Top 10 Most Expensive Contracts in NBA History

When the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expired in 2011, the league and the Player’s Association were unable to come to a new agreement before the season started. As a result, the NBA experienced its first lockout in over a decade. Aware of the massive amounts of revenue being forfeited by a suspension of play, both parties scrambled to get a deal done. A deal was eventually brokered, and after 161 days, the NBA returned for a 66-game season on December 25, 2011—a fitting holiday present for NBA fans everywhere.

One of the changes in the new CBA is the amount of money players get. Players now receive a lesser share of total revenue—49-50%, which is down from 2005’s 57%—and max contracts are less lucrative. Essentially, this means that NBA players can no longer sign MLB-sized contracts, but shorter, less expensive ones with the chance to “re-up” after several years. $100 million-plus contracts seem to belong to a bygone era. It seems apropos to ironically lament this reality—or in other words, too bad so sad, NBA players.

This list thus celebrates the years past of bloated NBA contracts, as it ranks the top 10 most expensive deals in NBA history. The intended duration of each contract has been listed along with the total dollar value. As this list will show, some teams were either willfully profligate or asleep at the wheel when they signed these contracts.

10 Chris Bosh - Miami Heat - $109,837,500 (2010-2016)

The 2010 NBA offseason was notable because of the big-name players who were free agents. Chris Bosh was one of them, as he averaged 24 points and 10.8 rebounds in 2009-2010 for the Toronto Raptors. Jilting Toronto for South Beach, Bosh signed a max contract to join Dwyane Wade and Lebron James. Though he has since been eclipsed by other big men in the league, Bosh has won two consecutive championships in Miami. This season, he is averaging 16.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, as his team looks to win its third championship in a row.

9 Lebron James - Miami Heat - $109,837,500 (2010-2016)

Like Bosh, Lebron James signed with Miami in the 2010 offseason. It is difficult to talk about James’ signing without mentioning his infamous line, “I am taking my talents to South Beach.” But jokes aside, Lebron James has played exceedingly well in Miami. His play has prompted more esteemed experts to argue that he might be the greatest player of all-time. He is averaging 26 points, 6.5 assists, and 6.9 rebounds per game this season, as he looks to corroborate those G.O.A.T. assertions.

8 Gilbert Arenas - Washington Wizards - $111 million (2008-2013)

Washington’s front office took a risk when it signed Gilbert Arenas to a massive contract in 2008. Arenas had only played in 13 games the previous season, but he had been stellar for Washington before injuries kept him off the court. Washington’s front office severely misfired with the contract, as Arenas never returned to form. He now plays in China.

7 Shaquille O’Neal - LA Lakers - $120 million (1996-2003)

Though Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Wilt Chamberlain still have their respective votaries, it is hard to argue that those players could have matched up with Shaquille O’Neal in his prime. When he signed his lucrative contract with Los Angeles, it was the most expensive in NBA history. The deal was a success, as Shaq led L.A. to three consecutive championships, and he never had a season with the Lakers where he averaged less than 21 points and 10 rebounds per game.

6 Tim Duncan - San Antonio Suprs - $122,007,704 (2003-2010)

Few fans remember that before signing his lucrative contract with San Antonio Tim Duncan seriously considered a move to Orlando. The prospect of playing with Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill would have been exciting for anyone. The uncertainty of keeping Duncan probably prompted San Antonio to offer him more money, but he was well worth the contract, as he led the team to championships in 2005 and 2007.

5 Chris Webber - Sacramento Kings - $122,718,750 (2001-2007)

Before entering the league, Chris Webber dazzled NBA scouts with this strong play against the US Dream Team—yes, the Dream Team. Once he entered the league, he continued his dominant play. Though he never won a championship, NBA fans continue to argue over whether or not the refs (the NBA?) robbed him and his Sacramento team of a trip to the finals 2002. In any case, Webber was well worth his contract until injuries hampered his effectiveness, and unfortunately, he was no longer playing in Sacramento when his contract ended.

4 Rashard Lewis - Orlando Magic - $126 million (2007-2013)

The Orlando Magic’s front office probably still regrets the contract they offered Rashard Lewis in 2007. He had played well in Seattle, but not well enough to merit the kind of money Orlando eventually threw at him. The worst part for Orlando is that his play steadily declined after signing the contract. He and his bloated salary moved from team to team before New Orleans capitalized on the NBA’s amnesty rule and expunged his contract from their books in 2012.

3 Kevin Garnett - Minnesota Timberwolves - $126,000,000 (1999-2005)

For many NBA fans, it was hard to watch Kevin Garnett during his years in Minnesota. Not that Garnett played poorly—he played exceptionally well, winning the MVP Award in 2004. However, Minnesota’s front office could never surround Garnett with championship-caliber talent, and the team repeatedly lost in the playoffs to powerhouse teams that had more complete rosters. So, though Garnett earned every cent of his lucrative contract, he won his first championship in Boston with fellow first-time winners, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

2 Jermaine O’Neal - Indiana Pacers - $126,558,000 (2003-2010)

After signing his lucrative contract with Indiana, Jermaine O’Neal had the best per-game averages of his career, but injuries continually kept him out of the lineup. He never returned to form, and his contract—not his play—made him an undesirable target for most teams. Playing for Miami when his mammoth contract expired, he was a shadow of his former all-NBA self. He continues to be a productive role-player, however, though he still suffers from nagging injuries.

1 Kobe Bryant - LA Lakers - $136,400,000 (2004-2011)

The contract that Kobe Bryant signed with Los Angeles in 2004 did not affect his desire to improve his game. In fact, Kobe had his best years during the contract’s duration, as he led the team to back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, and won the MVP Award in 2008. As Kobe’s career begins to wind down, Los Angeles’ front office continues to pay him handsomely, and few fans or experts will argue that he is not worth his salary. He will have his work cut out for him when he returns, if he still wants to win that Jordan-tying sixth championship.

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