Americans have a particular relationship with money that seems potent. More than any other first world nation, the U.S. is driven by the acquisition of assets. It rules everything around us, like the Wu Tang Clan explained in 1993. Subsequently, our culture showers the most visibly great with the most visible bling.
Nike had $3.8 billion in endorsement commitments this last year, according to Forbes. Obviously, Nike doesn’t just deal with American athletes, but many of the most famous athletes are American, and a lot of them have deals that make them wear Nike shoes. Athletes exist in a constant state of competition. They’re hardwired into it — that’s why they make the personal sacrifices necessary in order to become professionals in the first place, because they’re determined to prove they are that good.
No one makes it into the highest level of pro sports by accident. Call it Jordan Syndrome. Call it whatever you want. These athletes are in competition off the clock, too, comparing incomes and outspending each other on the finer things in life. Here are the richest American athletes, with figures gathered from TheRichest.com, Forbes, and CelebrityNetWorth.
10. Shaquille O’Neal – $250 million
The Shaqtus. The Big Aristotle. The $250 million man. Shaquille O’Neal, the sixth all-time leading NBA scorer, four time NBA champion, and biggest personality in the sports universe, has managed to keep his finances in check beyond his 18-year basketball career.
A media presence who defies the word “big,” Shaq has made movies, video games, and rap records; he has been a member of TNT’s Emmy-winning Inside the NBA and, as of 2013, is a minority owner of the Sacramento Kings, a franchise that saw its championship hopes dashed by Shaq during his tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Shaq has never been shy about being flashy, and in 1993, well before he made his big money, he recorded this classic jam from his platinum album Shaq Diesel. It’s definitely, uh, a thing that Shaq did. It’s called “I’m Outstanding.” Again, this is from a platinum record. It sold one million copies back when people still bought CDs.
9. Jack Nicklaus – $280 million
Golf is not a cheap sport, so it makes sense that Jack Nicklaus — one of the best golfers of all time — shows up on this list. Holding down a record 18 career championships, the 74-year-old golfer has been a pro since 1961, raking in that athlete cash for over 50 years. He also wrote the seminal golf instruction manual Golf My Way, which was first published in 1974 and remains in print to this day.
Nicklaus was instrumental in the founding of IMG, the media company now based out of New York City. Along with Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Nicklaus was one of the first three athletes to sign with the management company, laying the groundwork for one of the most influential endorsement agencies in sports history.
With a speaking schedule and a full off-the-green slate of appearances and licensing fees, Nicklaus made a staggering $28 million a year as recently as 2012 — only one tenth of his estimated net worth. Nicklaus also founded Nicklaus Design, a design firm that crafts world-class golf courses. The legend has been involved with at least 290 of the 300+ courses designed by the group, per the company’s website.