‘Space Jam’ to Businessman: LeBron James’ Cash Flow On and Off the Court

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP/Shutterstock (12189852e)LeBron James attends an event for "Space Jam: A New Legacy", at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita, Calif"Space Jam: A New Legacy" Event, Santa Clarita, United States - 29 Jun 2021.
Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP/Shutterstock / Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

LeBron James is one of the biggest names in sports. Even football, which has a much larger viewership than basketball, has few names that carry the same weight as “King James.” From his humble beginnings in Akron, Ohio, James has ascended to become a four-time champion and four-time MVP.

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Some players have earned greater accolades, such as Bill Russell’s 11 championships or Michael Jordan’s six finals MVP awards. Nevertheless, James, who is not yet done playing, has the most on-court career earnings of any NBA player in history. But the biggest names in pro sports also tend to have big endorsement contracts, and James is no exception. In fact, in addition to his lucrative salary, he earns more from endorsements than any other NBA player.

With all that money flowing into James’ bank account, you might be wondering how he makes so much from endorsements — and how he spends it. James has the usual shoe deal, but there is much more to how he earns his money than wearing a pair of sneakers.

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LeBron James Salary

At $343.8 million, LeBron James has already earned more money on the court than any player in NBA history. And James isn’t slowing down: at the end of 2020, he signed a two-year, $85 million contract. That means he will continue his record earnings through the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons. Thus, he will have earned nearly $435 million on the court by the end of his new contract. And we still don’t know how much longer James will be playing. “I don’t know how long I’m going to play the game,” James said after a game in February. “I don’t know how much more I’ll be able to give to the game. The way I feel right now, we’ll see what happens. But I have no timetable on it.”

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Endorsements: Nike and More

In 2020-21, Lebron James earned $64 million in endorsements, more than any other NBA player. Stephen Curry earned the second-most endorsement money with $40 million. Among James’ endorsements, leading the pack is his lifetime deal with Nike. The exact details of the deal are not public, but it is believed it could pay James in excess of $1 billion in total. If so, he would earn more than $30 million per year with this endorsement deal alone and would continue to pay out even after he retires.

James has endorsement deals with several other big brands, including Beats By Dre, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, AT&T and more.

Investments

Comparisons to Michael Jordan abound, Lebron James wants to follow in Michael’s footsteps by owning an NBA team one day. While that hasn’t yet happened, James has already dipped his toes into the world of ownership. James and Maverick Carter, his business partner with whom he founded SpringHill, have also purchased a non-controlling stake in Fenway Sports Group. Fenway is the parent group of the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool Football Club and Roush Fenway Racing. Thus, James and Carter are showing a clear interest that they want to move into the world of ownership.

In addition to his stake in Fenway Sports Group, James invested in Beats by Dre in 2008; he also owns more than a dozen franchises of the fast-growing Blaze Pizza chain.

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Entrepreneurship…and a Budding Acting Career?

Every professional athlete is forced to make a tough decision when their body no longer allows them to play at the highest level: What now? Given that most retire somewhere around 40 years of age, they still have many years left on this planet.

Even though James has not revealed any plans to retire from basketball, he does seem to be setting himself up for his next phase in life. He formed SpringHill Entertainment with his friend and business partner in 2007; the production company is behind the upcoming Space Jam: A New Legacy, in which James stars. Will James continue to act in future films? Only time will tell.

How Does James Spend All That Money?

LeBron James has no trouble spending his money, both on fancy cars and also on philanthropic ventures. For instance, he owns several Porsches and a Rolls Royce. He even bought his mother a Porsche for her birthday and a Ferrari for his wife (but we won’t file that under philanthropy). He owns a home in Los Angeles that he purchased for $23 million. He also owns a 30,000 square-foot estate in his hometown of Akron.

As far as what will count as philanthropy, James founded the I Promise School in 2018. Also located in his hometown of Akron, it serves at-risk children in the area. He plans to spend $41 million to help all of the children make it to college. In addition, he donated $2.5 million to help build a Muhammad Ali exhibit at the Smithsonian.

While James’ earnings may eventually cross the $1 billion mark, he is also giving back — and will likely continue to do so for years to come.

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Last updated: July 12, 2021

About the Author

Bob Haegele is a personal finance writer who specializes in topics such as investing, banking, credit cards, and real estate. His work has been featured on The Ladders, The Good Men Project, and Small Biz Daily. He also co-runs Modest Money and is a dog sitter and walker.

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