Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tiger Woods: These Are the Richest Sports Billionaires of All Time

Who is the ROAT? Richest of all time.

Who is the real GOAT in sports? Before we get a riot on our hands, let’s begin by saying we’re not here to pronounce the greatest of the greats. No, we’re here to discuss another superlative—the richest of all time. 

Elite athletes sign multi-million-dollar deals on the regular, but who is really the highest-paid athlete of all time? Sportico recently released a detailed list of the highest-paid athletes ever, adjusting their earnings at their peak for inflation. And the results are in. Michael Jordan is the ROAT: richest of all time. The six-time MVP has reportedly bagged over $2.62 billion in earnings since 1984. The basketball player was one of the first to redesign his athlete status into a full-blown brand with the global popularity of the Air Jordan. While Jordan only earned about $4 million per year as a player, it’s still his Nike partnerships that have him swimming in billions thanks to royalties. Now a billionaire, Michael Jordan’s fascinating life story was analyzed in the Netflix documentary The Last Dance. 

Following Jordan are golfers Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus who have earned $2.1 billion, $1.5 billion, and $1.38 billion, respectively. Unlike team sports like basketball, golfers win their earnings from placing at golf tournaments where the grand prize can go as high as $46 million. 

Coming in fourth is Cristiano Ronaldo, inarguably the biggest football start of the century. CR7 is currently signed with Manchester United and has reportedly earned over $1.24 billion in his nearly 20-year career. Closing the top five are boxer Floyd Mayweather, basketball player LeBron James, footballer Lionel Messi, Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher, and tennis star Roger Federer. 


Infographic: The Highest-Paid Athletes of All Time | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

Sportico’s list mentioned 25 athletes in total, the remaining including the likes of David Beckham, Kobe Bryant, Manny Pacquiao, Kevin Durant, Neymar, and Derek Jeter. Pacquiao ranked 18th on the list with a total of $630 million in total boxing-related earnings. His fight with Mayweather is said to be the highest-grossing fight in history. 

Aside from billions of dollars, another thing that all of the mentioned athletes above share is the fact that they’re all, to an extent, businessmen. Let’s not forget that in this day and age, athletes aren’t just competing to win the game. They’re also managing the brand, with the brand being themselves. Salaries contribute a notable chunk to the collective income of the world’s richest athletes, but the second-highest portion comes from brand endorsements, brand partnerships, and investments. The great, late Kobe Bryant was perhaps one of the most prominent investor-athletes who dabbled in venture capital prior to his death. One of the startups he invested in is now expected to hit $1.4 billion this year in sales. 

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Anri Ichimura
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