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15 Highest-Paid Athletes of All Time

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15 of the World’s Highest-Paid Athletes

Every year, Forbes publishes a list of the highest-paid athletes and their earnings. Basketball, golf, boxing, and more sports are represented. These athletes are compensated handsomely for their exceptional skill sets and larger-than-life personalities.

They are also fan favorites, and tickets are always sold out when they take the stage.

Athletes are awarded contracts worth millions of dollars for these and other reasons.

We can hear players being offered multi-million dollar contracts in the NFL, NBA, and even golf.

More Facts About Highest Paid Athlestes

Players Name Inflation-Adjusted Earnings
15. Greg Norman $815 billion
14. Shaquille O’Neal $870 billion
13. Kobe Bryant $930 billion
12. David Beckham $1.05 billion
11. Phil Mickelson $1.08 billion
10. Roger Federer $1.12 billion
9. Michael Schumacher $1.13 billion
8. Lionel Messi $1.14 billion
7. LeBron James $1.17 billion
6. Floyd Mayweather $1.2 billion
5. Cristiano Ronaldo $1.24 billion
4. Jack Nicklaus $1.38 billion
3. Arnold Palmer $1.5 billion
2. Tiger Woods $2.1 billion
1. Michael Jordan $2.62 billion

15. Greg Norman

Greg Norman, 67, will kick off our ranking of the highest-paid athletes of all time.

He is a former professional golfer from Australia. With $815 million in inflation-adjusted earnings, he ranks 15th on our list.

Norman, dubbed “The Great White Shark,” was taught golf by his mother, Toini, when he was 15 years old.

He did, however, have a natural ability for golf, and by the age of 19.

He had captured the media’s attention in the Queensland Open.

Norman was the world’s No. 1 Official World Golf Rankings golfer for 331 weeks throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Similarly, he won 89 professional events during his playing career.

Twenty PGA Tour tournaments and two Open Championships were held in 1986 and 1993, respectively.

Similarly, Norman finished second in the majors eight times and had thirty top-10 performances.

He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001.

Following his retirement, Norman established a multinational firm specializing in fashion, interior design, wine production, golf course design, and so on.

Norman has founded and donated to various charities and charitable events.

He also became a Trustee of the Environmental Institute for Golf in 2004.

Golf is the fourth richest and most costly sport in the world, hence there are a lot of wealthy golfers.

14. Shaquille O’Neal

Former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal In the 1992 NBA draft, was selected first overall by the Orlando Magic.

O’Neal, 50, is widely recognized as one of the best basketball players and centers of all time.

Soon after being picked by the Magic, O’Neal won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1992-93.

He was a key figure in his team’s run to the NBA Finals in 1995.

During his playing career, he also signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics.

He signed as a free agent after four years with the Magic.

The Lakers signed O’Neal to a seven-year, $121 million contract. O’Neal, on the other hand, did not join the squad for the money.

Similarly, O’Neal was moved by the Phoneix to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a $500,000 second-round selection pick in 2010.

Later, the Celtics signed him to a two-year, $2.8 million contract.

In 2011, O’Neal announced his retirement from the Boston Celtics.

He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

Later that year, he was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame.

Following his retirement, O’Neal entered the rap industry, releasing four rap albums.

His debut album, “Shaq Diesel,” was certified platinum.

Similarly, he has acted in several films and has his own reality show.

13. Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant is the next athlete on our list of the highest-paid athletes.

Bryant, regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, was picked by Los Angeles in the 1996 NBA draft.

Bryant was a part of the high school varsity basketball team and received national prominence during that period.

His parents cosigned his contract with the Lakers when he was 17 years old till he became 18.

Bryant inked a three-year, $3.5 million contract after reaching the legal drinking age.

Bryant turned down a six-year, $100 million contract from the Los Angeles Clippers in 2003-2004.

Instead, he agreed to a seven-year, $136.4 million contract with the Lakers.

Bryant spent his entire 20-year professional career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Similarly, he won five NBA championships, NBA MVP, and NBA Finals MVP twice during his career.

Likewise, Bryant was named an All-Star 18 times, an All-NBA Team 15 times, and an All-Defensive Team 12 times. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 41 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, along with his daughter Gianna.

