The top 50 NBA salaries are shown in comparison in the table below. There’s a fairly wide spread from Kobe Bryant’s $25 million to Kemba Walker’s $12 million. With a max of 450 players in the league, the 50 players below represent the top 11%.
Kobe Bryant led the league in pay for the 2015-16 season. His retirement will move New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony into the top spot with $24.6 million. Right now, Anthony has the #3 spot after Bryant and LeBron James. Bryant made an even $25 million for his final season and James earned $22.97 million.
Following Anthony in 2015-16 were Dwight Howard with $22.3 million, Chris Bosh with $22.2 million and Chris Paul with $21.4 million. That rounds up the top six NBA salaries for the season. The other 44 of the top 50 are in the chart below.
Kobe Bryant: Out on Top
As far as NBA salaries go, Kobe Bryant takes the 2015-16 cake with $25 million. That’s not the highest NBA salary ever though. Basketball legend still holds that record, earning a staggering $33.1 million for the ’97-’98 season. If Jordan made that much money 18 years earlier, why didn’t Kobe make more in 2016? The NBA’s salary cap kept team salaries to a total of $70 million in 2015-16. That’s a “soft cap” with dozens of exceptions, but no player can make more than 35% of the team’s overall cap. There’s a rumor flying around the sports writing world that LeBron James is leading a charge to repeal the salary cap. Of course he is. By some estimates, without the cap, James would earn $45 million to $100 million a year. The NBA salary cap is meant to keep the game from turning into outright moneyball. Teams with more money could conceivably suck up all the good players, leaving poorer teams with the dregs. In that case, basketball would stop being a sport and become the athletic equivalent of a massacre. In fact, the maximum salary per player rules were put in place as a direct answer to Jordan’s $33 million salary. At the time, his salary eclipsed the total payrolls of most teams in the NBA that year.
Kobe Bryant became the second NBA player to earn more than $30 million during the 2013-14 season. His salary declined some after that because it had to keep pace with the regulations.
Related: Kobe Bryant Net Worth
LeBron James: Worth Every Penny
Second highest on our list of NBA salaries is LeBron James with $22.97 million. Really, in a world without salary caps, James and Bryant would probably earn at least twice as much as they do. Are they worth it? The debate has raged for decades about high player pay, but the plain fact is that James and Bryant are definitely worth it. In the first place, James isn’t just a player. He’s effectively a captain, calling shots and marshaling the other players around him, leading the dance. That aside, it’s players like him that make the NBA what it is. He and others like him (or at least somewhat like him) bring fans through the gates and get them to tune in at home by the millions. They’re the reason the NBA pulls in all the money it does. So isn’t he entitled to a decent cut of that money? Put another way, if James didn’t get his millions, who should? The NBA? The cable companies?
LeBron James has an estimated net worth of $223 million. Surprisingly, he’s only earned about $150 million in salary over the years. James has earned another $267 million from endorsement deals. If that seems far-fetched, bear in mind that King James earned about $90 million from an eight year deal with Nike alone. He has also had fat contracts with companies like Coca Cola, Microsoft, McDonald’s, State Farm, Kia and Samsung. Oh, and LeBron also took home $30 million from a business deal with Beats By Dre. Honestly, even without one of the highest NBA salaries in history, LeBron James would still be damn rich.
Related: LeBron James Net Worth
Carmelo Anthony: Future King
The future king of the NBA salaries list is Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks small forward is #3 for the 2015-16 season with $22.87 million. In 2016, 2017 and 2018 he’ll have the #1 salary in all the land. That’s $24,559,380 in 2016, $26,243,760 in 2017 and $27,928,140 in 2018. Anthony will make the maximum money allowable under the growing NBA salary cap in those three years. It would be interesting to see what he would make without the salary cap. We can only speculate, but would he make as much as LeBron James or Kobe Bryant? Would he be worth as much as either of those players? A Ferrari and a Studebaker with governors on them might both have top speeds of 55. There’s no question that Anthony is not a Studebaker. He’s a phenomenal player. He’s just not LeBron phenomenal. He’s got a career average of about 25 points per game vs LeBron’s 27. That seems fairly close until you look at his points by year. LeBron sticks consistently right around the 2,000 mark. Anthony bounces from the 900’s one year to the 2,000’s another and the 1,200’s in another. LeBron has been in one more Playoff, three more all star games, has been NBA MVP four times to Anthony’s zero, and beats Anthony in steals, assists, rebounds and awards. Any way you want to massage the stats, King James comes out on top. For all that, there’s no doubt Anthony deserves the top spot on the list of NBA salaries after James has left the building.
Related: Dwyane Wade Net Worth
Dwight Howard is the Houston Rockets’ center with the fourth biggest of all the 2015-16 NBA salaries. The player makes $22.4 million a year. Like LeBron James, he’ll be an unsigned free agent in 2017. At that point there’s no telling what his exact salary will be, but it’s a safe bet that barring a career-stopping injury he’ll stick somewhere in the top five. The player was such an outstanding athlete in high school that he chose to skip straight over college and hop right into the NBA draft instead. Not only did he make it into the NBA a full four years earlier than most, he was the Orlando Magic’s first overall draft pick. He was traded to the Lakers in 2012 and the Rockets the following year. He consistently ranks high for field goals, free throws, blocks and rebounds. Howard is an eight time NBA All-Star, five time All-NBA Team member and the NBA Slam Dunk Contest champ in 2008. He is reported to have said he wanted to be an NBA champion in order to “raise the name of God.” A high number of mistakes and a limited shooting range keep him from being in the same class with LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. He has had past endorsement deals with Coca Cola, Adidas, Gatorade and McDonald’s, but none of those deals have been renewed.
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The owner of the number five spot on the NBA salaries list is Chris Bosh. Bosh makes $22.2 million a year as power forward for the Miami Heat. In 2016-17 he’ll move up to the third spot with $23.7 million. In 2017 he’s currently in the #2 spot with $25,289,390. He keeps that spot for 2018 with $26,837,720, right behind Carmelo Anthony. Of course that doesn’t take into account LeBron James and Dwight Howard, who will almost certainly renew their contracts in 2017 for even bigger pay. The 32 year old Bosh is 6 feet, 11 inches tall. Bosh left Georgia Tech after one season to try his luck with the 2003 NBA draft. He was the fourth pick in round one, selected by the Toronto Raptors. He stayed with that team until 2010. They started him with a salary of $2.99 million in his rookie year. After four years they renewed his contract for $13 million to $16 million a year. In 2010 they traded him to the Heat, where his salary grew to what it is today. Bosh’s current contract is for five years and $119 million. He is an 11 time NBA All-Star and a two time NBA champion. He traditionally scores between 1,000 and 1,600 points per season and has a career scoring average of 19 points per game.