When I got the idea for this list, I honestly thought that the richest athletes in Rio would pretty much consist of the US Men’s Basketball team. It is no surprise that NBA players make big money, but I was surprised to find that there were golfers, tennis players, track stars, soccer players, and a lone swimmer, all that make more than some of the US Men’s basketball team.
What is also surprising about this group of people is that there are athletes that make more who simply weren’t in the games. The first time I heard that neither LeBron nor Steph Curry were in the Olympics, I was shocked. Not only are they two of the highest paid players in the NBA, but they are two of the supposed best players in the game today. Where were they? Why are they not playing to help their country get another gold medal?
There’s something about the Olympics I have always loved. Sure it is one thing to be one of the greatest athletes in your own country, but to bring it to the world stage is another. Proving you’re one of the greatest athletes in the world is no small feat. Here is a list of some of the best, and certainly the highest paid athletes who were in the Rio games.
Kyrie Irving is best known for playing on the Cleveland Cavaliers alongside LeBron James. He was born in Melbourne, Australia, and moved to the United States when he was just two years old. Irving played only one season under Coach K at Duke, before he was the first round pick in 2011, where he was drafted to the Cavaliers.
Before getting asked to play for the USA in the 2016 games, he was asked to play for his birth nation of Australia for the 2012 games in London, but he declined, holding out for the US. It seems as though the wait will be worth it for Kyrie and the US team, having been one of the most dominant teams in these games. How does this twenty-four year old make this list? He has a shoe deal with Nike, and has done commercials with Pepsi, Footlocker, and the NBA 2K video game. If you are a basketball superstar and you have the endorsement deals, you’re going to make uber money.
I think of all the athletes who are dominant in their sports, Usain Bolt is probably the most likable. Despite the fact that he has been the biggest name in running for the past three Olympic games, he is still easily one of the most playful guys out there. He dances before his meets, he jokes around with the other guys, and he always shakes hands and congratulates people. The Jamaican superstar is just fun, plain and simple.
While watching the Olympics, they always mentioned when Bolt was about to take the track, and just how many people are in the stands, just to get a quick glimpse of him run - even though it is, at most, a couple of seconds. To be completely honest, I am surprised he isn’t higher on this list. I’m sure being a professional track athlete doesn’t pay all that well, but why doesn’t he have more endorsement deals? Seriously, with his charisma, I’m shocked he isn’t on every commercial.
The Philadelphia native is a first-time member of the US Men’s Basketball Team. After two years at Villanova, he was a first-round pick in the NBA in 2006 and went with the Memphis Grizzlies. Since then he has been traded from the Houston Rockets, to the Toronto Raptors, where he has called home since 2012. As a player, he is starting to find his own with the Raptors, being picked as an NBA all-star the past two seasons, and helping the Raptors make an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time.
When I think of the Raptors, I honestly think of Vince Carter and Drake watching games - I don’t think of an NBA powerhouse. But you never know, maybe Lowry will step it up this season. You have to imagine with how dominant the US Men’s Basketball team has been, each of those players would probably want to be just as dominant when they get back to the NBA.
If you don’t follow international golf, then you might not know who Sergio Garcia is and, if you do, well then you’ve known about this guy for a while. He turned pro in 1999, which was the year he became quite popular internationally after he came in second to Tiger Woods in the PGA Tour. Since ’99 he has had 9 PGA Tour wins, 11 European Tour wins, and 5 Asian Tour wins. And while he has been successful in his own right, he has never won any of golf’s major championships, while coming quite close.
He is the highest paid PGA Tour player without a major championship win. This is the first year since 1904 that golf has been in the Olympics, so to some golfers, this is quite the big deal. To others, they are focusing on different tours and tournaments. But, to me - and this is merely a personal opinion - I think the ultimate thing is to take gold in the Olympics.
Jose Calderon is a Spanish basketball player, who currently plays in the NBA. Before he made the trip over to the United States, Calderon started his professional career in Spain in 1998, at the age of 17. Most basketball players I knew at 17 would have been happy to play in college at any level, let alone play professionally. He played for three teams in Spain, until 2005, when the Toronto Raptors recruited him, where he played for seven years. Since 2013 he has been traded from the Pistons, to the Mavericks, to the Knicks, to just recently the Lakers.
