LeBron James and Stephen Curry are both set to haul in at least $100 million this season—and the league’s skyrocketing salary cap means more superstars could soon follow.
BY BRETT KNIGHT, FORBES STAFF
Throughout a whirlwind NBA offseason, with Bradley Beal, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday among the big names on the move, Stephen Curry remained rooted in Golden State. But the Warriors guard will still be charting new territory—financially, anyway.
As he enters the second season of a four-year, $215 million contract he signed in 2021, the 35-year-old Curry is due to collect $51.9 million on the court in 2023-24, becoming the first player to crack the $50 million salary threshold. Factor in his off-court income—including endorsements, licensing, appearances and memorabilia—and the four-time NBA champion will haul in an estimated $101.9 million (before taxes and agents’ fees), landing behind only Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James on Forbes’ 2023 list of basketball’s highest-paid players.
Thanks to an estimated $70 million off the court, King James holds on to his earnings crown for the tenth straight season, with an estimated $117.6 million. He and Curry are the only two active NBA players, and among just 15 athletes across all sports, to have reached nine figures in a single year.
Combined, the NBA’s ten highest-paid players are set to earn an estimated $746 million, roughly flat from last year’s record $751 million.
The 2023 total includes $291 million off the court (taking the average between the two players tied at No. 10 in this year’s earnings ranking, Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic). While that figure represents a 12% drop from 2022’s record $330 million—mostly because Russell Westbrook, who posted $35 million off the court last year, fell out of the top ten—the NBA’s lucrative sneaker deals and ample endorsement opportunities ensure that no other professional league can come close with its marketing muscle. The business endeavors of the ten highest-paid players in the NFL ($69 million), MLB ($48 million) and the NHL ($13 million) constitute a small fraction of what the NBA’s top ten take home. The top ten in international soccer also come up shy, at $236 million.
Still, even as future Hall of Famers like James and Curry expand the definition of off-court income—profiting from venture investments and building media empires, in addition to their traditional sponsorships—today’s NBA players are making their biggest gains with their playing contracts. The league’s salary cap is up to $136 million this season, more than double the roughly $59 million of a decade ago, and although the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement imposes stiffer luxury-tax penalties to rein in big spenders, the tax level now exceeds $165 million, up from about $72 million in 2013-14. That surge has given teams more money to throw around and driven up the price of the league’s biggest contracts, with James, Jokic, Beal and Joel Embiid due to join Curry in topping $50 million on the court next year and eight other players set to reach that stratosphere the following season.
Expect those ranks to swell even further in the years ahead as the NBA signs new national media deals, beginning with the 2025-26 season, that could double the average of $2.66 billion a year the league currently gets from ABC, ESPN and Turner Broadcasting.
Lillard is slated to become the first basketball player to clear $60 million on the court in 2026-27—but it won’t be long before another contract shatters that mark like a backboard.
Here are the highest-paid NBA players for 2023.
THE HIGHEST-PAID NBA PLAYERS 2023
#1. $117.6 million
AGE: 38 | POSITION: FORWARD | TEAM: LOS ANGELES LAKERS | ON-COURT: $47.6 MILLION • OFF-COURT: $70 MILLION
James has topped Forbes’ annual earnings leaderboard since another Lakers legend, Kobe Bryant, edged him out in 2013-14. No player in NBA history has earned more on the court than the $432 million that James has piled up across 20 pro seasons, according to Spotrac; assuming he finishes out his current contract by picking up his option for next season, James will surpass $530 million in 2025. Off the court, he remains the largest shareholder in the SpringHill Company, the TV and movie production outfit that helped him become the first active athlete on Forbes’ billionaire list, and he was a producer on Shooting Stars, a film released on Peacock in June based on his high school basketball career. And James, who for years has trumpeted his love of “Taco Tuesdays” on social media, joined a Taco Bell marketing campaign in May seeking to strip that phrase of its trademarked status. On Forbes’ 2023 list of the world’s highest-paid athletes, only Roger Federer and Cristiano Ronaldo made more from their business endeavors.