In 2020, Bryant will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Similarly, on the 75th anniversary of the NBA, he was recognized as one of the league’s greatest players.

12. David Beckham

David Beckham is one of the most talented and well-known midfielders of his generation.

Former English professional footballer aged 47.

Beckham made his professional football debut in 1992.

He was 17 years old at the time and played for Manchester United.

David Beckham
David Beckham looking handsome in black suits. Source: Biography

Until his retirement, he was signed by and loaned to numerous teams.

He has also played for Preston North End, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan, and Paris Saint-Germain in addition to Manchester United.

Beckham also played for England’s national team on multiple occasions.

While Beckham was still playing for Real Madrid in 2007, the LA Galaxy offered him a deal worth the US $ 250 million.

The story made international headlines. However, Beckham’s media gurus eventually revealed that it was a PR trick. The contract itself was worth $32.5 million.

Beckham is not just one of the best footballers of all time, but he is also one of the world’s highest-paid athletes. Furthermore, he has constantly been named among the highest-earning footballers.

Beckham is currently the president and co-owner of Inter Miami FC, as well as a co-owner of Salford City.

11. Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson is an American professional golfer who was born in San Diego, California. Mickelson, nicknamed “Lefty” after his left-handed swing, is one of 17 players in golf history to have won three of the four majors.

Despite being right-handed, Mickelson played with his left hand since he learned to mimic his father’s right-handed swing.

He began his professional career in 1992, after graduating from university.

Mickelson has won 45 PGA Tour events since his debut, including six major championships, two PGA Championships, and one Open Championship.

Mickelson ranks second all-time on the PGA Tour in terms of tournament prize money won.

However, it is estimated that he earns more money through endorsements.

In 2011, he was the second-highest paid athlete in the United States, according to one estimate.

Mickelson’s income was expected to be more than $62 million, with endorsements accounting for $53 million of that total.

Similarly, Forbes projected his annual income in 2015 to be $51 million.

In addition to his massive profits, Mickelson is the oldest major championship victor in golf history, at the age of 50. Furthermore, he has spent more than 25 years in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

10. Roger Federer

Roger Federer is a Swiss professional tennis player who is 40 years old.

He is a top tennis player, rated 16th in the world by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).

Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic dominated men’s tennis in the early 2000s. He has won the men’s singles Grand Slam 20 times and is the second most successful ATP singles player.

Federer is one of the most versatile all-court tennis players, and he is also one of the highest-paid tennis players.

He is one of the top ten highest-paid athletes in the world, regardless of sport.

Similarly, in addition to being one of the highest-paid athletes, Federer has endorsement deals with a variety of brands. Notably, the endorsement contract with Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo was for roughly $300 million over a 10-year period.

He has previously sponsored brands such as Nike, NetJets, Mercedes-Benz China, and others.

Federer presently endorses brands like as Nationale Suisse, Rolex, Lidth, and Mot & Chandon.

Forbes magazine named him to their 2020 list of the World’s Highest-Paid Athletes.

Federer’s overall earnings were estimated to be $106.3 million, which included his winnings and endorsements.

9. Michael Schumacher

When it comes to motor racing, Michael Schumacher is the most well-known name.

Schumacher is a former Formula One racing driver from Germany.

Schumacher raced in many junior single-seater classes before signing with Benetton in 1991 following a one-off Formula One appearance.

During his professional career, he was known for producing quick laps at critical points in a race and pushing his car to the absolute limit for extended periods of time when racing.

Schumacher was named the world’s highest-paid athlete by Forbes magazine in 1999 and again in 2000.

Similarly, Forbes ranked him 17th among “The World’s Most Powerful Celebrities” in the 200

Similarly, Euro Business Magazine named him the world’s first billionaire athlete the same year, in 2005.

In 2010, Schumacher’s fortune was reported to be £515 million.

Schumacher is also a UNESCO ambassador and is involved in humanitarian efforts.

In addition, he has donated tens of millions of dollars to charity.

Schumacher resigned from professional racing but returned briefly to Mercedes from 2010 until 2012.

In 2017, Forbes classified him as the fifth-highest-earning athlete of all time.

8. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi, 35, is widely regarded as one of the best and greatest players of all time.

Messi, who was born and reared in Argentina, made his professional debut in 2004 at the age of 17.

