Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods Headline Sportico List of All-Time Highest Paid Athletes

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVNovember 4, 2021

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Sportico released its list of the 25 highest-paid athletes of all time Thursday, and it is headlined by Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.

Based on career earnings adjusted for inflation, Jordan and Woods are the only two athletes to earn at least $2 billion.

Jordan leads the way with $2.62 billion thanks largely to the $1 billion in royalties Nike has paid him since he retired in 2003, while Woods has earned $2.1 billion, also benefiting from a longtime Nike partnership.

Of the 25 athletes on the list, 12 of them have earned at least $1 billion since turning pro. They are as follows:

1. Michael Jordan: $2.62 billion

2. Tiger Woods: $2.1 billion

3. Arnold Palmer: $1.5 billion

4. Jack Nicklaus: $1.38 billion

5. Cristiano Ronaldo: $1.24 billion

6. Floyd Mayweather Jr.: $1.2 billion

7. LeBron James: $1.17 billion

8. Lionel Messi: $1.14 billion

9. Michael Schumacher: $1.13 billion

10. Roger Federer: $1.12 billion

11. Phil Mickelson: $1.08 billion

12. David Beckham: $1.05 billion

Golf appears to be the most lucrative sport, as four golfers—Woods, Palmer, Nicklaus and Mickelson—cracked the top 12.

Soccer isn't far behind with Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi and Beckham all making the top 12 as well.

Late Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant came in at 13th on the list at $930 million, just short of the $1 billion mark.

Sportico's Kurt Badenhausen noted that Bryant's estate recently netted $400 million because of the sale of BodyArmor to Coca-Cola. Bryant would have gotten over the $1 billion threshold had that sale been applied, but Bryant's earnings were only counted until his untimely death in January 2020 for the purposes of the list.

The NBA had strong representation on the list overall with Jordan, James, Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal ($870 million) and Kevin Durant ($625 million) all in the top 25.

Boxing (Mayweather, Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya) and auto racing (Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Jeff Gordon) are among the other sports with at least three representatives on the list.

Major League Baseball only placed two athletes on the list in the form of former New York Yankees teammates Alex Rodriguez ($650 million) and Derek Jeter ($555 million).

Despite being the most popular and profitable sports league in the United States, the NFL only has one player on the list—former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who sold his stake in 31 Papa John's franchises in 2018.

No female athletes made it inside the top 25, and Badenhausen noted that tennis legend Serena Williams was tops among female athletes with career earnings of $480 million, which placed her just outside the top 40.


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