Lakers' LeBron James Tops Lionel Messi on Sportico's 2022 Highest-Paid Athletes List

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVMay 11, 2022

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 19: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers warms up before playing against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on March 19, 2022 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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LeBron James might finally be succumbing to the aging curve on the basketball court, but the Los Angeles Lakers star remains at the top of his game off it.

According to Sportico's Kurt Badenhousen, James was the highest-paid athlete in the world over the past year, netting a cool $127 million. Endorsements represented the vast majority ($90 million) of that figure.

Paris Saint-Germain soccer star Lionel Messi was next on the list at $122 million.

Sportico @Sportico

🚨The highest-paid athletes in the world: top 100<br><br>Nike, including its Jordan Brand, is an endorsement partner of at least 42 athletes, while Adidas has a minimum of 16 athletes in its stable and PepsiCo 14 (Sportico could not confirm sponsors of all 100 athletes.) <a href="https://t.co/hSDnAM8AmS">pic.twitter.com/hSDnAM8AmS</a>

Heading west to Los Angeles has been greatly beneficial to James' bottom line. 

In June 2018, when he was only weeks away from signing with the Lakers, James was the sixth-highest earner ($85.5 million) for the previous year, per Forbes. By 2019, he had slipped to eighth but boosted his earnings to $89 million.

The fact that James' endorsement money has climbed from $53 million in 2019 shows the impact of playing in one of the world's biggest media markets.

That's part of a larger trend as well. It pays—quite literally—to excel in the NBA.

Basketball accounted for the highest number (36) of athletes on the top 100 list. In terms of U.S.-based leagues. James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and James Harden all ranked ahead of the highest NFL player, Matthew Stafford (No. 11), and you had to get to No. 24 before finding the first MLB star, Mike Trout.

Per Badenhausen, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (22) and golfer Phil Mickelson (51) were the youngest and oldest athletes, respectively, to make the cut.

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams were the only female athletes in the top 100, illustrating the wide financial inequities between men's and women's sports.