Following an electric freshman season at Duke University, Zion Williamson was the consensus top prospect for Thursday night's 2019 NBA Draft. So, it comes as no surprise that the 18-year-old Williamson will be suiting up for the New Orleans Pelican as an NBA rookie later this year after the team made him the first overall pick of this year's draft.
While the basketball world is in agreement about Williamson's status as one of the most exciting NBA prospects in years, one question that remains is: How much is he worth?
When it comes to salary, Williamson is projected to get a rookie deal that would pay him $20 million over two years, according to the estimate from sports salary tracker Spotrac. And Spotrac also estimates that Williamson's eventual rookie deal will ultimately be worth up to $45 million in total over four years, as rookies' two-year contracts include team options to extend in the third and fourth years.
Of course, for a player generating the sort of hype that Williamson has, his NBA rookie salary is only the starting point for his potential professional earnings. Once he joins the NBA, Williamson will be free to sign endorsement deals with sponsorship brands, and he's expected to be in high demand.
In fact, according to ESPN, Williamson is likely to be the subject of a fierce bidding war among shoe companies like Nike, Adidas, Reebok and others vying for his services — and that competition could result in the teen basketball player landing an unprecedented deal worth as much as $100 million. By comparison, LeBron James signed a lifetime deal with Nike in 2015 that's reportedly worth "significantly" more than $500 million, according to USA Today.
For Williamson's rookie contract though, that is determined by the NBA's rookie pay scale, which assigns salary slots for each draft pick based on where they're selected. These slots increase incrementally each year, based on the percentage by which the NBA increases teams' salary caps (they'll jump from $101.9 million to $109 million per team for the upcoming season).
So Williamson's projected salary should make him the highest paid rookie-year player ever. But his projected $45 million over four years would not be the largest overall contract handed out to a rookie. That honor actually belongs to Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson, who the Milwaukee Bucks selected with the first pick of the 1994 NBA Draft before promptly handing him a massive 10-year deal, worth $68 million in total.
That same year, future NBA Hall of Famer Jason Kidd (selected second overall in the draft) received a nine-year, $54 million contract from the Dallas Mavericks. The NBA first implemented the rookie pay scale the following year to prevent teams from handing out massive contracts to unproven, rookie players.
Interestingly, the former NBA rookie who Williamson would presumably surpass this coming year in terms of rookie-year salary is a player who was only drafted 27th overall in 2014. That would be Bogdan Bogdanovic, a Serbian basketball player who was drafted by the NBA's Sacramento Kings five years ago, but who continued his playing career in Europe for three years before joining the Kings in 2017.
Because he did not start playing in the NBA immediately, Bogdanovic's first contract was not dictated by the NBA's rookie pay scale for draft picks, so the Kings were able to sign him to a three-year, $27 million contract that paid him $9.47 million in his rookie season.
This article was updated on Friday, June 21.
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