Basketball superstar LeBron James' career earnings are poised to eclipse the $1 billion mark after the four-time NBA most valuable player signed a four-year $154 million deal to join the Los Angeles Lakers, according to sports news site Bleacher Report.
Just two years ago, Forbes' Kurt Badenhausen reported James' net worth at $275 million, ranking No. 39 on the list of the 40 wealthiest entrepreneurs under the age of 40. James began his professional career at age 18, when he was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft. His most recent contract will mark his 16th NBA season, following another record-breaking season in which the athlete beat out Michael Jordan for the longest streak of games with at least 10 points scored. James, 33, has won three championships and is arguably the world's most famous living sports legend. Yet his reach spans beyond the arena of professional sports, with his success allowing him to become an actor, media mogul and cultural icon.
Endorsements Drive James' Wealth
LeBron's booming wealth, driven largely by his partnerships with brands such as Nike Inc. (NKE) and Sprite, owned by The Coca-Cola Company (KO), reflects the larger role that influencers take in the marketing of consumer goods. The basketball player's 10-figure career earnings can be attributed by roughly 65% to endorsements, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell. As of June 5, 2018, according to Forbes, James ranks 6th in the world for highest paid athletes. In one year alone, he made $33.5 million in salary/winnings and another $52 million in endorsement deals.
With traditional advertising on the downswing, major consumer giants have taken to celebrities, athletes and other high-profile individuals with presence across social media platforms such as Facebook Inc.'s (FB) Instagram, to leverage a higher return on investment (ROI) and boost customer engagement.
James has also entertained his own business ideas and ventures, such as his digital sports programming network Uninterrupted, production company SpringHill Entertainment and his investment in Blaze Pizza.
Meanwhile, many have called James the most socially and politically influential athlete since Muhammad Ali. With NBA league popularity at an all-time high, James has used his position to speak out about racial injustice and other political issues. (See also: Athletes Who Make More From Endorsements Than Sports.)