King James raked in $42 million from his shoe deal with Nike and endorsements from McDonald's and Coca-Cola, to name a few. Bryant came in second among NBA players by earning $34 million through deals with Nike, Turkish Air and others.
The rest of Association’s top endorsement earners were as follows, per Forbes:
|Derrick Rose||Chicago Bulls||$21 million||Adidas|
|Kevin Durant||Oklahoma City Thunder||$14 million||Nike|
|Dwyane Wade||Miami Heat||$12 million||Li-Ning|
|Carmelo Anthony||New York Knicks||$9 million||Jordan/Nike|
|Amar'e Stoudemire||New York Knicks||$6.5 million||Nike|
|Dwight Howard||Houston Rockets||$6 million||Adidas|
|Blake Griffin||Los Angeles Clippers||$6 million||Jordan/Nike|
|Chris Paul||Los Angeles Clippers||$4 million||Jordan/Nike|
James led Miami to a 37-14 record entering the NBA All-Star break, which is the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference behind the Indiana Pacers (40-12). He’s averaging 26.5 points, seven rebounds and 6.6 assists per game. His player efficiency rating of 29.0 ranks second in the league behind Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant (30.9).
Bryant, who signed a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension with the Lakers in November, has only been able to play in six games during the 2013-14 campaign due to injury. He was criticized by many in NBA circles for not taking less money in order for management to build a championship contender around him.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote, “Making Bryant the highest-paid player in the NBA over the next two seasons is, objectively, not a smart a thing.”
Bryant later defended his contract, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, but considering that he earned more money in endorsements last year than any NBA player’s 2013-14 salary (including his own $30.453 million), his defense now rings somewhat hollow.
Much is made of each individual player’s yearly salary, but the league’s biggest stars have the added perk of making millions in endorsements. Last February, James told the Sun-Sentinel it didn't matter that he wasn't the NBA's highest-paid player, at least in terms of salary.
It doesn't matter to me, being the highest-paid guy in the league. What I do on the floor shows my value. At the end of the day, I don't think my value of what I do on the floor can be compensated anyway because of the CBA, if you want this truth.
A massive haul from endorsement deals certainly makes a lower salary easier to stomach.