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LeBron James Passes Cristiano Ronaldo On Forbes SportsMoney Index

By Chris Smith  / FORBES STAFF / February 15, 2017


The NBA has been remarkably successful in recent years, and it seems just about everyone with a stake in the action is cashing in. The average NBA team is now worth $1.4 billion, and the New York Knicks remain the league’s most valuable franchise at a whopping $3.3 billion, a 10% increase from a year ago. Players have also been growing richer off the flood of money entering the sport, and none moreso than LeBron James, who sits atop the throne as the game’s top-paid player with $86 million in earnings this season.

And the surging business of the NBA has caused quite the shake-up in the first-ever update to the Forbes SportsMoney Index. The SMI, which we debuted at the beginning of the month, ranks the 430 most powerful teams, athletes, brands and agencies in sports business. That ranking takes into account both financial power and relationships with others in the sports business world. With our new NBA data plugged in, the Knicks have moved up two spots to No. 11, and LeBron James receives a bump as well, passing Cristiano Ronaldo as the top athlete at No. 5 on the list.

James has greatly increased his income this year: He’s now making $86 million, which is up $9 million (or 12%) from last season. That makes him the world’s second-highest paid athlete behind only Ronaldo, who clocks in at $88 million. What pushes James past Ronaldo in the SMI, however, is that he has one of the most impressive collections of endorsements. His major partners include Nike, Coca-Cola (via Sprite) and Kia, and this year James has added two more with Intel and Verizon.

 Also moving up the SMI ranks is Kevin Durant, whose total earnings of $62.5 million are up more than $6 million from last season and make him the league’s second-highest paid player. That pushes Durant up to No. 21 in the SportsMoney Index, passing Carmelo Anthony, Drew Brees and Neymar (as well as ESPN, the Chicago Bulls and others among the non-athlete categories). He’s now the second-highest ranked NBA player. But Durant’s recent surge is nothing compared to that of his Warriors teammate Steph Curry.

Curry is now the NBA’s third-highest paid player with earnings of $47 million. Unlike most of the league’s top-paid stars, Curry makes the majority of his money ($35 million) from endorsements. The huge increase in earnings launches Curry from No. 113 to No. 49 on the SMI, putting him just one spot below Dwyane Wade.

On the team side, one of the biggest movers is Curry’s Golden State Warriors, which moved up 32 spots to No. 16 on the SMI. The Warriors have turned on-court dominance into financial success, and the franchise is now the third-most valuable NBA team, worth $2.6 billion. Thanks to relationships with the likes of Curry, Durant and sponsors that include Nike, American Express and BMW, the Warriors are now the second-highest ranked NBA team in the SMI behind only the Knicks.

Other teams moving upwards in the SMI include the Los Angeles Lakers (No. 27), Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 36) and Houston Rockets (No. 52). For more details on why they’ve been so successful, check out our story on NBA team valuations. And you can explore how our new NBA data has impacted the world of sports business – including boosts for player agencies, like James Harden’s Landmark Sports Agency and Russell Westbrook’s Wasserman Media Group, and NBA-associated brands like Samsung and BMW – by visiting the Forbes SportsMoney Index.

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