Stop the presses: athletes make a ton of money. This is what happens when you’re in the rarified genetic air of people who can do things that 99.9999 percent of the world’s population can’t. You get rewarded for it, and rightly so. In some sports, like baseball, where there’s no salary cap, salaries balloon like waistlines around Thanksgiving. Other leagues, like the NFL, have a hard cap — a number that a team’s salary absolutely cannot exceed, and players are paid accordingly to how much cap room the team can afford to give them.
The NBA falls somewhere in between. The league has what’s known as a soft cap, which means that while a team has a salary cap, they can go over it. A team that goes over the salary cap is subject to fees, penalties, and team-building restrictions, all of which are detailed in Larry Coon’s invaluable Salary Cap FAQ.
Further, because the NBA works in mysterious ways, here are some last names that won’t appear on this list: Durant. James. George. Paul. The reason? This list isn’t covering endorsements, the details of which aren’t usually public knowledge. Or shoe deals. This list is strictly focused on the contracts. All data is from HoopsHype.com.
7. Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard, current center for the Houston Rockets, short-term member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and former Orlando Magic superstar, is one of the best centers in the league. Accordingly, he’s getting paid a ton of money to do that. This year, Howard is in the first year of a four-year $88 million dollar deal with the Rockets that will pay him a little over $20.5 million this year, or about $250,000 a game. Howard famously left about $30 million on the table when he chose the Rockets over the Los Angeles Lakers, who were the only team that could’ve signed him to a five-year contract under the current collective bargaining agreement.
Howard, who’s deteriorating contract situation with the Lakers in 2013 and the Magic in the year prior to that became so pervasive in NBA discourse it was dubbed The Dwightmare, has finally locked in to a long-term deal with the Rockets that will pair him with fellow NBA star James Harden until at least 2016. Even though it’s a four year deal, Dwight’s contract does have a player option for the ’16-’17 season.
What does Dwight Howard spend his millions on? Until recently, it was candy. Lots, and lots, and lots of candy. The equivalent of “24 Hershey bars a day in the form of candy and soda.” While Dwight seems to have defeated his sugar addiction (which is, apparently, a real thing), it’s hard not to hope that at least some of his considerable salary is being spent on his own private Chocolate Factory, à la Willy Wonka.
6. Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson is the highest paid player on the ’13-’14 Brooklyn Nets, who are the highest paid team in NBA history. He’s set to make $21.4 million this season. Let that sink in for a minute, then realize that it’s not really Brooklyn’s fault.
Drafted by the Boston Celtics in 2001, Johnson was traded away by then-GM Rick Pitino to the Phoenix Suns halfway through his rookie season. Along with Steve Nash and A’Mare Stoudimire, Johnson was an integral part of the “7 Seconds or Less” Suns that finished with a 62-20 record in 2005. Unfortunately, Johnson’s relationship with Phonenix had soured to the point that he publicly asked owner, the notoriously tight-fisted Robert Sarver, not to match an offer from the Atlanta Hawks for $70 million over five years. They didn’t, and Johnson went east.
After performing well for Atlanta, the Hawks eventually offered Johnson a six-year, $120 million dollar extension on that contract in 2010. The next year, the NBA owners staged a lockout based in part on bloated player salaries, conveniently omitting the fact that they’re the ones who offer these salaries to the players. While Johnson has largely stayed out of the public eye when it comes to how he spends his money, we know he bought this behemoth in 2008.
5. Carmelo Anthony
Another reason for the 2011 NBA Lockout was the desire of the owners to limit a player’s power over where he could choose to play. The poster child for this was New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony, one of the four best Small Forwards in the game, spent the majority of the 2011-2012 season holding the Denver Nuggets hostage over his contract extension. After making it known around the league that ‘Melo wasn’t planning on signing a contract extension with any team except the New York Knicks, and making it privately clear to Denver that he would leave the Nuggets for the Knicks in free agency if they didn’t trade him, Denver was forced to deal with New York exclusively.
On the face of it, that would seem like a disadvantage for then-Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri, but Denver was able to turn the tables on the Knicks, signing Carmelo to a $60 million extension and trading him for what seemed to be half of the Knicks’s roster. Anthony will earn $21.4 million this year, and is expected to resign with New York in 2015. As for how he spends his money? Carmelo Anthony has a painting of himself in his New York apartment, and it is glorious.
