NBA salaries are some of the most lucrative in all of sports, with the best players’ contracts amounting to more than $200 million. The salary cap has hit the roof to the point where teams are able to offer huge contracts to today’s players. It’s never been better to be an NBA player than today given how salaries have ballooned due to the surge in the league’s salary cap in recent years.
In a few months, many players will be free agents and demand max-contract salaries from teams seeking their valuable service. Today’s highest paid players may have the spotlight right now, but compared to players from yesteryear, they are only scratching the surface of what they can possibly earn in the long run.
According to data put together by Business Insider’s Cork Gaines using Spotrac and Basketball-Reference, here are the 10 highest paid NBA players of all time.
10. Dwight Howard: $210.2 million
Highest single-season salary: $23.5 million
Current contract: 3-year, $70,500,000 contract with the Atlanta Hawks (since traded to the Charlotte Hornets)
Career averages: 17.4 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists
Dwight Howard was the last player to enter the league out of high school in the 2004 NBA Draft, and he has made a lot of money since then. His $210.2 million earnings will continue to increase the longer he plays in the league. At 32 years of age with no signs of slowing down, Howard will continue to climb up this list in the years to come.
The fun-loving center was the cornerstone of the Orlando Magic when they drafted him, culminating his time in the city with a Finals appearance in 2009. Since then, Howard has bounced around the NBA, playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks, and now with the Charlotte Hornets.
He led the league in rebounding five times and in blocks twice during his career. The 8-time All-Star is still one of the best centers in the league, capable of controlling a game from the defensive end while scoring more than a few buckets per game. Recently, Howard joined the 30-30 club when he recorded 32 points and 30 rebounds versus the Brooklyn Nets.
9. Chris Bosh: $212.2 million
Highest single-season salary: $23.7 million
Current contract: None. Exercised Early Termination Option with Miami (MIA) to void remaining years of contract
Career averages: 19.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists
One of the best power forwards in the league during his heyday, Chris Bosh earned his biggest salary during the 2016-17 season when he didn’t play a single minute of NBA basketball.
Bosh was diagnosed with blood clots that threatened his life. According to USA Today, a medical review instituted by the NBA and the NBA Players' Association “agreed with the Miami Heat's stance that Chris Bosh has a career-ending illness, according to the Palm Beach Post and Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.”
Bosh is an 11-time All-Star and a two-time champion with the Miami Heat. He played well with his back to the basket or shooting from the outside with his range reaching all the way to the three-point line.
His best years individually were with the Toronto Raptors, where he was the team leader and a 20-10 threat night in and night out. He joined the Heat in 2010 with the hopes of winning championships, which they accomplished in back-to-back seasons (2011-12, 2012-13).
8. Joe Johnson: $214.8 million
Highest single-season salary: $23.2 million
Current contract: 1-year, $749,905 contract with the Houston Rockets
Career averages: 16.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists
Among the players on this list, Joe Johnson is the most surprising of the lot. Though he’s a 7-time All-Star, the swingman hasn’t been one of the top players in the league since earlier this decade.
Nonetheless, Johnson was a big-time scorer for the Atlanta Hawks in the early 2000’s, the franchise that he played for during his best years in the league. He made a living making clutch baskets even when he was having a bad game. Because of this, teams would routinely look for ways to trade for him, especially those with championship aspirations.
Now with the Rockets, Johnson has a shot at a title before he retires.
7. Carmelo Anthony: $227.4 million
Highest single-season salary: $26.2 million
Current contract: 5-year, $124,064,681 contract with the New York Knicks (since traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder)
Career averages: 24.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists
The third pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, Carmelo Anthony has earned one the highest single-season salaries of all-time at $26.2 million this year.
Anthony is one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history. He recently passed the 25,000-point mark for his career, becoming just the 21st player in history to achieve the milestone. He’s a 10-time All-Star and a 6-time All-NBA team member. With the exception of this year, Anthony has averaged more than 20 points per game every season throughout his 15-year career.
His best years were with the Denver Nuggets, where he led the team to the Western Conference Finals versus Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008-09 season. Unfortunately, they lost to the eventual champion Lakers in six games.
He has since played for the New York Knicks before being traded in the offseason to the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he hopes to reach the NBA Finals for the first time. He is flanked by All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
6. LeBron James: $233.9 million
Highest single-season salary: $33.3 million
Current contract: 3-year, $99,857,127 contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers
Career averages: 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists
LeBron James’ $33.3 million salary this season is second only to Stephen Curry as one of the highest salaries in league annals. He’s expected to opt out of his current contract this summer and become a free agent, where he is likely to receive a maximum salary offer of $205 million for five years from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As the first pick in the 2003 Draft, James has the most storied career among his fellow draftees. In his 15th season, the Cavaliers forward is playing some of the best basketball of his career. He recently became the only player to record 30,000 points, 8,000 rebounds, and 8,000 assists.
