LeBron James has played 19 seasons in the NBA – meaning the 37-year-old has spent more than half of his life as a professional basketball player.
He’s been a household name since his junior year in high school in Akron, Ohio, when Sports Illustrated wrote about him in a February 2002 cover story that declared him “The Chosen One.” And he’s lived up to the billing — and then some.
James has had endorsement contracts since he entered the NBA in 2003, and he’s now involved in a variety of businesses, setting himself up for a lucrative post-playing career. With $121.32 million in annual earnings — two-thirds of it from off-court ventures — James was No. 2 on Forbes’ 2022 list of the highest-paid athletes in the world.
- Net worth: $1 billion
- Date of birth: Dec. 30, 1984
- Primary sources of wealth: NBA salary, endorsements
Career highlights: Four NBA titles, four NBA Finals MVPs, four NBA MVPs, three Olympic gold medals, 17-time All-NBA selection
James was the No. 1 pick of the 2003 NBA Draft by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After seven seasons, he departed in free agency, joining fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a “big three” with the Miami Heat ahead of the 2010-11 season. Together, they made four straight appearances in the NBA finals, winning two of them, before James left in 2014 to return to Cleveland.
A more seasoned James brought magic to Cleveland in his second stint in the city, leading the Cavaliers to four straight NBA finals against the superstar-laden Golden State Warriors, winning the title in 2016 — the first championship for any Cleveland sports franchise in 52 years.
After four seasons in Cleveland, James departed for the Los Angeles Lakers. He led the Lakers to the NBA title in 2020. In his storied career, James has earned $387.4 million. He has one year remaining on his contract with the Lakers, which will pay him $44.5 million in the 2022-23 season and push his on-court earnings to $431.9 million.
James went straight from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School to the NBA, and by the time he played his first pro game, he had signed endorsement deals worth more than $100 million, ESPN reported at the time. Nike, Coca-Cola and Upper Deck were the first to sign James.
In 2022, he became the first active NBA player to eclipse $1 billion in career earnings, thanks to his endorsements, licensing, merchandise and the media business he owns, Sportico reported.
He’s still with Nike, signing a lifetime deal in 2015 that reportedly will pay him more than $1 billion. Earlier this year, he left Coca-Cola, where he repped the Sprite and Powerade brands, after 17 years for rival PepsiCo. His first ad campaign featured James promoting Mtn Dew Rise, the company’s entry in the energy drink market. Other current endorsement deals include those with Tonal, AT&T, Beats, GMC, Rimowa, Epic Games and Walmart. He also holds equity stakes in the Calm, Ladder/Openfit, LOBOS 1707 tequila and Blaze Pizza brands, Sportico reported.
James also owned a 1% share of the Beats by Dre company, which was bought by Apple for a cool $3 billion. James made $30 million from that sale.
The NBA superstar also has had endorsement deals with a who’s who of companies, including Baskin Robbins, Coca-Cola, Dunkin’, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Samsung, State Farm and more.
James has a burgeoning empire away from the court and aside from his endorsements, linked with longtime friend and business partner Maverick Carter.
His entertainment arm, the SpringHill Co., produces film, television programming, video games and live events, and his content has aired on platforms from Netflix to HBO to ESPN to the major networks. The 2021 Warner Bros. release “Space Jam: A New Legacy” are among its projects. Under the SpringHill umbrella is Uninterrupted, a media enterprise that gives athletes a platform to tell their own stories from their point of view.
In October, Red Bird Capital Partners of New York bought into SpringHill — valued at the time at $725 million, according to the Los Angeles Times — and the infusion of cash will allow SpringHill to finance projects on its own.
In March, James bought into the Fenway Sports Group as a partner. It’s not clear how much he spent for the limited ownership stake in the company, which owns the Boston Red Sox, Roush Fenway racing and the New England sports TV network NESN. Fenway Sports Group also owns Liverpool of the English Premier League, which James already had a 2% stake in.
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Jami Farkas contributed to the reporting for this article.