The 15 Highest-Paid Athletes in the World (The Top 3 Aren’t in the U.S.)

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Discover the staggering incomes of the highest-earning athletes around the globe.
Updated Feb. 21, 2024
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Professional athletes pull in hefty paychecks, but the true eye-opener lies in the mountains of cash they rake in beyond the games.

Yet despite the dominance of American football, only one gridiron gladiator cracked the top 15 on Forbes' 2023 list.

So, who are these global moneymakers, and what's the secret sauce that helped them build wealth off the field?

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15. Rory McIlroy

Jacob Lund/Adobe professional male golfer standing on field

According to Forbes, Golfer Rory Mcllroy made almost as much off the course as he did on it ($40.8 million for playing compared to $40 million in other income).

The outlet put McIlroy’s total earnings for 2023 at around $80.8 million, with income from golf tournament prizes and partnerships with major names like NBC Sports, Nike, and Omega.

14. Russell Westbrook

Jacob Lund/Adobe basketball player with ball in arm

Russell Westbrook signed with the L.A. Clippers in February 2023, and Forbes put his on-court earnings at around $47.1 million for the year.

The basketball star also has many lucrative endorsements, including a deal with Nike’s Jordan brand. He even got his own signature shoe in 2018.

13. Russell Wilson

takoburito/Adobe male volleyball player wearing helmet

The Broncos’ Russell Wilson is the only NFL player to make it to Forbes’ top 15 list. Wilson tied with soccer player Neymar, earning an estimated $85 million for the year. However, Wilson made significantly more on the field.

His salary was around $72 million, and he brought in roughly $13 million through partnerships with brands like Amazon, Bose, and Mercedes-Benz.

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12. Neymar

pixfly/Adobe male footballer holding ball in stadium

Soccer star Neymar signed a lucrative contract with Paris Saint-Germain in May 2021, which includes several performance bonuses. Forbes estimated his salary for 2023 was around $50 million.

He also made $35 million through endorsements with companies like Puma, Meta, and Qatar Airways. Plus, he began delving into the world of NFTs back in 2021.

11. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Jorge Ferreiro/Adobe basketball player in action on field

Basketball star Giannis Antetokounmpo signed a massively lucrative deal to extend his contract with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2020. Still, he made more of his year's $87.6 million estimated earnings through deals and sponsorships.

Forbes put his salary from playing at $42.6 million for the year, and the baller earned another estimated $45 million in endorsements with giants like Nike, Amazon, and Google. Disney also made a movie about his life, released on Disney+ in 2022.

10. Kevin Durant

James/Adobe professional basketball player about to dunk

Kevin Durant, who was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 2023, took the number 10 spot on the list. With annual earnings of around $89.1 million, he’s another baller who earned even more from endorsements than he did on the court.

Forbes put Durant’s annual salary at $44.1 million. His earnings from deals with companies like Nike, FanDuel, and Coinbase made him around $45 million. The All-Star is also invested in dozens of companies through his firm 35V.

9. Roger Federer

Jacob Lund/Adobe male tennis player playing match

Tennis legend Roger Federer took the ninth spot on the list, with his 2023 earnings estimated at $95.1 million, and incredibly, most of that ($95 million) is from endorsements. He retired in 2022.

Among his massive deals is a 10-year contract worth $300 million with Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo. He also has deals with Rolex, Barilla, Wilson Sporting Goods, and many more.

8. Stephen Curry

Andrey Burmakin/Adobe number 23 basketball player dunking ball

Golden State Warriors legend Stephen Curry earned an estimated $100.4 million in 2023. The basketball star and two-time MVP earned around $48.4 million on the court and an incredible $52 million off it.

He has a lucrative deal with Under Armour, which launched its Curry Brand in 2020 and deals with several other massive companies like Google and JPMorgan Chase.

7. Phil Mickelson

tonjung/Adobe golfer hitting swing shot on field

Phil Mickelson is not only one of the highest-paid golfers of all time but also one of the highest-paid athletes. Forbes estimates that he made $106 million in 2023, and $104 million of that was from winnings and salary.

Over his career, Mickelson has won more than $96 million in PGA prize money — more than any other golfer in history aside from Tiger Woods.

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6. Dustin Johnson

Francheska/Adobe golfer training on field alone

Dustin Johnson was the highest-paid golfer for 2023 on Forbes’ list, bringing in an estimated $107 million for the year.

The outlet estimated that Johnson made the majority of his income through salary and winnings ($102 million), and he made an additional $5 million through partnerships with companies like BodyArmor, Hublot, and TaylorMade.

5. Canelo Alvarez

AspctStyle/Adobe spot lighting on boxer in ring

Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez kicks off the top five for earning an estimated $110 million in 2023. 

While he can earn millions from his fights, Alvarez also has his own clothing line, is behind the sports drink company Yaoca and the fitness app I Can, and has millions invested in real estate.

Forbes estimates that the boxer made $100 million in salary and winnings and another $10 million through endorsements with companies like Hennessy.

4. LeBron James

Mustafa/Adobe basketball player holding basketball hand

It’s not surprising to see LeBron James in the top five, with Forbes recently naming the L.A. Laker the first active NBA player to become a billionaire.

The outlet puts his earnings for 2023 at $119.5 million, with $44.5 million of that coming from salary. James also has many lucrative partnerships with Nike, PepsiCo, Tonal, and more.

3. Kylian Mbappé

toonsteb/Adobe soccer players chasing ball in field

The top three earners on Forbes’ list were all soccer players, with Kylian Mbappé taking the number three spot with an estimated $120 million in earnings for 2023.

While the majority of the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s earnings, $100 million, were classified as salary, he also has some lucrative endorsement deals with companies like Nike, Electronic Arts, Oakley, and more.

2. Lionel Messi

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe soccer player celebrating after making goal

Widely hailed as one of the best soccer players of all time, Lionel Messi took the number two spot on Forbes’ list. He made an estimated $130 million in 2023.

The soccer star, who recently signed with Inter Miami, made about $65 million from salary and another $65 million through endorsements. Messi has many partnerships with brands like Adidas, Gatorade, and PepsiCo. He also has his own clothing line and store.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo

Brocreative/Adobe soccer player playing at crowded stadium

Taking the number one spot on Forbes’ 2023 list is soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. The athlete, who recently signed with Saudi Arabia’s Al Nasar, took in a whopping $136 million in 2023.

Much of those earnings, $90 million, were from lucrative endorsements. Ronaldo has a lifetime deal with Nike and deals with companies like Altice and Therabody. He also has income from his CR7-branded clothes, accessories, gyms, and more.

Bottom line

Sara_P/Adobe athlete running on track practicing marathon

If these athlete earnings tell us anything, it’s how to supplement your income with side hustles (or side deals).

Even retired star athletes, like Serena Williams and Tom Brady, still made the Forbes list (in the 49th and 50th spots, respectively) due to lucrative endorsements.

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Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.

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