The NBA owners’ books are sadly closed to us. A great thing about the players is that their salary numbers are easily accesible. In fact, we have continuous salary data back to 1991 thanks to Patricia Bender and Basketball-Reference. I thought it would be fun to look over some of the top earners in the NBA adjusted for inflation since the 1991 season. This list only includes players who entered the league on or after the 1990-91 season.
|Player||Total Salary*||Exp||Rookie Year||Per Year|
Shaq is likely to remain the most highly paid NBA player of all time unless the salary rules change. It’s a bit sad to see Kobe so high on the list, but luckily it’s unlikely he’ll overtake Garnett or Shaq — even with the insane amount of money he’s still due.
This list should illustrate several things though. First of all, some of the greatest players have been severely underpaid. Shaq, Garnett, Kobe, Duncan, and Kidd have all been key members of teams that have been to multiple finals. Despite their big paydays, it’s doubtful they’ve been paid what they were worth to their respective franchises.
Secondly, GMs have massively overpaid some players (Allen Iverson, Rashard Lewis, Jermaine O’Neal and Juwan Howard). This has a lot to do with the rule changes that were made in 1999 that severely limited rookie contracts and enforced player caps based on seniority. As an older player, Rashard Lewis gets more per year than Derrick Rose, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard (the recipients of the last 3 MVPs and Defensive Player of the Year Awards). However, we should note that the people that paid the ultimate cost were not the owners, they were the players who did not make this list.
-Dre and Devin