. In the United States, most soccer players hover around a yearly pay of $100,000 while dozens make do with the base pay of $54,000.
Europe’s English Premier League is another story, though. The salary there goes as high as $3 million a year, with the average soccer player salary at $1.5 million a year. Lower divisions pay much less. However, if you’re a big name like Neymar, Ronaldo, or Messi, you’d earn absurd amounts of money from salary and endorsements.
Top 5 Highest Paid Basketball Players
Speaking of giving absurd amounts of money as salaries, the foremost sports league in the world is the NBA. The NBA salary cap is currently at $112.4 million, with specific rules and allowances for teams that go over. That makes it possible for teams to have three maximum salary players on a team. Without further ado, here are the NBA’s 5 highest-paid players:
1. Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
Curry is set to make $45.78 million next year and will be worth over $50 million annually after that. That’s because Golden State just extended Curry’s contract to four more years worth $215 million. The two-time MVP is the first NBA player to sign two $200 million deals in his career. Looks like Curry will be the highest paid NBA player in the foreseeable future.
2. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets
Harden will hit free agency in 2023 like Wall and Westbrook, and like these two, he will also make north of 40 million bucks– $43.8 million, to be exact. And like a nasty coincidence, Harden will also be paid $47 million in the last year of his contract in 2022-23.
3. John Wall, Houston Rockets
The oft-injured Wall struck gold when he signed a contract extension worth $169 million a couple of years before hitting free agency. That painfully massive contract will pay him $44.3 million this year and $47 million the next.
4. Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers
The all-time leader for career triple-doubles, Westbrook will bring his all-around talents home in Los Angeles. It took a steep price to bring him aboard– right about $44.2 million. Like Wall, the contract he signed four years ago with the Thunder will pay him $47 million. If he proves himself worthy in the league’s most storied franchise, he might be in for another big payday in 2023.
5. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Lillard is under contract with Portland for another four seasons. This year, he’ll bag over $43 million, and before his contract is over in 2024-25, he’ll earn another $47 million.
If you’re interested, rounding up the top 10 are LeBron James ($41.18 million), Kevin Durant ($40.92 million), Paul George ($39.34 million), Giannis Antetokounmpo ($39.34 million), and Klay Thompson ($37.98 million).
Top 5 Highest-Paid Soccer Players
As mentioned, if we’re talking about crazy money getting around, basketball is your best bet. However, the highest paid soccer player actually makes considerably more than the highest paid NBA player. Let’s look at the numbers:
1. Lionel Messi
Messi eclipsed rival Cristiano Ronaldo on this one as he is worth $98 million in salary plus a lot more in endorsements in 2021.
Neymar is the best player right now from soccer-crazed Brazil and that alone makes him worth millions, over $51 million to be exact.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
The Portuguese soccer star lost this one, but no one is feeling bad for him. Ronaldo earned $43 million from his contract and a considerable from all of his endorsements as well.
4. Kylian Mbappe
The Frenchman, who’s only 22 years old, is set to make $25 million this year. Given his youth, he will be a lot more than that in the upcoming years.
5. Mohammed Salah
Salah is at the peak of his physical powers at 29 years old, so it’s no surprise he belongs in this conversation. He still earns way more than soccer’s Big 3, but $13.92 million is not bad at all.
Why NBA Players Get Paid More Than Soccer Players?
As the numbers show, unless you’re Messi, Ronaldo, or Neymar, basketball players are paid way more by a wide margin. Soccer has billions of fans while, on average, basketball has 450 million followers. So why do basketball players getting paid more?
Consider three main reasons:
- The NBA is based in the United States of America, where the market is much more profitable. Other countries like the Philippines, China, and Argentina often pay for subscriptions to watch games while patronizing merchandise. The NBA’s merchandise sales annually are estimated to be one billion dollars.
- The NBA has 2,460 regular-season games (assuming they play an 82-game season) plus dozens more in the playoffs. Soccer leagues like La Liga and Major League soccer only play in the hundreds. Therefore, in addition to the international revenue, gate attendance is also better, and we’re still not talking about billion-dollar TV deals here.
- NBA rosters only allow 15 players (with a minimum of 13), while MLS and La Liga have 25. That means there is more money distributed to fewer players.
Other Top Highest Paying Sports
Aside from basketball and soccer, we have also touched a bit of the salaries in Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Football League (NFL), and the National Hockey League (NHL). The four are considered the major sports in North America and some of the highest paid sports in the world.
