James, Curry and Durant are the highest-paid NBA players—and they earn most of their money off the court

LeBron James
David Liam Kyle | Getty Images

For the fifth straight year, LeBron James is the highest-paid player in the NBA.

Now in his 16th season with the league, James' earnings for the 2018-2019 season total $88.7 million, according to Forbes' list of the top 10 NBA earners.

Looking at salary, bonuses and endorsement deals, Forbes found Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant to be the second and third highest-paid players in the NBA. Curry's total earnings for the season come to $79.5 million and Durant's earnings come to $65 million.

These players are known for their incredible talent on the court. But it's their strategic moves outside of basketball that have really led to their financial success. In fact, James, Curry and Durant are the only three players on the highest-paid list who make more money off the court than on it.

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers in action against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on December 18, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Jim McIsaac | Getty Images

Forbes reports that 34 year-old James makes $35.7 million in salary/bonuses and an estimated $53 million in endorsement deals from partners like Nike, Coca-Cola, Beats By Dre, Blaze Pizza and 2K Sports. James' deal with Blaze is as both an investor and franchisee — he owns 14 Blaze franchises in Chicago and seven more in Florida.

Beyond his basketball salary and endorsements, James is also continuing to build a solid business empire that contributes to his estimated $450 million net worth. In 2006, he launched the marketing and branding company LRMR Ventures with business partner Maverick Carter. In 2008, he launched production company SpringHill Entertainment, which created TV shows like "The Wall" and "Survivor's Remorse."

In 2015, he expanded into digital media with platform Uninterrupted, which snagged a $15.8 million investment from Time Warner. And then, in 2018, James stepped outside the realm of Hollywood and sports to open up the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

Curry, the league's second highest-paid player, earns a $37.5 million salary. Meanwhile, $42 million of his earnings comes from endorsement deals with companies like Under Amour and Chase.

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half during Game Three of the 2018 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 6, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Gregory Shamus | Getty Images

Most recently, the 30-year-old entered a partnership with tech company Palm and the Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten. Rakuten pays $20 million a year to have its name etched on the Warriors' jersey, and is also a sponsor of Curry's Underrated Tour. In a recent article for The Players' Tribune, Curry described the tour as "a basketball camp, in partnership with Rakuten, for any unsigned high school players rated three stars and below."

He says that his inspiration for the tour came from the personal experience of being overlooked as a basketball prospect.

In addition to his tour, Curry also launched his company SC30 last year to help him manage his investments and business ventures. In 2018, he started a production company called Unanimous Media, which signed a multi-year development deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Durant, who rounds out the top three, earns a $30 million salary and $35 million from endorsements. Last year, he created 35 Ventures to help consolidate his multiple business enterprises. This includes lucrative endorsement deals with companies like Nike, Alaska Airlines and Google. It also includes his media deals with Apple, ESPN and YouTube, as well as his investments in companies like Postmates, Lime and Rubrik.

 Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors
 Gregory Shamus via Getty 

Recently, the 30-year-old, who has earned more than $400 million in salary and endorsements throughout his career, opened an after-school facility called College Track at The Durant Center in his hometown of Prince George's County, Maryland. The center will provide low-income and underserved students with the resources they need to reach college and to graduate.

"This is incredible, man," Durant told The Washington Post at the center's opening last month. "To have this as a kind of staple and my family's name on it and it's doing so much for kids, man, it's one of the greatest accomplishments so far in my career."

In addition to James, Curry and Durant, other notable NBA players like Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Chris Paul also made the highest-paid NBA players list. In total, Forbes reports that the top 10 earners in the league make a collective $540 million from salaries, endorsements, appearances and royalties. That's a $180 million increase from the top earners five years ago.

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