Professional athletes are far more than just competitors who attempt to win championships and titles. They are celebrities, and the very best of the best are beloved and also hated by millions upon millions of fans located all around the world. The men who are the highest paid athletes in the world, per the information that was released by Forbes in the spring of 2016, have done well to expand their names and their brands beyond the playing surfaces where they earned their statuses and their millions of dollars. Each of the individuals mentioned in this piece are businessmen who have been successful outside of the world of sports.
It should not surprise anybody reading this piece that the highest paid athletes in the world over the past year are the two greatest players in world football/soccer. That may not, however, always be the case, as National Basketball Association players are starting to catch up due to the salaries they earn from teams and also via the millions of dollars that they are able to make via endorsement contracts. With media rights deals and team salary caps increasing, we may not be all that far off from knowing that the highest paid athlete in the world is a player in the NBA.
10 Kobe Bryant: $50 Million
The days of Kobe Bryant being mentioned among the highest paid athletes in the world are coming to an end. Bryant retired from the NBA after a pair of lackluster seasons, although he did give fans one last memorable performance before stepping off of the court a final time. “Black Mamba,” as he was known through the years, has a plethora of business endeavors to lean on, and Bryant has managed to make hundreds of millions of dollars during his legendary career. There was once a time where Bryant was thought to be the heir to the throne that belonged to Michael Jordan. Whether or not he met those expectations is a matter of opinion.
9 Jordan Spieth: $52.8 Million
Unlike the previously mentioned Kobe Bryant, Jordan Spieth will likely be on lists of the highest paid athletes in the world for years to come. Spieth's meltdown at The Masters is something that will be talked about long after 2016 fades away into the distance, but the 22-year-old has done well to pick himself up, dust himself off and remind those around the world that he is one of the best young golfers in the world today. Spieth is one of several players tasked with carrying the PGA into a post-Tiger Woods era, and he has thus far done a tremendous job.
8 Phil Mickelson: $52.9 Million
Golf fans and even casual viewers who only tune in to watch the “big” tournaments of any given season love Phil Mickelson. They love the “family man” perception that has hovered over Mickelson for decades. They love that Mickelson that not appear to be a super athlete and that he is seemingly relatable. Mickelson's likable personality has made him a dream for numerous companies who have done business with him over the years, and those relationships along with the prizes that he has won have earned him hundreds of millions of dollars.
7 Cam Newton: $53.1 Million
Is Cam Newton the next big star of the National Football League? Is he already the face of the NFL? Maybe not, if only because Newton has not yet won a Super Bowl championship. Newton and the Carolina Panthers came close this past February, but they were thwarted by the superior Denver Broncos. With that said, the starting quarterback of the Panthers has all of the tools to guide Carolina back to the final Sunday of a season. There is no question that Newton is talented, but we cannot help but ask: What will his touchdown celebration be in the fall of 2016?
6 Novak Djokovic: $55.8 Million
There was probably a time when those in charge of marketing men's tennis were wondering what would happen once Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were no longer at the tops of their games. No worries, as Novak Djokovic has done a spectacular job of filling any holes that may have been left by those two legends of the sport. Djokovic is not only the best overall tennis player in the world. He is also a personable star, one who has been known to go out of the way to sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans. The state of men's tennis is just fine with Djokovic leading the charge.
5 Kevin Durant: $56.2 Million
There will, in the future, likely come a time when current NBA players are able to own pieces of franchises. Players like Kevin Durant will be thanked for that right when that day arrives. Durant has not yet achieved that goal, but he has provided a blueprint for future players as it pertains to branching out and becoming businesses all on their own. One has to give Durant credit for being able to write his own ticket both this summer and in the future assuming that he puts pen to paper on a favorable contract. Given what we have seen from Durant, don't expect that he will make a bad business deal anytime soon.
4 Roger Federer: $67.8 Million
Roger Federer has had Michael Jordan as his guest during tennis tournaments. That right there says a lot about Federer's legacy and also about how much success he has achieved off of the court. The days of Federer being an iconic figure who is the greatest tennis player in the world are now a thing of the past, but Federer still has that special presence that causes fans to stop what they are doing whenever he enters a room or steps onto a court for a match. Enjoy watching Federer as much as you can, because he will be missed when he chooses to hang his racket up for good.
3 LeBron James: $77.2 Million
Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James will probably never have as many titles as Michael Jordan. That does not change the fact that James is the biggest superstar the league has had since Jordan; yes, James is an even bigger international star than Kobe Bryant. There have been numerous reports that James will be the star in a future Space Jam sequel. James has already played himself in a major movie, he has numerous endorsement deals, and he remains the best overall basketball player on the planet. The sky is the limit for James' earning potential over the next several years.
2 Lionel Messi: $81.4 Million
Lionel Messi is the face of world football for some, and not just because of the many extraordinary things he has done on the pitch during his career. Messi has been featured on multiple covers of FIFA video games that have made for the most-successful sports video game franchise the world has ever seen. Along with that, Messi has also been a star of numerous commercials and advertising campaigns. It also doesn't hurt that some consider Messi to be the greatest single player to ever wear a pair of boots. Messi could be an even bigger star if he were to one day play in the Premier League. We shall see.
1 Cristiano Ronaldo: $88 Million
Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi? It is the argument that will continue long after both men have retired as active players. As it pertains to making money over the past year, Ronaldo topped Messi this time around. Ronaldo is far more than arguably the best footballer of his generation. He is a spokesman, a model and a celebrity who draws massive crowds wherever he travels. Rumors continue to swirl that Ronaldo could one day make his way to North America and Major League Soccer in an attempt to expand his brand. That decision could ultimately be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.