Despite 24 Fewer Years in Lakers, LeBron James Has Already Earned $206,230,596 More Than Billionaire NBA Champion

Published 11/18/2023, 11:10 AM EST

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USA Today via Reuters

LeBron James became the first active NBA player to join the elite billionaire club last year. His career earnings have played a huge role in manifesting his billionaire status. Ever since he entered the league as “The Chosen One”, James has switched teams three times. That means his initial salary has only soared from what he started with. His six-year tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers alone has amassed him $479,466,457 in earnings.

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Interestingly, his salary for six years has also overthrown another billionaire NBA champion who was associated with the legendary Lakers team for over 31 seasons. Despite playing 24 fewer years with the Lakers, James has managed to outshine the NBA legends’ salary by a staggering margin of $206,230,596.

The reason behind the $206,230,596 salary difference

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Earvin “Magic” Johnson is a name that is etched deeply in Lakers history for redefining the point guard position by highlighting the importance of playmaking and teamwork. Although he only played 13 seasons in the league, his presence changed how the game was played and set new standards of excellence.

Unfortunately, his career as a player ended prematurely due to a positive HIV diagnosis. But he continued his stretch as a Laker through short-term roles. He flirted with the Lakers as a head coach in the 1993-94 NBA season before abruptly resigning as a coach too. He instead opted to buy a 4.5% stake in the team in June 1994. The 5-time NBA Champion then took over as president of basketball operations for the Lakers in 2017. He later resigned during an impromptu news conference in 2019.

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In his 31 seasons with the Lakers, including executive and contract responsibilities, Johnson collected a total salary of $39,342,860. This turns out to be $110 million today when adjusted for inflation. In 1984, Johnson signed a 25-year, $25 million deal with the Lakers, running through 2009. However, he only played eight seasons after signing the contract.

This salary would have been significantly higher had there been salary caps on contract durations at the time. Moreover, his critical financial decision to sell his 4.5% Lakers stocks also contributed to the stark $206,230,596 salary difference between James and himself. Johnson sold his $10 million stocks for $29 million, right before the value of the NBA teams exploded. As per Forbes, his stake today would be worth more than $265 million.

However, it was actually Johnson who made it possible for James to reach these eye-watering salary numbers.

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How did Magic Johnson lay the groundwork for LeBron James?

When Johnson joined the Lakers front office in 2017, he began working towards generating salary-cap flexibility. This strategic move aimed to create the possibility of extending two maximum contracts, with one potentially reserved for James.

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Since James only signs short-term contracts, it gives him the flexibility to opt out and sign new contracts when the salary cap increases. James is currently making $47 million for the 2023-24 season. This deal will be worth upwards of $50 million in 2024-25 if he picks up a player option.

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Written by:

Darshita Daga

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Darshita Daga is an NBA Writer at EssentiallySports. Currently pursuing Bachelor’s in English, she’s a fervent sports enthusiast with a keen interest in sports journalism, specifically covering the NBA. She feels that words have the potential to capture the spirit of a game, evaluate moves, and portray the emotions that occur both on and off the court.
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Edited by:

Saumya Khanduja

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