The Ultimate Guide to the Top 50 Highest-Paid Athletes in History

50 Highest-Paid Athletes of All-Time: Ronaldo ranks third, Messi stands in sixth

The top 50 highest-Paid athletes of all time have collectively amassed an astounding $50 billion when adjusted for inflation and $35.5 billion on a nominal basis by the close of 2023. Hailing from nine diverse sports and representing 17 countries worldwide, NBA players dominate with 12 entries, led by the iconic Michael Jordan and his lucrative decades-long association with Nike.

Notably, Serena Williams stands out as the sole female athlete to secure a spot on this elite list. (For a comprehensive analysis, click here.)

These earnings estimates are meticulously crafted through conversations with industry insiders, Sportico research, and historical figures from renowned media outlets such as Forbes and Sports Illustrated.

The comprehensive earnings encompass salaries, bonuses, prize money, endorsements, licensing, royalties, memorabilia, book deals, media engagements, appearance fees, and even golf course design fees. It’s essential to note that salary components exclude deferred compensation until actual payout.

Equity stakes in sponsor companies are factored into the calculations, including instances such as LeBron James’ stake in Beats Electronics and James Harden’s shares of BodyArmor. Additionally, Lionel Messi’s involvement with Inter Miami and the equity payments to secure marketing rights for David Beckham and Shaquille O’Neal by Authentic Brands Group are considered. Traditional investment income is not part of the evaluation.

Sportico’s meticulous assessment encompasses earnings during playing careers and retirement up to 2023, adjusted for inflation. For figures related to Arnold Palmer and Kobe Bryant, earnings are calculated until the time of their respective deaths. All earnings are presented pre-tax and before any agent or lawyer fees.

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