#2. $101.9 million
AGE: 35 | POSITION: GUARD | TEAM: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS | ON-COURT: $51.9 MILLION • OFF-COURT: $50 MILLION
Like LeBron James, Curry has a booming media business with Unanimous, which delivered a documentary about him for Apple TV+ in July and has a documentary forthcoming on the late rapper Mac Dre. He also launched a bourbon called Gentleman’s Cut this year and is publishing a graphic novel series about sports superheroes in partnership with Penguin Workshop while staying busy as an investor, acquiring stakes late last year in VR platform Golf+ and Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy’s company TMRW Sports. And in terms of traditional endorsements, Curry signed a new deal with Under Armour in March that will extend into his retirement years and came with $75 million in stock, according to an SEC filing, vesting in equal installments in 2029 and 2034.
#3. $91.4 million
AGE: 35 | POSITION: FORWARD | TEAM: PHOENIX SUNS | ON-COURT: $46.4 MILLION • OFF-COURT: $45 MILLION
Durant’s sprawling Boardroom media company launched a new division in September called Boardroom Advisory, aiming to work with both athletes and brands in venture and private equity investing, sports ownership, business strategy and content creation. Durant invests himself through his firm 35V, recently picking up stakes in a Major League Pickleball team, digital creator business Goldenset Collective and media asset manager ScorePlay. The 35-year-old Durant, who is entering his first full season with the Phoenix Suns after a February trade, also agreed to a lifetime partnership with Nike in April and had his likeness appear in Call of Duty video games in May.
#4. $85.6 million
AGE: 28 | POSITION: FORWARD | TEAM: MILWAUKEE BUCKS | ON-COURT: $45.6 MILLION • OFF-COURT: $40 MILLION
In June, Antetokounmpo and three of his brothers formed a company called Ante Inc. to oversee their investments and businesses, which include the AntetokounBros shops and a stake in Major League Soccer’s Nashville SC that they added in March. And in February, Antetokounmpo partnered with Calamos Investments to launch a sustainability-focused exchange-traded fund. “From 2020 to 2023, people think I’ve taken a large jump on the basketball court, but I think I’ve taken 10x jump off the court,” the two-time league MVP told the New York Times in August.
#5. $63.6 million
AGE: 33 | POSITION: GUARD | TEAM: MILWAUKEE BUCKS | ON-COURT: $45.6 MILLION • OFF-COURT: $18 MILLION
Coming off perhaps the best season of his career, which saw him selected for the all-NBA third team even though he played in just 58 games, Lillard is Giannis Antetokounmpo’s new running mate in Milwaukee after 11 years in Portland. Off the court, he endorses brands including Adidas, Bose and Modelo, and he made his first startup investment last fall with Kicks Crew, an e-commerce platform for sneakers. Lillard also moonlights as a rapper under the stage name Dame D.O.L.L.A. and released his fifth studio album in August.
#6. $61.2 million
AGE: 33 | POSITION: GUARD | TEAM: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS | ON-COURT: $43.2 MILLION • OFF-COURT: $18 MILLION
After missing two full seasons with injuries and appearing in just 32 games in his return in 2021-22, Thompson played in 69 last season, averaging 33 minutes a contest. He will be counted on to play a similarly large role in a contract year for a Warriors team that believes it can win a championship after trading for Chris Paul in July. Off the court, Thompson has 11 long-term partnerships, including Chinese shoe brand Anta, healthcare network Kaiser Permanente and watchmaker Tissot, and he played alongside his Golden State teammate Steph Curry against NFL stars Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce in June’s edition of The Match, the made-for-TV golf event.
