In an era in which wealth and professional athletics have become synonymous, it’s no surprise to see sports stars bringing in seven-figure salaries and eight-figure endorsement deals. But it’s still fun to ogle at and compare the earnings of the richest of the rich.

The list of the top ten richest American athletes isn’t exactly surprising — it contains nothing but household names. You might be surprised, however, by the size of the checks the athletes earn from companies such as Nike or Adidas compared to the amount they earn for actually playing their sport of choice.

Dwyane Wade (Keith Allison/WikiCommons)

The top athletic earners for 2010, as added up by Sports Illustrated:

10. Dwyane Wade — Basketball — Miami Heat

Salary: $15.78 million

Endorsements: $12 million

Total: $27.78 million

Dwyane Wade has been one of the most marketable and successful stars in the NBA for the past seven years. Despite the fact “D-Wade” took a pay cut to lure fellow stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh to South Beach, he should make up for it in endorsement earnings. Wade has won an NBA title and made six All-Star teams, leading to sponsorship deals with T-Mobile and Gatorade, among other companies.


9. Peyton Manning — Football — Indianapolis Colts

Salary: $15.8 million

Endorsements: $15 million

Total: $30.8 million

The best quarterback in the NFL is also the league’s highest-grossing player. Peyton Manning, the 34-year-old Indianapolis Colts signal-caller, has led his team to one Super Bowl victory while earning four MVP awards and ten Pro Bowl appearances. Manning is renowned for his ability to read defenses and make quick decisions to adjust plays and find open receivers. He’s also the NFL’s most marketable player. His deadpan tone and southern drawl make him an appealing choice for TV ads for companies like Sprint and Sony, and he was a huge hit on sketch-comedy show Saturday Night Live.

8. Derek Jeter — Baseball — New York Yankees

Salary: $21 million

Endorsements: $10 million

Total: $31 million

Everything’s big in New York City, including its athletes’ incomes. Derek Jeter is the most famous player for the most famous sports franchise in America, and he is paid accordingly. The 36-year-old shortstop may be in the twilight of his career and winding down in terms of on-field production, but he brought in a cool $30 million. His $21 million salary is part of a deal the Yankees signed in 2001 at the height of Jeter’s career, and the $10 million in endorsements comes from companies like Visa, Gillette, Nike and his own line of cologne.


7. Kobe Bryant — Basketball — Los Angeles Lakers

Salary: $23.03 million

Endorsements: $10 million

Total: $33.03 million

Kobe Bryant may be one of professional basketball’s most polarizing figures, but he’s also one of its best-paid. The Los Angeles Lakers guard has recovered from a highly publicized sexual assault trial (he was acquitted) to win an NBA MVP trophy along with his fourth and fifth NBA titles in the past three seasons. He may not be the all-around dominating force that LeBron James is, but he’s the closest thing to Michael Jordan in today’s NBA game. Bryant is also involved in several lucrative endorsement deals, most notably with Nike.


6. Shaquille O’Neal — Basketball — Boston Celtics

Shaquille O'Neal (Alex Gouchnour, U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons)

Salary: $21 million

Endorsements: $15 million

Total: $36 million

“Shaq” is one of the most marketable and recognizable athletes in America, if not the world. He’s charismatic, massive and accomplished, resulting in a sizable annual income. Shaq has created his own media empire of sorts since emerging onto the basketball scene in the early 1990s. From acting (“Blue Chips,” “Kazaam”) to rapping (“Shaq Diesel”) to reality television (“Shaq’s Big Challenge), the 7-foot-1 behemoth has done a bit of everything during his career. Though he is no longer the superstar center he has been for the better part of the past two decades, he’s still decent enough to draw a salary both on the court and off.

5. Alex Rodriguez — Baseball — New York Yankees

Alex Rodriguez (Onetwo1/WikiCommons

Salary: $33 million

Endorsements: $4 million

Total: $37 million

Surprise, surprise … another New York Yankee. Alex Rodriguez, by many measures one of the greatest baseball players of all time, signed the largest contract in the history of the sport — twice. “A-Rod” signed a 10-year, $252 million free agent deal with the Texas Rangers before the 2001 season. In 2007, after being traded to the Yankees and enjoying several successful seasons, Rodriguez chose to opt-out of his contract and negotiate another record-breaking 10-year deal worth $275 million. He doesn’t earn as much as some of his peers in endorsements because of a reputation-tarnishing steroid scandal and some alleged marital indiscretions.


4. LeBron James — Basketball — Miami Heat

Salary: $15.78 million

LeBron James (WikiCommons)

Endorsements: $30 million

Total: $45.78 million

Because of his relative youth, LeBron James doesn’t command the same salary as older NBA stars such as Garnett, Bryant or O’Neal, but he more than makes up for it with his endorsement deals. “King James” is, by most accounts, the best basketball player in the world, and was certainly worth more than $12.45 million per year to the Cleveland Cavaliers over the past few seasons. Now that he’s taking his prodigious talents to a crowded Miami Heat payroll, he won’t be in line for more salary, but his endorsement-based income could skyrocket.

3. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. — Boxing

Winnings: $60 million

Endorsements: $250,000

Total: $60.25 million

It speaks to the skill of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., that he is able to rank so high on the list while making his money in a sport that is nearly irrelevant in the American sports mainstream. Mayweather is the best — and certainly most entertaining — boxer in the ring right now, as his legend has grown with each outrageous interview and fake retirement. The undefeated 30-year-old made $60 million last year for high-level fights against Juan Manuel Marquez and Shane Mosley.


2. Phil Mickelson — Golf

Phil Mickelson (minds-eye/Wikimedia Commons)

Winnings: $9.66 million

Endorsements: $52 million

Total: $61.66 million

Welcome to the world of professional golf, where your endorsement haul can exceed your actual on-course winnings nearly five-fold. That’s what happens when you play a sport marketed by high-end companies to wealthy consumers. Mickelson is without question one of the world’s best golfers, but he makes more money from sponsors like Rolex, ExxonMobil and Barclays than he does by finishing atop tournaments. Mickelson’s all-American, everyman image has helped him greatly in the marketability department.
1. Tiger Woods — Golf

Winnings: $20.51 million

Endorsements: $70 million

Total: $90.51 million

You read that correctly: Tiger Woods brought home nearly $100 million last year. That’s about 30% more than any other American athlete earned. Despite the fact fellow rich-lister Alex Rodriguez makes more in salary/winnings each year, Tiger’s massive sponsorship contracts put him over the top. Woods, 34, is destined for the Forbes 400 list eventually: As of this year, he’s only $400 million short of inclusion. His endorsement list took a hit when tales of his lurid extracurricular activities found their way to the tabloids and his wife left him, but Tiger still has his own (very popular) video game and some serious endorsement connections.

Tiger Woods (Keith Allison/WikiCommons)
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