Following in the ethereal footsteps of Michael Jordan, many of today’s most famous athletes have transcended brilliant sports careers to become mega-rich stars via endorsements and business ventures. Here, we’ll take a walk with the world’s wealthiest athletes, including former tennis stars, golfers, soccer players, basketball icons, and more.
7. Earvin “Magic” Johnson: $620 million
The first of a few transcendent former professional basketball players, Magic Johnson’s string of businesses include Starbucks, TGI Friday’s, 24 Hour Fitness, and even minority ownership in baseball’s L.A. Dodgers. These businesses are often established in low-income communities. This complements the former point forward’s philanthropic work through his own foundation, the Magic Johnson Foundation, funding HIV/AIDS awareness and providing victim assistance.
Still living in L.A. post his Showtime career, the Magic man owns a mansion in Beverly Hills, a car collection featuring Ferraris and BMWs, and a private jet.
6. Lebron James: $1.2 billion
According to Forbes, Lebron James made the billionaires list after taking home about $121 million in 2021 earnings. Now, with a net worth estimated at $1.2 billion, King James has exceeded even the loftiest expectations, becoming a generational athlete and envoy of athletic culture. While $900 million in endorsements and over $385 million in career earnings have helped, it’s the point forward’s interest in property development that has made him one of the world’s richest.
About half of James’ net worth comes from his stakes in real estate properties and business ventures via production company SpringHill Co. (producer of “Space Jam: A New Legacy”), which is estimated to be worth around $300 million.
5. Anna Kasprzak: $1.3 billion
Apparently, there’s a lot of money to be made in dressage. The Danish rider, Anna Kasprzak, has loaded up on the accolades, medals, and money in her career directing prancing horses. Collecting this loot adds to what’s already a family fortune.
Along with her brother André and mother Hanni, Kasprzak owns Danish shoe manufacturer, ECCO. Almost $1.5 billion in annual sales comes from products sold online and in 90 countries from over 2,200 ECCO shops. In 1963, Kasprzak’s late grandfather Karl Toosbuy founded the massive shoe company and apparel brand.
4. Ion Tiriac: $1.5 billion
The first, “Huh?” on this list, Ion Tiriac is not well known on this side of the pond. In Europe, though, he’s one of the continent’s richest men. He’s also not a man you would want to mess with on the tennis court or in the boardroom.
Born in Transylvania, the “Brașov Bulldozer” is a former professional tennis and ice hockey player who’s earned an incredible net worth as a coach and businessman after his playing career. As communism fell in the late 1980s, Tiriac extended his investments from tennis academies and tournaments to numerous businesses.
Today, Tiriac is the president of the Romanian Tennis Federation and owns a minority stake in Romanian insurance company Allianz-Tiriac, in addition to real estate, auto dealer, and petroleum distribution investments. Tiriac knows how to flaunt his wealth as well, sporting a museum in Romania showcasing his collection of more than 400 high-end Jaguars, Rolls-Royces, Ferraris, and more.
His greatest contribution might be a classic Miller Lite commercial with Bob Uecker, though.
3. Tiger Woods: $1.7 billion
Despite a number of career controversies, Tiger Woods has remained remarkably marketable, retaining his status as maybe golf’s greatest superstar. Even as he sustained serious leg and foot injuries in a car wreck in February 2021, Woods managed to score an endorsement deal from his hospital bed, signing his likeness to the PGA Tour 2K video game franchise the following March.
Since turning pro in 1996, Woods has earned $1.7 billion from endorsements, appearances, course design fees, and other off-the-course ventures. TaylorMade and Woods released their first co-created set of irons in 2019, Woods’ first signature club.
In the process, Woods continues to show incredible resilience. In 2019, the 15-time major winner won the Master’s Tournament after an 11-year gap. Woods is the only athlete to top the Forbes list of highest paid for 13 consecutive years. And after almost losing his leg, Woods returned to play a painful PGA Championship this past May.
2. Vince McMahon: 2.2 billion
Yes, former and current WWE (formerly WWF) wrestlers are absolutely athletes, even if they play in a fixed sport. (Check out Nic Flair’s detail of some of their regimens in the documentary, “Nature Boy,” if you need proof.) Where Vince McMahon’s made his greatest impact, though, is outside of the ring (even if he’s still often seen inside the ropes).
Born in a trailer park in North Carolina, McMahon began “wrastlin’” for his father’s sports entertainment company in 1972. Taking the reins 10 years later, McMahon took the business from a popular yet niche sport and launched it into titanic global popularity, aided by superstar personalities like Flair, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Junkyard Dog, and more.
McMahon introduced flashy characters in elaborate costumes, setting narratives and music to wrestling drama, and invited fans in for an immersive, reality-show style experience. Today the 76-year-old McMahon still gets involved in the antics.
1. Michael Jordan: 2.2 billion
Michael Jordan leaped into superstardom with Nike and in his wake, a new type of athlete was born, selling his likeness in addition to athletic gifts. Too bad Adidas thought he was too short. In the big-man-dominated 1980s, Adidas was obsessed with tall athletes. Jordan wore Adidas throughout college, and when signing his endorsement deal, twice gave Adidas the chance to match Nike’s offer. The company gave a polite, “No,” and Jordan moved on.
In his 15-year NBA career, Jordan went 6-0 in Finals championship series, taking home the title six times. Today, due much to his record-setting deal with Nike and the extended Jordan brand (still a bestseller), the greatest shooting guard of all time is now a billionaire twice over. He’s also the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets, valued at about a billion dollars. Now, 15 years after hanging up his high-tops, Jordan is still relevant, holding sponsorship deals with Hanes, Gatorade, and Upper Deck.
12. Kobe Bryant: $600 million
Before his death, Kobe Bryant forged a massive endorsement empire. The former NBA Hall of Fame shooting guard earned around $350 million through endorsement deals alone. Bryant provided his likeness to major international brands like Nike, Sprite, McDonald’s, Lenovo, Turkish Airlines, and Panini, among others.
At the time of his death, Bryant had a net worth of $600 million. Tragically, Bryant died in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. Bryant was an 18-time NBA All-Star, a five-time NBA Champion, and a two-time NBA Finals MVP.
12. Roger Staubach: $600 million
Tied with Bryant at #12 is the first football player on this list. From Joe Montana to Tom Brady, many former quarterbacks make good on endorsement deals during and after their careers. None, however, have ascended into the top 10 list nor are any modern NFL players even in the top 10. The closest is Roger Staubach, who retired in 1979, just before the modern era was ushered in.
Commercial real estate and other investments are what vaulted Staubach into the ultra-rich fraternity. In 2008, the former Cowboys quarterback cashed in his chips and sold Тhе Ѕtаubасh Соmраnу for a massive $613 mіllіоn.
17. Floyd Mayweather: $450 million
Despite some shady forays into crypto, Floyd Mayweather has been able to parlay a boxing career into elite wealth. The former featherweight and welterweight also earned more money than any other athlete in a single year. After retiring from the game with an unbeatable 50-0 record in the ring, Mayweather made a came back for an epic matchup against Irish mixed martial artist Conor McGregor, earning $250 million for the effort.
The Last Word
Television can be credited with shaping some of the modern world’s most recognizable faces. Athletes who once primarily toiled away in local markets are now some of the most unmistakable visages in our shared visual landscape. Watch out for another entry in this series, where we look back at their professional predecessors who set the branding trail ablaze.
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