He has two Olympic silver medals with Spain and a gold World Championship in 2006. He has been a member of the Spanish national team since 2002 and has played in World Championships, Euro Championships, and the Olympics with his countrymen. In Rio, they were able to secure the bronze against Lithuania.
Do I have to explain who Michael Phelps is? We all know that he is a Baltimore-born swimmer who has changed swimming, and the Olympics, forever. His first visit to the Olympics was back in 2000 in Sydney, at the age of 15. When I was 15 I didn’t even know how to do the butterfly - I was lucky I could swim more than one lap back then. Since his debut in 2000 he has won more Olympic gold medals than any other person (and some countries) and a handful of World Championships, and broken and rebroken world records.
This past May, his son Boomer Phelps was born and stole the hearts of millions while his father swam during the Olympics. Personally, I think it’s a little surprising that Phelps isn’t higher on this list. I guess swimming doesn’t rack in the big bucks like other sports. But his endorsements with Under Armor, Omega, Sol Republic Headphones, Master Spas, and more, are sure to help him pay the bills and then some.
If you missed the gold medal match between Brazil and Germany for men’s soccer, then you missed out on one of the most dramatic ends to a game I have ever seen. Neymar, while also being the captain of the Brazilian squad, shot the last penalty kick to beat Germany, bringing Brazil their very first gold medal in the sport.
He currently plays for Barcelona FC. When he was only 19 years old, he was named South American Footballer of the Year. In 2009, at the age of 17, he started his professional career with Santos FC. I don’t know about you, but when I was 17 it was a big deal when I got my license. But for Neymar, it seemed as if he was destined for soccer greatness before most of us even get to the height of our amateur athletic careers. He is easily one of the younger members on this list, and part of his financial success before the age of 25 has to do with the sponsorships and endorsement deals.
The older of the two Williams sisters, Venus, started her professional tennis career in 1994, at the age of 14. She was playing in professional tournaments before I even made the JV basketball team. A huge reason for how much these athletes have is due to how long they have been in their sports. Venus has been a prominent figure for longer than some of the US Gymnasts have been alive.
In 2002, Venus was ranked number 1 by the ATP, the first time an African-American female had done such a thing. Today she is ranked 6 in singles. Her accolades are long ranging, including 4 gold medals, already one silver in Rio, and over 40 titles. In 2002, one of her best years in tennis, she also became a licensed interior designer and founded V*Starr. As if one company outside of tennis wasn’t enough, she also has her own athletic clothing line that she started in 2007 - EleVen. Both of her companies serve as sponsors, along with Wilson and Jamba Juice.
Maybyner Rodney Hilário, better known as Nene (which means baby in Portuguese), was playing for the Brazilian team before they lost to Lithuania. The nickname Nene was due to being the youngest in his family, and friends growing up. Could you imagine calling the 6’11 Brazilian, baby? He was the first Brazilian ever to be a first round pick in the NBA. In 2008, while playing for the Denver Nuggets, he took a hiatus from basketball due to a cancer scare. Only three months after having the tumor removed, he returned to the court.
He has played for Denver, the Washington Wizards, and just recently got traded to the Houston Rockets. His long-standing career in the NBA is a good reason as to why he is on this list. Also, I wonder how much Brazil pays their athletes, especially while having home court advantage.
Andy Murray is one of the greatest tennis players currently, ranked number 2 by the ATP. Murray turned pro in 2005 when he was just 18. For most of us, this is a year away from graduating high school, maybe become freshmen in college, possibly get drunk for the first time - not become professional athletes.
Just a year after he turned pro, he became the number one ranked tennis player in Great Britain and number 42 in the world. He has 39 titles under his belt, is currently ranked number 2 by the ATP, and has two golds and one silver. One of those gold medals is one from Rio. In 2013, he ended the 77 year wait for a British male to win the Wimbledon championship. He is Great Britain’s shining star of an athlete - it’s no wonder that he was one of the highest paid athletes in Rio. His sponsorships include Under Armor, Jaguar, Head, and Standard Life.
