LeBron James first publicly expressed his desire to become a billionaire in a 2014 interview with GQ’s Jeanne Marie Laskas. “It’s my biggest milestone,” James said. “Obviously. I want to maximize my business. And if I happen to get it, if I happen to be a billion-dollar athlete, ho. Hip hip hooray! Oh, my God, I’m gonna be excited.” Well, according to Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes, it’s close to becoming a reality. He reports that James is expected to cross $1 billion in career earnings in 2021.
Whether that translates to a billion-dollar net worth, or if it already has, is uncertain, but considering James’ success as an investor and pitch man, it seems extremely likely. According to Badenhausen, James will earn a projected $95.4 million this season. Roughly $31.4 million of that will come from his on-court earnings as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. His contract itself calls for a $39.2 million salary, but players are expected to surrender 20 percent of their earnings to the league’s escrow system as the NBA grapples with the revenue lost without having fans in arenas. The remaining $64 million will come through endorsements.
James would become just the fifth active athlete to reach $1 billion in career earnings, joining Tiger Woods, Floyd Mayweather, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. That would make LeBron the first American team sport athlete to accomplish the feat, though Michael Jordan did so after his career. James has a lifetime deal with Nike reportedly worth in excess of $1 billion itself, and recently left Coca-Cola to sign a new endorsement contract with Pepsi.
A stated ambition of LeBron’s is to use his billions of dollars in career earnings to one day purchase an NBA team. If he is just now reaching the billion-dollar mark, though, he still has a bit of ground to cover if he’ll be able to do so. The least valuable NBA franchise, according to Forbes, is the Memphis Grizzlies at $1.3 billion. Were James to pursue his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, at their current valuation, he would need $1.56 billion. These are fluid and negotiable numbers, though, and James would likely seek outside investment if he planned to purchase a team. Jordan is the only former player to currently serve as governor and majority owner of an NBA team.
For now, though, James can rest easy knowing that he still has several years as a major earner ahead of him. His Lakers contract will pay him over $85 million in the two seasons following this one, and his power as an endorser should hold steady even after he retires. He is already one of the wealthiest athletes that has ever lived, and he’s only going to continue climbing that list as his career comes to a close.