James is a 14-time All-Star, a r-time league MVP, a 3-time Finals MVP, and a 3-time champion, and yet he is hungry for more championships and achievements. He continues to be one of the leading MVP candidates as he hopes to lead his Cavs to an NBA championship this June.
5. Tim Duncan: $240.1 million
Highest single-season salary: $22.2 million
Current contract: Retired
Career averages: 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists
Tim Duncan is known as the Big Fundamental, dubbed as such by contemporary and rival Shaquille O’Neal because of how fundamentally sound he is as a player. Duncan has the fifth-highest salary in NBA history with $240.1 million earnings throughout his career with the San Antonio Spurs.
The 2002/2003 back-to-back MVP and 5-time champion sacrificed a bigger paycheck twice (in 2012 and in 2015) so he could compete for a championship with better players around him. He was rewarded for his sacrifice in 2014 when the Spurs won the championship.
Duncan is a 15-time All-Star and a perennial All-NBA team member. He’s considered the best power forward of all-time by most NBA pundits and many of the league’s best players.
The top pick in the 1997 draft played the center position for four years of college basketball at Wake Forest University, where he was a two-time ACC Player of the Year and a three-time NABC Defensive Player of the Year.
4. Dirk Nowitzki: $246.6 million
Highest single-season salary: $25.0 million
Current contract: 1-year, $5,000,000 contract with the Dallas Mavericks
Career averages: 21.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Dirk Nowitzki has been in the league for two decades, but he is shooting at a career-high clip of 55% this season despite his limited playing time. Last year, he received his highest salary of $25 million.
One of the leagues best outside shooting big men in history, Nowitzki won a title in 2011 and was named Finals MVP. The 13-time All-Star and 12-time All-NBA team member is one of only seven players to score more than 30,000 points in his career.
The German-born forward/center says he's playing one more season as he wraps up a Hall-of-Fame career with the Dallas Mavericks, the only team he has played for in a remarkable 20-year career.
3. Shaquille O'Neal: $286.3 million
Highest single-season salary: $27.7 million
Current contract: Retired
Career averages: 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists
One of the league’s strongest and most unstoppable forces of all time, Shaquille O’Neal is also the third-highest salaried player in league annals. His biggest payday came in the 2004-05 season, making $27.7 million.
The Diesel deserved every penny that he received that year, as he led the Lakers to three straight championships from 2000 to 2002 and then made it back to the Finals two years later in 2004. He was paid at least $20 million from 2001-02 to 2009-10, a period of 9 NBA seasons.
He’s a former league MVP, 3-time Finals MVP, 13-time All-Star, and 4-time NBA champion. Coming from LSU, the first pick in the 1992 draft took the league by storm, quickly becoming one of the top four centers in the league right out of the gates. He was so strong that he broke two backboards during his rookie season!
In his prime, no one could stop Shaq one-on-one because no one had the combination of strength, speed, and agility that O’Neal possessed.
2. Kobe Bryant: $323.3 million
Highest single-season salary: $30.5 million
Current contract: Retired
Career averages: 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists
Aside from NBA championships, this is one other category in which the Black Mamba overtook the Shaq Daddy. Just one spot ahead of Shaq, Kobe Bryant has the second highest earnings of any player in league history.
The 18-time All-Star had his highest paying season in the 2013-14 season. That’s a small consolation for Bryant after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in his sixth game that year.
Bryant is a former league MVP, a 4-time All-Star MVP, a two-time Finals MVP, and a 5-time NBA champion. The retired Laker legend has the third highest career points total, just behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. He holds multiple records with the Lakers franchise, including games played, field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.
For these accomplishments and more, the Lakers have rewarded one of their greatest players handsomely over the course of his career.
1. Kevin Garnett ― $334.3 million
Highest single-season salary: $28 million
Current contract: Retired
Career averages: 17.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists
In 21 seasons, Kevin Garnett has made himself the richest man in the NBA, contract-wise. Having received some of the biggest contracts in any sport, Garnett is the reason there is now a cap on contracts at all.
After just two seasons in the NBA, Garnett signed an unheard of $126 million deal for six years in 1997, paving the way for exorbitant salaries to become the norm in the league. In 1998, league owners would lock out the players to ensure that those with less experience don’t get paid more than the veterans.
The 15-time All-Star played his best years with the Minnesota Timberwolves ,where he became an MVP and the 2003 All-Star Game MVP. He also earned 9 All-NBA team honors as well as the distinction of being on 12 All-Defensive Teams.
It was with the Boston Celtics that he received the 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year award together with his most coveted prize—the Larry O’Brien trophy as an NBA champion.
Soon, Garnett’s career earnings will be surpassed by one or more of the players on this list who are still active. The first player most likely to do it? LeBron James. He is sure to sign a contract this summer that will put him atop this list with the stroke of a pen.
For now, Garnett is the NBA’s highest-paid player of all time. He should enjoy the distinction while it’s still his.