Many of the highest-paid athletes are predictable.
The nature of maximum contracts and salary caps has a significant impact on the list of the highest earners, however. Merchandise deals play a part in calculating total earnings through a calendar year, too.
For instance, no NFL players make the top 10 following Tom Brady’s retirement. Their contracts are structured in a complicated manner and their merchandising income is much lower than their NBA peers, who dominate this group.
Sports reliant on prize money see enormous year-to-year variance in income. Similar to the NFL, the leading Formula One drivers and baseball players have whopping annual salaries, but do not accumulate anywhere near the extra income of basketball and football stars.
With figures courtesy of Forbes, here are the 10 highest-paid athletes right now…
Highest Paid Athletes (2023):
Lionel Messi - £106.05 million
LeBron James - £98.87 million
Cristiano Ronaldo - £93.81 million
Neymar - £77.5 million
Steph Curry - £75.7 million
Kevin Durant - £75.13 million
Canelo Alvarez - £73.42 million
Giannis Antetokounmpo - £66 million
Russell Westbrook - £64.61 million
James Harden - £60.69 million
A hefty contract from the Philadelphia 76ers is complemented by a 13-year deal with Adidas.
James Harden’s signature sneakers have been successful for a prolonged period, and have continued to be purchased all over the world even as he has entered a different stage in his career.
Once a dominant scorer and league MVP, Harden is very much the Robin to Joel Embiid’s Batman on the title-contending Sixers.
He is on course to lead the league in assists, though, and might have his best chance at a ring in what has been a career riddled with postseason heartache.
It’s been a few years since Russell Westbrook was a Sports betting favourite for MVP, but he continues to accumulate cash thanks to his supermax contract.
Westbrook has played for five teams in five seasons, excluding a short stint pre-buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The decline has been abrupt from the former Thunder point guard, leading to months of trade rumours before being involved in a three-team deal this winter.
His contract ends in 2023, with his earnings destined to plummet, amid an uncertain NBA future.
An NBA champion, two-time MVP and the best player in the league, Giannis Antetokounmpo has a massive deal with Nike alongside his whopping salary from the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Greek Freak had an extraordinary path to the NBA. He remains a grounded, jovial personality, making him highly marketable and popular with neutrals all over the world.
Canelo Alvarez has won world titles in four different weight classes, becoming one of the most successful boxers of all-time. His earnings are far clear of the next highest boxer.
With just two losses in 62 career fights, Alvarez attracts millions of viewers worldwide whenever he takes the ring.
His 2013 bout with Floyd Mayweather had the most buys of any of his pay-per-view fights.
Like several of his fellow NBA megastars, Kevin Durant earns even more from off-court earnings than from his sizeable salary.
Even in an era where big men can do much more than in the past, Durant is an NBA unicorn, a matchup nightmare with a deadly jumpshot.
The summer of 2022 was dominated by a trade request. After an MVP-calibre half-season with the Brooklyn Nets, he got the move he wanted, and created another superteam with Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton in Phoenix.
Adding a fourth ring and a first Finals MVP in 2022, Steph Curry has a compelling case to be ranked among the 10 greatest players in NBA history.
Adored in The Bay, Curry is one of the most universally liked players in sport.
While markedly different in stature to Durant, Curry is also once-in-a-lifetime talent. He is the heartbeat of the Golden State Warriors dynasty, with his limitless shooting range and relentless off-ball movement making him an impossible cover.
Little in sport is as exhilarating as Curry on a big night.
A controversial figure for many who place an online football bet or two, Neymar is the first of three footballers in this top 10.
The Brazilian earns over double of the next highest-earning footballer (Mo Salah), but sits a long way behind the top two in his sport.
The PSG project is yet to realise its ultimate goal of Champions League glory.
Playing alongside Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe has not changed the fortunes of Les Parisiens, and rumours continue about Neymar’s future amid an injury-hit season and doubts over the balance of the side. Will another club take on his enormous salary at 31 years old?
Cristiano Ronaldo’s second Manchester United spell came to an ugly end following a failed transfer request.
Ronaldo had public spats with Erik ten Hag, gave a disgruntled interview, and ultimately parted ways with the club late in 2022. He was then removed from Portugal’s starting XI at the World Cup.
The five-time Champions League winner has entered the final stage of his career, but continues to earn an enormous salary thanks to a money-spinning move to Al Nassr.
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer and arguably the greatest player in the Association’s history, LeBron James earns just shy of £100 million per year. In 2022, The King officially became a billionaire.
James is a part-owner of Fenway Sports Group and Blaze Pizza, accompanying a lifetime deal with Nike and an NBA contract worth over $40 million per season.
He also founded The SpringHill Company with Maverick Carter which is worth hundreds of millions, combining their marketing agency, athlete platform and an entertainment business.
Lionel Messi was already the greatest footballer of all-time to many. Finally winning the World Cup in 2022 only added to his incomparable legacy, and strengthened his case.
With Barcelona struggling financially, the Argentine moved to PSG in 2021, and according to Forbes, has the largest salary of any football player.
Messi is a long-time partner of Adidas, and has endorsement deals with a range of companies from Pepsi and Budweiser to Konami and Mastercard.
With Lionel Messi agreeing to sign for Inter Miami, he turned down an opportunity to join Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal. However, he remains one of the highest earning players in world football.
*Credit for the main photo belongs to John Locher, File / AP Photo*