#7 (tie). $57.6 million
AGE: 29 | POSITION: CENTER | TEAM: PHILADELPHIA 76ERS | ON-COURT: $47.6 MILLION • OFF-COURT: $10 MILLION
Embiid is the league’s reigning MVP, and regardless of what happens this season with the 76ers as James Harden tries to force his way out of Philadelphia, the 29-year-old center stands a good chance of picking up some more hardware next summer after he recently committed to represent Team USA at the Paris Olympics. In June, Embiid launched a production studio called Miniature Géant in partnership with LeBron James’ SpringHill Company, and he invested last October in Mitchell & Ness, a division of Fanatics, the sports apparel behemoth run by his close friend Michael Rubin. A member of the 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 class, Embiid said he was trying “to go from rich to wealthy.”
#7 (tie). $57.6 million
AGE: 34 | POSITION: GUARD | TEAM: PHILADELPHIA 76ERS | ON-COURT: $35.6 MILLION • OFF-COURT: $22 MILLION
Since picking up his player option for the 2023-24 season in June, Harden has been agitating for a trade out of Philadelphia, going as far as calling 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey a liar in an August rant that drew him a $100,000 fine from the NBA. Wherever he ends up, the ten-time All-Star will stay busy with an off-court portfolio that has tilted toward equity deals over traditional endorsements in recent years. The wine label he launched last year, J-Harden, now sells a prosecco, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a red blend and is available in Canada, China, Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines, in addition to the United States. In August, as Harden watched on a live stream on Chinese social media, 10,000 bottles sold out in a matter of seconds.
#9. $55.2 million
AGE: 34 | POSITION: FORWARD | TEAM: MIAMI HEAT | ON-COURT: $45.2 MILLION • OFF-COURT: $10 MILLION
Butler’s Miami Heat didn’t end up trading for Damian Lillard this summer, but fresh off a run to the NBA finals, they could surprise again this season. The 34-year-old forward is the founder of BigFace, which sells 8.8-ounce bags of whole bean coffee for $30 or more, and in May, Jimmy Buckets filed a trademark application for “Himmy Buckets” to be used on apparel and beverages. Butler also recently told Rolling Stone that he had recorded dozens of country songs over the last several years. “There’s definitely going to be an album,” he said. “I just don’t know when. The date I want to do it always gets pushed back because this other job that I have, playing basketball, kind of overshadows everything.”
#10 (tie). $54.6 million
AGE: 33 | POSITION: FORWARD | TEAM: LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS | ON-COURT: $45.6 MILLION • OFF-COURT: $9 MILLION
George had a season end prematurely again with a leg injury in March, but the Clippers are hoping they can put it all together in their fifth year with the eight-time All-Star on the roster alongside Kawhi Leonard. After the season, George will have to decide whether to opt in for 2024-25 for $48.8 million or enter free agency instead. Off the court, he launched a podcast in March, and he has recently added partnerships with therapy app BetterHelp and four startups in the gaming space: Global Poker, esports platform One Up, controller maker SCUF and blockchain game Rumble Kong League.
#10 (tie). $54.6 million
AGE: 28 | POSITION: CENTER | TEAM: DENVER NUGGETS | ON-COURT: $47.6 MILLION • OFF-COURT: $7 MILLION
Jokic missed out on a third straight MVP Award last season, finishing as the runner-up in the voting to Joel Embiid, but he got a pretty good consolation prize in leading the Nuggets to their first NBA championship. He and Embiid now make their debuts in the basketball earnings top ten in lockstep, giving Giannis Antetokounmpo some under-30 company after the Greek Freak spent two straight years as the only 20-something in the ranking. Jokic is selective with his endorsements, but he has a huge opportunity to capitalize on his run of success: His agents at Excel Sports Management are negotiating a lucrative new shoe deal after his contract with Nike recently expired.
The Forbes ranking of the NBA’s highest-paid players reflects on-court earnings for the 2023-24 season, including base salaries and bonuses. Incentives that are based on 2023-24 individual or team performance are not included. The off-court earnings estimates are determined through conversations with industry insiders and reflect annual cash from endorsements, licensing, appearances and memorabilia, as well as cash returns from any businesses in which the athlete has a significant interest. Investment income such as interest payments or dividends is not included, but Forbes does account for payouts from equity stakes athletes have sold. Forbes does not deduct for taxes or agents’ fees.
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