Messi is the most prolific goalkeeper and creative playmaker in modern soccer.

He owns numerous records, like the most goals in a La Liga and European league season, the most hat-tricks in La Liga and Copa América, and so on.

lionel Messi
lionel Messi in YPF jersey. Source: Barca Blaugranes

Similarly, Messi holds the record for the most international goals scored by a South American male and the most goals scored by a single club player.

With so many records and as one of the finest players in the world, it’s no surprise that Messi is one of the highest-paid athletes in the world and supports some of the world’s top brands.

France Football named him the world’s highest-paid footballer five years in a row between 2009 and 2014.

Similarly, in 2011 and 2012, Time magazine named Messi one of the world’s 100 most influential individuals.

Similarly, Forbes named him the world’s highest-paid athlete in 2019.

Messi became the second footballer and the second team-sport athlete to surpass $1 billion in career earnings in 2020.

Messi has had an endorsement relationship with the clothing firm Adidas since 2006.

He signed a two-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain on August 10, 2021.

7. LeBron James

LeBron James, regarded as one of the greatest players in NBA history, ranks seventh on our list of the highest-paid sportsmen of all time. LeBron James, nicknamed “King James,” is a 37-year-old American basketball player with the Los Angeles Lakers.

James is the only player to have won three NBA championships as the NBA Finals MVP (Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and Lakers).

In the 2003 NBA draft, he was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James frequently takes a novel approach to his NBA contracts and professional playing career.

His one-of-a-kind technique has enabled him to sign shorter-term contracts with the highest earning potential and freedom.

When he signed a three-year contract with the Cavaliers in 2016.

he became the league’s highest-paid player for the first time. Similarly, James has a slew of endorsement deals with other firms.

With $56.5 million in earnings, he surpassed Kobe Bryant as the highest-paid basketball player in the world in 2013. Similarly, James was named the sixth highest-earning athlete in 2015.

In 2016, he was the third highest-earning sportsperson, and in 2021, he became the first active player in NBA history to earn $1 billion.

6. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Floyd Mayweather is a former professional boxer who has won fifteen major world titles.

He is now a professional boxing promoter and is widely considered as the best defensive boxer in history.

Before entering the professional ring, Mayweather was an amateur boxer. Similarly, he boxed in the Olympics.

In 2010, the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) selected Mayweather as “Fighter of the Decade.”

The boxing champion is one of the most profitable pay-per-view draws in any sport.

Forbes and Sports Illustrated both named him one of the top 50 highest-paid athletes in 2012 and 2013.

Forbes labeled him the highest-paid athlete in the world in 2018 due to numerous endorsement deals worth approximately $285 million.

Despite having retired from professional boxing, Sportivo rated Mayweather sixth on their all-time athlete earnings list in 2021. After adjusting for inflation, his profits over his career reached $1.2 billion.

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5. Cristiano Ronaldo

Another soccer player has been added to our list of the highest-paid athletes of all time.

Cristiano Ronaldo, 37, is regarded as one of the best footballers of all time.

Ronaldo made his professional club debut with Sporting CP before joining Manchester United in 2003.

He was 18 at the time, yet he was the club’s first Portuguese signing.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo shouts and shows his body. Source: Youtube

Furthermore, his transfer fee of £12.24 million made him the most expensive adolescent in English football history.

Similarly, in the 2009-10 season, Ronaldo set a world record transfer fee when he signed a deal with Real Madrid for £80 million (€94 million).

His deal was for €11 million per year and had a buy-out clause worth €1 billion.

His contract with Real Madrid expired in 2015. Ronaldo is the most marketable athlete in the world.

It’s no surprise that he became the first footballer in history to earn more than $1 billion in his career.

In addition to his salary, Ronaldo has many endorsement deals with companies such as Nike and Herbalife.

These endorsements are believed to be worth $50 million.

According to a report, he earned a total of $120 million in 2020.

Jack Nicklaus is a retired American golfer who won an unprecedented 18 major titles during his career. He began golfing at the age of ten in Colombus, Ohio.

Nicklaus turned professional in late 1961, and the following year, he began his career on the PGA Tour. He would soon become known as “the Golden Bear” in the golf world.

For the first time, Nicklaus led the PGA Tour money list in 1964. Despite not winning any majors that year, he earned $81.13.

