The Top 25 Wealthiest Pro Athletes of All Time

How much money do you need? If you’re a pro athlete, you apparently need a lot. Athletes are considered entertainers, and in a world that loves to be entertained, they are paid well for doing their jobs. Some of the richest athletes of all time make tens of millions of dollars every year. Later, they can go on to sports administration, media or management jobs and protect their wealth. But how do you define “rich”? It’s a tough thing to do. Some people define it based on net worth, while others look at what someone pulls in each year. For pro athletes, that usually means their salary, plus winnings, endorsements and appearance fees. Sports Illustrated has made it fairly straightforward. Every year, the magazine puts out a list of wealthiest athletes, and in 2011, there are some really high earners on the list. These pro athletes are likely even to be wealthiest of all time, since what they’re paid keeps going up:

American Pro Athletes

Here are the wealthiest American pro athletes in 2011, according to Sports Illustrated. These guys are certainly earning very high salaries, but what really propels them to the top of the wealth heap are the endorsements. You might be surprised at what some of these athletes make by pimping out their good names.

  1. Tiger Woods: Even though Tiger Woods career appears to be suffering due to scandal and difficulty on the green, he is still among the wealthiest pro athletes in the world, bringing in almost $63 million in winnings and endorsements.
  2. Phil Mickelson: Golfer Phil Mickelson has plenty of money and, like Tiger Woods, most of his wealth comes from endorsements — and he has plenty of high-end endorsers, including Rolex, Callaways and Barclay Capital, bringing in a little more than $61 million total.
  3. Le Bron James: Everyone has heard of Le Bron James. This basketball star and prodigy sees double in endorsements what he his paid in salary. Total: $44.5 million.
  4. Peyton Manning: Interestingly, popular football player, and known nice guy, Peyton Manning actually makes more in salary each year than he does in endorsements. Even with his modest endorsements, though, he’s one of the wealthiest pro athletes ever, earning just of $38 million a year.
  5. Alex Rodriguez: The highest paid baseball player of all time is A-Rod, and he’s made this list of wealthiest athletes. It’s not surprising, since his salary is a huge $32 million. Indeed, he only earns $4 million in endorsements, bringing his yearly total to $36 million.
  6. Kobe Bryant: Even after all the scandals surrounding Kobe Bryant, he retains $10 million in endorsements each year. With his salary, the L.A. Lakers player makes $34.8 million a year.
  7. Kevin Garnett: He’s more than $300 million over the course of his career. And that’s not surprising, since Kevin Garnett makes more than $32.8 million annually.
  8. Matt Ryan: One of the lowest endorsement earners on the list, Falcons QB Matt Ryan makes up for it with a huge contract. So far he’s earning right around $32.7 million a year. But he’s due for a bonus that should boost his wealth.
  9. Tom Brady: Many people consider Tom Brady America’s golden boy after leading the Patriots to more than one Super Bowl win. As a result, it’s no surprise that he makes more than $30 million a year — a great deal of that owing to his four-year, $72 million contract extension.
  10. Dwight Howard: NBA star Dwight Howard rakes in about $28.6 million a year, and the amount is expected to go up next year. As the center of the Orlando Magic’s team, it is no surprise that he’s doing just fine.
  11. Dwayne Wade: As Le Bron James’ teammate, and fellow star, it is little surprise that D-Wade pulls down some major G’s. Indeed, he’s making $28.2 million, and living the high life in a huge mansion that is more expensive than James’.
  12. Sam Bradford: NFL player Sam Bradford was the subject of the biggest rookie deal in football history. For a novice, earning almost $27.3 million a year isn’t bad at all. Not bad at all.
  13. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Even though he’s slumping a bit, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is still a big earner, with almost $26.6 million in winnings and endorsements.

International Pro Athletes

These wealthy pro athletes from around the world have plenty of money to spare. They, too, receive money for endorsements, and some of them make even more than American athletes. You might be surprised at that tennis players and soccer players make more than American football and basketball players. Included on this portion of the list are athletes that might play in America, but their citizenship is in another country.

  1. Roger Federer: Tennis great Roger Federer is a sensation on and off court. SI estimates that he makes more than $52.7 million a year.
  2. Manny Pacquiao: Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao is also a politician. He’s won 10 world titles and weighs in with $52.5 million.
  3. Fernando Alonso: If you want plenty of endorsements, it helps to have a fast car to put them on. Spanish auto racing great Fernando Alonso brings in $45 million a year.
  4. Lionel Messi: Hailing from Argentina, Lionel Messi plays for FC Barcelona. The soccer player is proof that soccer is the world’s sport. He brings in $43.8 million annually.
  5. Cristiano Ronaldo: Another soccer great, Cristiano Ronaldo plays for Real Madrid (he’s from Portugal). His annual earnings, from salary and endorsements, are $38.8 million.
  6. Yao Ming: Many of us are so used to seeing Yao Ming play for the Rockets that we forget that he’s an international athlete — and a highly paid one at that. Ming brings in nearly $35.7 million a year. He’s just retired, though, so his income is likely to drop dramatically.
  7. Rafael Nadal: Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal is bringing in right around $31.5 million a year. Not shabby at all.
  8. Valentino Rossi: Motor racing star Valentino Rossi pulls in a cool $30 million a year.
  9. Wayne Rooney: It’s no surprise that Wayne Rooney makes $29.2 million a year. He plays for premier British soccer club Manchester United.
  10. Kaká: Brazilian soccer player Kaká plays for Real Madrid, and pulls down $27.3 million a year, making him quite wealthy.
  11. David Beckham: This Brit is one of the most celebrated soccer players of all time. David Beckham has moved to the U.S., and now plays for the L.A. Galaxy, bringing in $26.8 million.
  12. Ronaldinho: South American football is increasingly recognized for its excitement, and few players are more exciting than Ronaldinho. No wonder he makes $25.8 million.
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