LeBron James, with new Lakers deal, will become first NBA player to hit $500 million mark in career earnings

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LeBron James has set more records and reached more milestones than perhaps any player in NBA history. He’s the league’s all-time scoring leader. He’s the only player in the 40,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists club. He’s the leader in playoff wins. He’s the leader in dozens of other things as well. But on Wednesday, James set himself up for a different sort of milestone, but one that a mogul such as him surely appreciates: his new contract with the Lakers will make him the NBA’s first half-billion dollar player.

As of the end of last season, James had earned in $479,466,457 in salary during his NBA career, according to Spotrac. His new deal, if it indeed comes in at the max, would pay him $49,987,718 next season. That obviously takes him beyond $500 million in total salary earned during his career. No other player, active or retired, has reached even $400 million in earnings yet. Even if he had taken a pay cut as many outlets reported he was willing to do to help the Lakers improve, virtually any reported scenario would have taken him beyond $500 million in total.

James, of course, earns plenty of money off of the court as well. He may only have half-a-billion in career NBA salary earned, but he’s reportedly been a billionaire since at least 2022. In addition to his NBA salary, James is on a lifetime deal with Nike that alone is reportedly worth approximately $1 billion. He has had numerous lucrative endorsement contracts throughout his career, and he has also pioneered a strategy that has become popular among athletes: demanding equity in such partnerships. One notable example of this came with his partnership with Beats headphones. He reportedly made approximately $30 million when Apple purchased Beats for $3 billion in 2014.

James has long been interested in using that accumulated wealth to become an NBA owner. He has publicly lobbied to become the owner of an expansion team in Las Vegas whose existence is not yet confirmed, but widely speculated on. James has also become a prolific figure in Hollywood through his production company, The SpringHill Company.

James may be the first player to cross the $500 million threshold, but he absolutely won’t be the last. In fact, Kevin Durant is set to join him next year. Spotrac currently estimates that Durant has earned roughly $397 million. He is owed another $106 million or so in the two years left on his Suns deal, so the 2025-26 season will make him a half-billion dollar player as well. The only other player who is contractually guaranteed to reach $500 million is Paul George, who has earned an estimated $305 million and is owed another $212 million in his new contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. However, it is possible that Stephen Curry, who has earned an estimated $354 million, gets there first. The catch is that he only has two years left on his contract, so he would need to extend or re-sign at some point to beat George to the punch. However, at his current salary, he would be expected to get there in three years whereas George would need all four on his contract.

As historic as LeBron’s earnings look right now, he almost certainly will not hold his title as the NBA’s highest-earner forever. Consider the five-year, $314 million extension Jayson Tatum just signed with the Boston Celtics. In a five-year span, he will make more than half of what James has made in his entire career. This is because the league’s max salary is tied to a percentage of the cap. The cap has grown significantly during James’ career, and his successors are going to benefit from that. The anticipated 11-year, $76 billion TV deal that would start during the 2025-26 campaign is expected to lead to 10% growth in the salary cap annually. It is not out of the realm of possibility that a player in the next few decades reaches $1 billion in NBA earnings.

James almost certainly won’t be that player, but that doesn’t mean his salary records are going to be toppled quickly. Consider one of Michael Jordan’s strangest records. In 1998, the Bulls paid him $33.4 million. At this point in league history, there was no max salary. He earned roughly 123% of the salary cap by himself that season, a figure that will never be topped so long as the max rule exists. Even with serious cap inflation, no Chicago Bull earned more in a single season than Jordan did in his last dance until Zach LaVine during the 2022-23 campaign 25 years later. He was ultimately surpassed, but it took quite a bit of time to get there.

James’ records will fall as well, but that likely won’t bother him much. After all, he’s already a billionaire who wants to own a team someday. He’s met and likely exceeded his wildest financial dreams as an NBA player, and now, he has this milestone to prove it.

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