NBA Salaries Soar to Staggering Heights, Global Popularity Surging

By Frank W. Gillespie | Posted 2 years ago

In today’s NBA, player salaries are spiking and a record contract recently hit the market. Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic inked a five-year supermax contract worth $264 million, the richest deal in NBA history. Being a reigning two-time MVP certainly has its perks, and Jokic has cashed in on his stupefying skillset.


During the 2021-22 campaign, Jokic became the first player in league history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 500 assists in one season. Jokic has earned his position at the top of the financial food chain, but can the NBA continue this trend? 


Prior to this busy NBA offseason, the richest contract in existence belonged to the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo. The deal Giannis signed is worth $228 million, and the “Greek Freak” plowed forward to win Finals MVP on the heels of that contract. Since then, two deals have surpassed Antetokounmpo’s, and two others are close. 


NBA owners have been investing beaucoup bucks in the flesh and blood of their organizations this offseason. Jokic secured his $264 million superdeal in Denver, and SG Bradley Beal agreed to stay in Washington for $251 million. Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns each signed extensions worth north of $224 million, with Phoenix and Minnesota, respectively. 


However, none of the players who signed these contracts have won an NBA title yet. 


Despite their talents, Jokic, Beal, Booker, and Towns have earned zero rings over the course of 31 combined NBA seasons. 


Last season, “The Joker” almost single handedly willed the Nuggets into the playoffs, but they were unceremoniously bounced in the first round. Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, the eventual champions, eliminated Denver in five games. The closest Jokic has come to winning an NBA championship was in the 2020 Bubble. 


The Nuggets lost in the Western Conference Finals to LeBron JamesAnthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers in five. The Lakers went on to beat the Heat in the Finals. 


Beal has never made it past the second round of the playoffs with the Wizards, and injuries are a concern. Booker and the Suns lost the NBA Finals to Antetokounmpo’s Bucks in 2021, and the T-Wolves have never won a playoff series with Towns. 


To put things into clearer perspective, the Nuggets, Suns, and Timberwolves have a combined zero NBA championships between them. Washington has one title, and that was secured in 1978, back when the team was still called the Bullets. 


No doubt these franchises hope that the crazy money they’re spending will help them to reel in the elusive Larry O’Brien Trophy. Of the top-ten salaries in 2022-23, only five players have proven their postseason pedigree thus far. Curry (3), James (4), Kevin Durant (2), Antetokounmpo (1), and Kawhi Leonard (2), all have championship rings.  


NBA’s Top-Paid Players 2022-23

1. Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets) – $52,000,000 
2. Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) – $48,070,014
3. Russell Westbrook (Los Angeles Lakers) – $47,063,478
4. LeBron James (L.A. Lakers) – $44,474,988
5. Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards) – $43,279,250
6. Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets) – $42,969,845 
7. Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers) – $42,492,568
8. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) – $42,492,492 [TIED]
9. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers) – $42,492,492 [TIED]
10. Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers) – $42,492,492 [TIED]



Comparing these numbers to salaries from 25 years ago, the evolution of economics in professional basketball has been lightning quick. According to SpotracMichael Jordan earned a grand total of $93,772,500 in salary during his entire 15-year NBA career. Jordan is the greatest of all time, and that money wouldn’t cover Jokic for two seasons. 


The most Jordan ever earned in one year was $33,140,000 during the 1997-98 season. That was the year that MJ and the Bulls won their sixth NBA championship together. Granted, Forbes has Jordan valued at $1.7 billion as of this publication, but that money was largely generated through endorsements and business dealings over the years. 


How much would Michael Jordan in his prime earn in this day and age? How high will NBA salaries go? Are we approaching an era where ticket prices become completely unreasonable to the “average Joe”, and only the upper crust can attend games? 


When ranking the richest sports leagues in the world, the NBA ($8 BIL) came in third in 2021, behind MLB ($10 BIL) and the NFL ($16 BIL). However, the National Basketball Association leads the way with regards to annual salaries. 


Of the 26 largest contracts (based on average value) within the three major sports, the NBA owns 18 of them. Seven belong to the NFL, and only Max Scherzer represents MLB in this exclusive club. The league’s popularity has surged again recently, and it’s certainly possible that future revenue will justify current franchise expenditures.


The 2021-22 regular season was the most viewed since 2018-19, and up 19% from the previous season. NBA games aired across ABC, ESPN, and TNT averaged 1.6 million viewers. Global subscriptions to NBA League Pass are up 30% from the year before, and social media platforms generated over 13 billion video views, up 7%. 


The current per team salary cap of $123,655,000 is expected to receive a significant boost once TV contracts are renegotiated in 2025. The NBA is gunning for top billing. If global popularity continues to swell, professional basketball might reign supreme one day soon. If you have children, start running drills and shooting free throws with them. It will likely prove to be a worthwhile investment in their future, no matter how you slice it.   


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