4. Amar’e Stoudemire
Even with all of that, it’s Amar’e Stoudemire, not Carmelo Anthony, who resides as the highest paid player on the Knicks. STAT, who’s injury history is rich and varied, was the key cog in the Seven Seconds? Suns teams, and the STAT/Steve Nash high pick and roll terrorized opposing defenses from 2002, when he was drafted, until 2010, when the Knicks made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Amar’e has bad kness. Not like knees that ache in the morning when it’s going to rain, but knees that are so bad they force your five-year $100 million contract to be uninsured. The Suns had offered Stat a similar contract with a minutes kicker in order to fully guarantee the last two years. The Knicks did not, and they used their amnesty provision — a one-time get out of jail free card that allowed a team to waive a player, and his salary, off of their books as far as the salary cap was concerned — on point guard Chauncey Billups.
As a result, Amar’e will be paid $21.6 million to come off the bench occasionally. There’s nothing good about sports injuries, though, and it’s hard to blame STAT for taking the money. Hopefully, he can turn it around sometime in the near future, even if he’s already nowhere near his prime.
3. Gilbert Arenas
The third highest paid player in the NBA isn’t actually playing in the NBA. Gilbert Arenas hasn’t been on an NBA court since a largely unproductive stint at backup pointguard for the Grizzlies back in 2012, but he’s still making $22.3 million in NBA salary this year. Arenas, suspended from the NBA for an incident involving handguns in the Washington Wizards locker room, had lost a step — and his explosiveness — after knee injuries left him unable to play at his previous All-Star Level.
Since leaving the NBA, Arenas has played overseas, joining up with the Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball Association, a popular landing zone for players looking to continue playing professionally after the NBA is not the best fit. He has also had several strange social media encounters with friend and former NBA (and occasional rec league) teammate Nick Young.
As for how he spends his money? Well, Business Insider has some examples. Spoiler: sharks are expensive pets, and he has a massive shoe collection.
2. Dirk Nowitzki
Consider this a loyalty cheque. Dirk Nowitzki, centerpiece of the Dallas Mavericks almost since he was drafted in 1998 (by the Milwaukee Bucks, who then immediately traded him to Dallas), has been far and away the franchise’s best player since it joined the NBA in 1979, all respect to Detlef Schrempf. He’s a 12 time All-Star, the first European player to be a starting All-Star, and he’s looking at a salary of $22.7 million this year.
This is looking like the last hurrah for a big Dirk payday, though, as Nowitzki has been vocal about his willingness to take a paycut to help the Mavericks stay in title contention in 2014 and beyond. After the 2011 lockout, the penalties for staying above the luxury tax intensified, and a star with a massive contract became more of a burden than an asset when it came to building a title contender. To his credit, Nowitzki had already taken one big pay cut with his current contract (which seems weird, as he’s second on this list) by signing for “only” $80 million over four years instead of a then-maximum $96 million. The Mavericks used the extra cap space to sign Tyson Chandler, who was instrumental in helping the Mavericks win a ring in 2012.
As for how he spends his money, no one knows. We do know that he did flee to Australia after a particularly tough playoff exit in 2007. Maybe he does that every year.
Since it couldn’t have been anyone else. Kobe Bean Bryant, with his typical strongheadedness, thinks that the idea of players taking less money in order to help the team is nonsense. He will make $30.4 million this season while spending most of it on the bench rehabbing a fractured knee. Kobe just signed a contract extension with the Lakers for an additional 48.5 million over two years, all but ensuring that he’ll retire in purple and gold. He’s not sorry about it.
As Bryant told Yahoo Sports back in November, “Most of us have aspirations for being businessmen when our playing careers are over, but that starts now. You have to be able to wear both hats. You can’t sit up there and say, ‘Well, I’m going to take substantially less because there’s public pressure, because all of a sudden, if you don’t take less, you don’t give a crap about winning. Meanwhile, the value of the organization goes through the roof off the backs of their quote, unquote selfless players.” All salary information courtesy of USA Today and HoopsHype.