LeBron James Net Worth and How He Became a Billionaire
NBA superstar LeBron James is incredibly rich. No surprise there. But just like on the basketball court, he's accumulated his wealth in record fashion.
In 2021, LeBron James' net worth reached $1 billion in career earnings, as he became the first active NBA billionaire player. His money is a mix of massive playing contracts and endorsements over the last 20 years, starting when the Cleveland Cavaliers made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft.
While playing basketball has generated a fortune for LeBron, it's not the only part of the four-time NBA champion's financial empire. Here's how he went from abject poverty as a child in Akron, Ohio, to becoming a billionaire.
An Elite Group of Athlete Billionaires
When LeBron James became a billionaire, he joined an elite group of athletes to earn $1 billion during their playing careers.
James was the sixth active athlete to hit the $1 billion mark. The other five billionaire athletes are some of the most recognizable sports figures of all time and represent a wide variety of sports — golfer Tiger Woods, boxer Floyd Mayweather, tennis player Roger Federer, and soccer players Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Could Kevin Durant Be Far Behind?
Don't be surprised if another NBA player hits the $1 billion mark in overall earnings before his career, specifically Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant.
Durant has reportedly earned $580 million through playing contracts and endorsements over his career and is owed another $168 million through his playing contract with the Nets and an endorsement deal with Nike by the end of 2024.
If Durant could play another five years — meaning he would have played 20 years in the NBA — he will likely hit $1 billion.
Trailing Durant in career earnings is Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who has banked $430 million in his career.
How Much Has LeBron Made on the Court?
When LeBron James finishes his current contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, which will pay him $44.4 million in its final year in 2022-23, he will have earned $431.8 million in career earnings from just his playing contracts.
In 2021-22, LeBron made $41.1 million, which breaks down to approximately $284,000 per game.
Here's how LeBron's basketball salary has broken down by year:
- 2003-04, Cleveland Cavaliers, $4.018 million
- 2004-05, Cleveland Cavaliers, $4.320 million
- 2005-06, Cleveland Cavaliers, $4.621 million
- 2006-07, Cleveland Cavaliers, $5.828 million
- 2007-08, Cleveland Cavaliers, $13.041 million
- 2008-09, Cleveland Cavaliers, $14.410 million
- 2009-10, Cleveland Cavaliers, $15.779 million
- 2010-11, Miami Heat, $14.5 million
- 2011-12, Miami Heat, $12.896 million
- 2012-13, Miami Heat, $17.545 million
- 2013-14, Miami Heat, $19.067 million
- 2014-15, Cleveland Cavaliers, $20.644 million
- 2015-16, Cleveland Cavaliers, $22.97 million
- 2016-17, Cleveland Cavaliers, $30.903 million
- 2017-18, Cleveland Cavaliers, $33.285 million
- 2018-19, Los Angeles Lakers, $35.654 million
- 2019-20, Los Angeles Lakers, $37.436 million
- 2020-21, Los Angeles Lakers, $39.219 million
- 2021-22, Los Angeles Lakers, $44.180 million
- 2022-23, Los Angeles Lakers, $44.474 million
How Much Has Lebron Made Off the Court?
LeBron James will have made almost a half-billion dollars playing basketball by the end of 2023. But that number pales in comparison to what he's made off the court, where he's become one of the most marketable athletes in sports history.
Since his rookie season, LeBron has made over $700 million in endorsements alone via lucrative deals with AT&T, Beats, Blaze Pizza, GMC, PepsiCo, Walmart and super-elite luggage line Rimowa. Those endorsement deals bring in a reported $100 million per year for LeBron.
The investment with Blaze Pizza showed an especially deft touch. Less than $1 million invested in 2011 turned into $25 million by 2017, and when LeBron's contract with McDonald's was up, he began doing commercials for the pizza chain.
That all pales in comparison to LeBron's most lucrative endorsement contract — a relationship with Nike that dates back to his year in the NBA.
Lebron's Nike Contract Is One of a Kind
The contract LeBron James has with Nike is truly one of a kind.
LeBron and the shoe company co-founded by Phil Knight in 1972 struck a deal for $90 million in 2003, and in 2016, Nike and LeBron agreed on a lifetime contract that pays him $30 million a year … for the rest of his life. It's as unusual as it sounds, but probably worth it to all involved.
In Knight's 2016 autobiography "Shoe Dog," he singled out James, who gifted Knight with a 1972 Rolex engraved with the words "thank you for taking a chance on me" in 2005.
Hollywood Bron: Branching Out Into TV, Movies
LeBron James' move to play for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018 wasn't just about basketball and what was happening on the court. It was also about what was happening for him off the court — specifically in regards to television and movies.
LeBron has shown he's adept either in front of the camera or behind it as a producer, beginning with a tongue-in-cheek role playing a version of himself in the 2015 box-office hit "Trainwreck" opposite Amy Schumer and Bill Hader, which made $140.8 million at the box office against a budget of just $35 million.
LeBron also starred in the 2021 sequel "Space Jam: A New Legacy" and produced the hit show "Survivor's Remorse" on Starz, which ran for four seasons.
Outside-the-Box Investment Portfolio
Some of LeBron James' investments have shown some serious thinking outside of the box — most notably a deal with Fenway Sports Group over the licensing of his likeness and rights beginning in 2011.
That turned into a full-fledged partnership in 2021 when FSG made LeBron and business partner Maverick Carter fully vested partners, giving them ownership stakes in the Boston Red Sox, New England Sports Network, RFK Racing and Liverpool FC, which LeBron already owned a 2 percent stake in.
One of LeBron's more public investments in the last year has been in Lobos 1707, a tequila and mezcal company that also has fellow NBA stars Anthony Davis and Draymond Green, one of LeBron's greatest rivals, among its other investors.
Could Bronny Be Another Billionaire?
LeBron James isn't the only one in his family who has shown a propensity for filling up his coffers. His oldest son, LeBron James Jr., is a prep basketball star at Sierra Canyon School in Southern California and is also a social media star. He has over 6 million followers on his Instagram account alone.
LeBron Jr., who goes by Bronny, already has a professional contract with the gaming group Faze Clan. He likely will inherit part of the family fortune one day, but don't be surprised if Bronny becomes pretty rich in his own right.
When It Comes to NBA Money, There's Only One GOAT
No matter how much money LeBron James makes, in his playing career and beyond, theres only one GOAT when it comes to NBA money. That's Michael Jordan.
In 2016, Jordan became the first NBA player with a net worth of $1 billion, and in 2022, Forbes estimated Jordan's net worth at $2.2 billion.
Jordan bought a controlling interest in the Charlotte Hornets in 2006, which is another path LeBron could follow as he's stated openly that he would like to own an NBA team after his career is over.
LeBron Doesn't Just Take. He Gives Back.
LeBron James has made a fortune through basketball and endorsements, but he's also done a fantastic job of giving back.
Nowhere is that on display more than with the LeBron James Family Foundation, which has a signature project with the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. It is a public elementary school that opened in 2018 with grades three and four and will expand to include grades one through eight in 2022.
The I Promise School specifically is focused on helping at-risk children and is part of an overall initiative of giving back in the Akron area spurred on by LeBron's generosity that includes the I Promise Village housing complex, the I Promise Institute at the University of Akron and the upcoming House Thirty-Three community center and retail plaza.