The NBA’s Top Earners

Do not play poker with these two.

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
Shaquille O’Neal $354,136,836 19 1993 $18,638,781
Kevin Garnett** $315,370,217 16 1996 $19,710,639
Kobe Bryant** $220,661,776 15 1997 $14,710,785
Tim Duncan** $206,844,796 14 1998 $14,774,628
Jason Kidd** $203,305,233 17 1995 $11,959,131
Chris Webber $198,108,767 15 1994 $13,207,251
Ray Allen** $192,468,929 15 1997 $12,831,262
Tracy McGrady** $183,090,958 14 1998 $13,077,926
Allen Iverson $180,229,709 14 1997 $12,873,551
Rasheed Wallace $179,526,599 15 1996 $11,968,440
Jermaine O’Neal** $178,564,193 15 1997 $11,904,280
Juwan Howard** $172,779,067 17 1995 $10,163,475
Dirk Nowitzki** $155,751,068 13 1999 $11,980,851
Stephon Marbury $153,966,706 13 1997 $11,843,593
Anfernee Hardaway $152,739,135 14 1994 $10,909,938
Paul Pierce** $151,584,132 13 1999 $11,660,318
Dikembe Mutombo $150,861,243 18 1992 $8,381,180
Vince Carter** $148,780,265 13 1999 $11,444,636
Grant Hill** $147,629,190 16 1995 $9,226,824
Alonzo Mourning $145,326,228 15 1993 $9,688,415
Elton Brand** $139,545,457 12 2000 $11,628,788
Antawn Jamison** $139,404,543 13 1999 $10,723,426
Gary Payton $138,324,105 17 1991 $8,136,712
Baron Davis** $130,190,281 12 2000 $10,849,190
Rashard Lewis** $128,652,870 13 1999 $9,896,375
Note 1: All salaries adjusted for inflation and in 2011 value
Note 2: ** denotes active player

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

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