4. Jack Nicklaus

Aside from his playing earnings, he also received a sizable sum through sponsorship deals.

He works with and sponsors brands such as Rolex, Ezgo, Kolon Industries, Perry Ellis International, Southwest Greens, Stance, Smathers & Branson, and others.

Nicklaus is also a golf course designer, and he is the founder of Nicklaus Design, one of the world’s leading golf course design and building firms.

He also has a wine collection that includes Terlato wines.

Nicklaus is one of the most iconic golfers in golf history, having won 117 professional tournaments during his playing career.

In addition, he is a great designer, businessman, and writer.

3. Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer is largely recognized as one of golf’s best and most charismatic players. Plamer, dubbed “The King,”

was born on September 10, 1929, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Palmer learned to play golf at a young age from his father.

He also attended Wake Forest University on a golf scholarship.

In 1954, he made the decision to pursue a professional golf career.

Palmer earned his first major championship at the 1958 Masters Tournament.

This victory won him $11,250 and positioned him as one of golf’s rising stars.

His impact on golf was groundbreaking, helping to transform golf from upper-class leisure to a more popular activity.

Arnold Palmer is a golfer

His good appearance and humble upbringing made him a fan favorite.

Similarly, Palmer was known for taking risks and was involved in a streak of spectacular endings in early televised events, which added to his charm and helped him become one of the most marketable athletes of the time.

Palmer had a diversified golf-related business career in addition to his playing career.

He created over 300 golf courses in 37 states and 25 countries.

He also owns a company named after him and used to operate a car dealership.

On September 25, 2016, this great World Golf Hall of Famer and astute businessman died at the age of 87. Nonetheless, he remains one of the highest-paid athletes of all time.

2. Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods is widely regarded as one of the best golfers of all time.

Woods, 46, made his professional debut in 1996 when he was 20 years old.

Before turning pro, Woods was an amateur golfer.

However, he quickly dominated the sport, rising to the top of the international rankings just a year after making his professional debut.

Wood was one of the world’s most marketable athletes in his first decade.

Apart from winning, he had endorsement relationships with firms such as General Motors, American Express, Accenture, Nike, and others.

He signed a five-year contract deal with Nike worth $105 million in 2000.

At the time, this was the largest endorsement agreement signed by a professional athlete.

Wood is expected to earn between $50 and $60 million each year from sponsorship deals.

Forbes magazine named him one of the world’s highest-paid athletes.

Forbes confirmed in 2009 that Woods was the first professional athlete to earn more than a billion dollars in his career.

In 2015, he was ranked ninth on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid athletes.

As of 2017, Woods was the highest-paid golfer in the world.

1. Michael Jordan

We have risen to the top of the list of the highest-paid athletes of all time.

Michael Jordan, widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time, is ranked first. In the 1980s and 1990s.

He was a key figure in popularizing the NBA around the world.

Jordan is also one of his generation’s most skillfully promoted athletes.

His popularity and meteoric ascension were unprecedented in sports history.

His shoes from the game in 1985, when Jordan smashed the glass of the backboard with a slam, were auctioned off and sold for $615,00 in 2020.

Jordan earned approximately $90 million during his professional playing career.

He holds a stake in Nike as the Jordan brand.

He did, however, advocate other prominent brands such as Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Gatorade, McDonald’s, Ball Park Franks, Rayovac, and others.

With $55 million in earnings, Forbes ranked him 20th among the world’s most powerful celebrities in 2010.

Similarly, Jordan became the first NBA player in history to become a billionaire in 2014.

Jordan was designated the athlete with the highest career earnings by Forbes in 2017, and his net worth is expected to be $1.6 billion as of 2021.

Jordan is currently the major owner and chairman of the NBA team Charlotte Hornets as well as the NASCAR Cup Series team 23XI Racing.

Also, read:

Shaquille O’Neal’s Feet Are So Big He Once Put His Small Shoes in Hot Water to Make Them Grow,

How Did Baker Mayfield Meet His Wife Emily Wilkinson?


The athletes on this list are excellent at what they do.

Their captivating personalities add to their allure, making them among the most marketable players in sports history.

These characteristics, combined with their skill set, have helped them become the highest-paid athletes of all time, with endorsement deals with leading businesses worth millions of dollars.