What are some of the other top-paying sports? Well, look at what MMA has done to Conor McGregor’s brand. McGregor is actually the top-earning athlete of 2021, amassing $208 million in total. Most of his earnings come from endorsements, but it’s all a part of the game.
Tennis is also another profitable sport, but the most recognizable faces, such as Roger Federer, make the most money. Like McGregor, only a tiny portion of his earnings are from his salary, but he is cashing in through his endorsements.
Other high-paying sports include boxing, F1 racing, cricket, and golf.
Determining an NBA Player’s Salary
In determining the NBA player’s salary, experience is one of the biggest factors, of course, coupled with their actual basketball skills.
First-round picks have scale value; their salary is based on the pick they are selected with. For example, 1st overall pick Cade Cunnigham will have $8,375,100 in his first year. That will increase slightly for his second year and then up to $9,212,800 in the third year. He is eligible for a 26.1% increase in his fourth year. In his fifth year, the Pistons (assuming he is still with the team that drafted him) can offer him a qualifying offer which is 30% of his fourth-year salary.
How do NBA teams determine the maximum salary they can offer to a player? It is based on his years of experience and the NBA salary cap, which changes every year. A player with less than six years of experience can be offered a maximum of 25% of the salary cap. Someone with seven to nine years under his belt is eligible for a max contract worth 30% of the cap. An NBA vet of 10-plus years for 35% of the salary cap. Teams may also offer supermax contracts to their own players, transcending the maximum salary.
But here’s the deal: Not too many players are worth the max and the supermax. Apparently, you can’t sign too many players in the max territory, or you’ll be stripped bare financially. Like the max and supermax contracts, there are also the minimum contract players based on years of experience.
For rookies, the minimum is set at over $925,000 for 2021 and $898,310 in the previous season. An NBA player with 5 years of experience could fetch a minimum of $1.88 million, and someone with 10-plus years at $2.56 million. Between the max-earning and minimum-earning players, teams and players’ agents negotiate contracts that they see fit.
NBA Salary Cap
As you can see, the contract of NBA players firmly hinges on what is called the salary cap. How does the salary cap work, and how do they determine it?
The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement sets the maximum and minimum amount of money a team can pay its players. Teams can go over the cap and be penalized, but there are also exceptions to it. The salary cap is computed using this formula: BRI (Basketball-Related Income)x 44.74%- player benefits/ 30 teams. They somehow arrived at $112.4 million next season.
A team can use a minimum of 90% of the salary cap. Easy-spending teams can go over the cap, but they have to pay the luxury tax. The tax line the following season is at $136.6 million. If any team goes $15 million to $19.99 million over, they have to pay $3.25 per dollar that they are over the cap.
Wrapping Things Up: Who Earns More: Basketball or Soccer Players?
The youth often dream of becoming rich by getting into the highest paid sports. Today, those sports are soccer and basketball. Soccer is easily the most beloved sport in the world, but believe it or not, basketball pays a lot more, especially in the NBA.
In the NBA, the average salary is 8 million. A handful of them earns max and supermax contracts upwards of $40 million, the next tier at 20-30 million, and others from 10-15 million. The minimum salary is over $800,000. If we go overseas, there are leagues such as the Euroleague and in Chinese Basketball League that go nine figures to pay their superstars.
Now, what about soccer? Unless it’s Messi, Neymar, or Ronaldo, a soccer player’s salary is way low. Even a soccer savant like Kylian Mbappe earns only $25 million a year. That money is only equivalent to a Nic Vucevic or Draymond Green in the NBA, salary-wise. The average soccer player salary in the United States earn anywhere from $54,000 to $100,000. It’s a little more in the European leagues, but still not NBA money.
The NBA pays its players more money for various reasons, among them, the billion-dollar TV deals and the size of their rosters. Lionel Messi may be the highest paid soccer player right now, but there is an ocean-sized gap between No. 3 to No. 4 and No.5. In basketball, Steph Curry is the highest paid NBA player right now at over $45 million. There are currently 51 NBA players earning at least 20 million a year.
Needless to say, the average soccer player salary and average basketball player salary are not even comparable. If you play three years in the NBA on a minimum contract and are smart with the money, you are probably set for life. However, that’s not the case with soccer or any other sport.