Carmelo Anthony is one of the veterans on the US Men’s Basketball Team, holding two gold medals, and one bronze. Not many NBA players have been in as many Olympics as Anthony, but not many players have been in the game quite as long. Anthony spent one year in Syracuse in 2002, where he helped to bring them their very first NCAA title. He was the third overall pick in the NBA draft in 2003 to the Denver Nuggets. After seven seasons in Denver, he was traded to the Knicks.
While he is still considered one of the best players in the game, he has never won an NBA title. Maybe this is his reason for collecting so many gold medals at the Olympics (he is the first American male basketball player to ever have three gold medals). His endorsement deals include Air Jordans, Panini, Sands Las Vegas, SMS Audio, and Draft Kings.
Definitely the most well-known member of the US Men’s Basketball Team, Kevin Durant is, without a doubt, the highest paid member of that team. Even if you don’t watch the NBA, even if you don’t like basketball, I am sure you’ve heard Durant's name before. His professional career started after only one year of NCAA ball at Texas, when he was the number one draft pick in 2007.
While he has yet to win a title with the Oklahoma City Thunder, his highly publicized trade to the Golden State Warriors at the end of this past season has led fans and critics alike to believe that a title isn’t far away for Durant. He is also one of two US players who played in the 2008 games, and his veteran status on the team helped lead them to another gold this past week. His endorsements range from Nike, NBA2k16, Sprint, Panini, Sonic, Neff Wear, Orange Leaf, Sparking Ice, BBVA, and American Family Insurance.
I don’t think I realized just how much tennis players make before writing this list. But apparently, they make uber bucks. Rafael Nadal is one of the greatest tennis players currently, already donning a gold in Rio, and is currently ranked number 5 by the ATW. The Spanish tennis player also has the nickname “The King Of Clay” due to how successful he has been on the surface. I wonder if the Spanish pay extra for tennis players that are dominant on clay courts as opposed to hard ones? Well, you definitely don’t get paid chump change with a nickname like that.
His professional career spans fifteen years, starting in 2001. He started his career at the age of 15, before I even read The Great Gatsby in high school, just to put it in perspective. His sponsorships and endorsements range from Nike, Kia Motors, Babolat racquets, Tommy Hilfiger, and others. All of those endorsements add up, and he is taking home a good chunk of change.
This is one of the more surprising athletes on the list, especially for an American who rarely watches tennis. For those of you who totally understand tennis, and watch each and every grand slam, Wimbledon, and all of the opens, then this is probably no surprise to you. Novak is one of the most decorated athletes in the sport today and is ranked number one by the AWT. His professional career started in 2003 but wasn’t a real threat on the national stage until 2006. During that year Great Britain even tried to get Djokovic to move from Serbia, so that he could play for them instead. Personally, I feel like if a country is trying to persuade you into moving there and playing for them, you have made it as an athlete.
Beyond playing tennis, for a while at that, he has deals with Adidas, Uniqlo (which is a tennis clothing brand, for those of you like me who don’t play tennis), Head racquets, and you can even get a phone case with his logo on it. How do these athletes make all this money? It’s all about the merchandising.
This one shouldn’t be a shocker. Serena has been one of the most dominant athletes in her sport since the ‘90s. Her career started before most of us make varsity in high school, at the age of 14. And while it took a couple of years for her to be the powerhouse that we know her as today, don’t you think it’s pretty impressive that while most of us were learning about algebra, Serena was playing tennis against some of the top players in the world?
Under her belt, she has 21 grand slams, 69 singles titles, 6 US Open titles, 6 Wimbledon titles, 6 Australian Open titles, 22 doubles titles, 3 French Open titles, 2 mixed doubles titles, and 4 gold medals. Beyond that, she is one of the most decorated tennis players of all time - and she has probably been in her sport a decade longer than most of the athletes on this list. And while I am sure that tennis players rake in a good amount of money, it doesn’t hurt that she is constantly on Gatorade, Nike, and is sponsored by both Wilson and OPI. Who wouldn’t want one of the most decorated female athletes of all time as their spokesperson?