With years of dominance on the basketball court, his own brand of Nike trainers, numerous successful acting roles and partnerships with many of the world’s biggest brands, Michael Jordan is the National Basketball League’s most recognisable figure.
However, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James has given the billionaire basketballer a run for his money over the last 15 years, as he enjoyed his own spell of control in the NBA.
In that time, he has won three NBA Champion titles and two Olympic gold medals. Likewise, his personal haul includes four NBA Most Valuable Player awards, three NBA Finals MVP awards and one USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year award.
James is the Jordan of his time. As well as mirroring his success on the court, the Cavaliers star has built a similar empire away from sport. While not quite as big as the Nike Air brand, LeBron sneakers are now a thing, while Space Jam 2 (starring James) is supposedly in the works.
Across the three big social media networks, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, James has amassed a following of more than 100 million users.
According to sponsorship intelligence tool Hookit, James was the second most engaging athlete on social media in March 2018, generating 76.2 million interactions with fans. Only the world’s highest paid athlete, Cristiano Ronaldo, ranked higher.
LeBron James sponsorship deals
With such a large, engaged audience to target, James attracts his fair share of sponsors.
According to data provided by sports market intelligence company Sportcal, James has agreed 18 deals throughout his career.
The first came at the start of his career in 2003 when he signed a six year partnership with trading card company Upper Deck. That deal took James’ annual earnings from endorsements to $1 million annually. However, according to Forbes’ World’s Highest-Paid Athletes list, he now earns $55 million a year as the face of some of the world’s biggest brands.
McDonald’s – $22.5 million
Blaze Pizza – $3 million+
For an athlete, whose job it is to maintain peak physical condition, James spends much of his time promoting a lifestyle that is anything but healthy.
James first partnered with McDonald’s in 2010. Worth $4.5 million a year, this deal saw James star in the fast food chain’s 2010 Super Bowl television advert.
After the deal was confirmed, James said:
“McDonald’s and I make a great team. We share many of the same core values, including a commitment to excellence and giving back to the community.”
However, after five years as a McDonald’s ambassador, LeBron ditched the chain to focus on Blaze Pizza, an up-and-coming restaurant chain that he had invested $1 million in back in 2012.
In exchange for a 10% stake in the company, the basketball star agreed to star in Blaze Pizza content and promote it to his audience.
LeBron’s social media presence has helped to turned Blaze Pizza into the fastest growing food service business in US history according to industry consultancy Technomic. Between 2013 and 2017, Blaze Pizza grew from two locations to over 200. Likewise, LeBron’s initial investment has grown 25-fold according to ESPN.
Oh, he’s also worked with Dunkin’ Donuts to help the doughnut company to establish itself in Asia back in 2012.
Nike – $280 million+
Beats Electronics – $70 million+
James became only the second person in history to be handed a lifetime contract by sportswear giants Nike in 2015, following in the footsteps of his predecessor Jordan. Cristiano Ronaldo has since joined the club too.
James has been sponsored by Nike since 2003. However, the latest deal saw his annual earnings climb to $30 million. Their initial deal, which ran until 2010, was worth $12.9 million annually.
The player’s manager, Maverick Carter, previously told GQ that the deal could net him $1 billion in total.
Likewise, he has also netted more than $70 million from headphone maker Beats over the last decade. As one of the earliest adopters of the hugely-popular Beats brand, James has been earning $4 million annually since 2008 to endorse Beats’ products.
According to ESPN, the deal also landed James a minority stake in the brand which, when Apple completed a $3 billion acquisition in 2015, netted the sports star an additional $30 million.
LeBron James’ 18 sponsorship deals
Sponsorship vs sport: How does LeBron James earn the most?
James saw his earnings from sports climb steadily since 2012 according to Forbes’ World’s Highest Paid Athletes list. Earnings from his salary and sports-related winnings doubled from $13 million a year in 2012 to more than $30 million in 2017.
As things stand, James is currently the highest-earning basketball player, ahead of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, and the second-highest earning athlete across all sports. Once again, only Ronaldo sits ahead of him.
However, for sports-related earnings alone, James ranks 10th. Footballers Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Formula One drivers Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso and American footballers Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Fletcher Cox and Clayton Kershaw all made more in 2017 from their sports.
James is bumped up the list by his marketing appeal. According to Forbes, 64% of his earnings last year were from endorsement deals. The Cavaliers star has earned upwards of $40 million annually for each of the last six years, peaking at $55 million in 2017.
LeBron James net worth: How much has he made so far?
According to Sportcal data, James has earned at least $433 million from endorsement deals already in his career. With a lifetime deal with Nike and an ever-increasing fan base, that sum is certain to continue to climb.
James now shares the spotlight with players like Stephen Curry, but he remains the highest paid player in NBA history. His current deal, signed in 2016, is worth more than $100 million over three years.
While it’s impossible to calculate LeBron James’ exact net worth, we can say that he is one of the richest men in basketball and will only get richer in the coming years. Reports from other sources, including Bankrate and Celebrity Net Worth, estimate his fortune at around $400 million.