The Highest-Paid NBA Players of All Time

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2019

The Highest-Paid NBA Players of All Time

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Mamas, let your babies grow up to be basketball players.

    Well, that's how we remember the lyrics of that song. Soaring revenue from television, licensing and sponsorships have led to massive deals for everyone involved in the NBA.

    And as a result of its ever-growing popularity, several of the league's biggest superstars have earned more than a quarter-billion dollars from guaranteed contracts.

    Five of the highest earners in NBA history are active players, and the others all played during this decade.

10. Chris Paul

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Career earnings: $222.5 million

    Following a standout career at Wake Forest, Chris Paul entered the NBA as the No. 4 overall pick of the 2005 draft. He landed with the New Orleans Hornets, winning Rookie of the Year and making four All-Star teams over a six-year period.

    Paul then joined the Los Angeles Clippersone memorable vetoed trade to the Los Angeles Lakers laterand played six seasons for the franchise with five All-Star appearances.

    CP3 recently signed a four-year, $160 million contract that will balloon his career earnings to $346.5 million after 2021-22.

9. Dwight Howard

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    Will Newton/Getty Images

    Career earnings: $234.5 million

    Fifteen years, six franchises and a whole lot of money. Dwight Howard's career sure is a fascinating one.

    He broke into the league with the Orlando Magic and became a perennial All-Star, also winning three straight Defensive Player of the Year honors. Six of his eight All-Star nods came during his time in Orlando, and he added the others with the Lakers and Houston Rockets.

    Howard's career took a sharp turn after joining Houston, where he played three years before hopping around the Atlanta Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets and now the Washington Wizards.

    But with three marquee contracts, D12 has become a wealthy man.

8. Carmelo Anthony

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    Zach Beeker/Getty Images

    Career earnings: $238.3 million

    Carmelo Anthony's career is a perfect case study in how individual excellence doesn't necessarily equate to team success.

    The Syracuse product thrive as a scorer for the first decade-plus of his career. During his first 14 seasonsabout seven and a half with the Denver Nuggets and six and a half as a member of the New York KnicksMelo always tallied at least 20 points per game in a season.

    Entering the 2018-19 campaign, Anthony was a top-25 scorer in league history. But his teams have advanced past the second round of the playoffs only once.

    Nevertheless, that unique explosive offensive ability and hope for greatness led to several high-dollar deals.

7. Chris Bosh

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Career earnings: $239.1 million

    Unfortunately for Chris Bosh, blood clots complicated his health and ended a promising career when he was 31 years old.

    But what a memorable one it was.

    In seven seasons with the Toronto Raptors, he collected five All-Star berths and set numerous since-broken franchise records. Bosh then teamed up with LeBron James on the Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat, winning two NBA titles and making six All-Star teams.

    However, blood clots removed Bosh from the court in February 2016. The Heat announced in 2017 they had waived Bosh but would retire his number. The $52.1 million left on his contract will be paid in twice-monthly installments of $434,393 until November 2022.

6. Tim Duncan

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Career earnings: $242 million

    Tim Duncan approached the quarter-billion mark in salary earnings and left many more million on the table.

    Praised for a team-first mentality throughout his career, Duncan took a discount in order to help build a contender. From 2012-13 to 2014-15, his contract was for only $30 million. Duncan earned $5 million in his final season and received $5.4 million more post-retirement via the stretch provision.

    And that discount in the summer of 2012 helped the San Antonio Spurs reach the NBA Finals the following year and win the championship in 2014. That title gave Duncan five rings for his career.

    Duncan retired in 2016 with a top-20 all-time ranking in points and top-10 marks in both rebounds and blocks.

5. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Career earnings: $251.6 million

    Dirk Nowitzki is nearing retirement. But this season brought yet another achievement for the Dallas Mavericks legend.

    Thanks to his $5 million salary, Dirk is officially the fifth player in league history to reach the $250 million plateau.

    As you would expect from someone who's spent all 21 years with the same organization, Nowitzki is the franchise's all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocks, as well as three-pointers. He's also No. 7 on the NBA's all-time scoring list.

    The 2006-07 league MVP and 2011 Finals MVP, Nowitzki also had a streak of 11 straight All-Star appearances.

4. LeBron James

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Career earnings: $269.5 million

    The King is destined for another record.

    Because of his four-year, $154.3 million with the Lakers, LeBron James is expected to reach $387.2 million of contract earnings when the 2021-22 campaign is finished. Pretty good for the Kid from Akron.

    And if we're being honest, James is worth far more to any organization. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat profited immensely from his presence, just as the Lakers are about to.

    Name the record, and he's on the list. Name the accolade, and he's accomplished it. Name the award, and he's earned it.

3. Shaquille O'Neal

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    MARK TERRILL/Associated Press

    Career earnings: $286.3 million

    Shaquille O'Neal took over the NBA the moment he stepped on to the court. During his Rookie of the Year-winning season, the Big Aristotle averaged 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks.

    According to Basketball Reference, the only other players in league history to record a similar single-season line are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon.

    Beyond that rookie honor, Shaq won Finals MVP during the Lakers' three-peat from 2000-02, with a league MVP in 2000. For good measure, he even won three All-Star Game MVPs throughout a 19-year tenure that included 15 All-Star nods.

    O'Neal was a well-traveled superstar, playing four seasons in Orlando before enjoying eight with the Lakers. He played three and a half for the Heat before wrapping up his career following spells with the Phoenix Suns, Cavs and Boston Celtics.

2. Kobe Bryant

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Career earnings: $323.3 million

    Three of Shaq's four career rings were earned alongside Kobe Bryant, who guided the Lakers to consecutive titles in 2009 and 2010.

    Although he became a perennial All-Star from 2000 onward, the Black Mamba's individual accolades began piling up a decade later. Kobe earned his first and only season MVP in 2007-08, winning Finals MVP honors during those latter two championship runs.

    But there's no questioning his excellence.

    Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone are the only players who scored more in their careers than Kobe, who amassed 33,643 points over 20 years.

1. Kevin Garnett

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Career earnings: $334.3 million

    Kevin Garnett enjoyed the rare opportunity to watch his career come full circle.

    The No. 5 selection of the 1995 draft, KG spent 12 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He collected 10 All-Star berths and a league MVP, but the T-Wolves bowed out in the first round of the playoffs seven straight years and then the conference finals once.

    Shortly thereafter, Minnesota shipped a frustrated Garnett to the Boston Celtics. In his first season, Boston won the NBA championship.

    The Big Ticket played five more years with the Celtics prior to what is remembered as a hideous trade for the Brooklyn Nets. After 96 appearances for the Nets, KG returned to Minnesota and retired there.


    All contract data is from Spotrac.


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