The NBA’s Top-10 Endorsement Earners

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Through several weeks of NBA Bubble isolation, we’ve seen the players’ performance on social media at its offseason best. From powerful social activism to effective partner promotions, NBA players continue to set the standard for success on social.

More and more, it’s clear that an athlete’s social media performance is a powerful indicator of endorsement value. While on-field performance and championship-level exposure best inform who will earn endorsement dollars, social media presence is quickly catching up as a leading indicator. It is a true reflection of both performance and popularity.

It comes as no surprise then that the NBA is the best-represented North American league sport in terms of athlete income from endorsements on Forbes’ annual World’s Highest Paid Athletes report. 

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2020 NBA Endorsement Leaders

LeBron leads the way

LeBron James leads tops the list of NBA endorsement earners. At $60 million in 2020 endorsement income, James ranks as the second-highest endorsement earning athlete, tied with Tiger Woods, and trailing only Roger Federer who brought in $100 million. 

Zion’s youth movement

At age 20, Zion Williamson is the youngest player to make the Highest-Paid Athletes list. After leaving Duke, Williamson signed a blockbuster shoe and apparel with Nike’s Jordan Brand for a reported $13 million per year. Additional endorsement deals with Gatorade, 2K, Panini, and others have set Williamson up to earn a reported $20 million in endorsement income in 2020.

Golden State connection

Golden State’s Steph Curry ($44 million) and Klay Thompson ($14 million) come in at second and tenth among NBA players, respectively.  Kevin Durant, who played for the Warriors from 2016-2019, registered the third-most ($35 million) in endorsement earnings. While the trio’s championship and MVP-worthy performances play a large role, it’s hard to overstate the significance of the Warriors’ sustained run of success and playoff exposure in maximizing endorsement value for the players.

Small market success

The attraction of large media markets for free agents is a common point made by talking heads in sports media, as large markets presumably open doors for athletes to earn more endorsement opportunities.

However, three of the NBA’s top 10 endorsement earners — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zion Williamson, and Damian Lillard — all currently play in small-to-medium NBA markets. Additionally, Russell Westbrook had spent his career in Oklahoma City, the NBA’s smallest market, prior to joining the Houston Rockets this season. 

While massive media markets may offer an advantage for off-court earning potential, this list shows that on-court success and personal brand building impact player endorsement value far more than the size of their market alone. 

The NBA’s Top 10 Athlete Endorsers

LeBron James

Instagram Post Value: $1 million
Twitter Post Value: $829 thousand

Endorsement Earnings
$60 million

Stephen Curry

Instagram Post Value: $425 thousand
Twitter Post Value: $253 thousand

Endorsement Earnings
$44 million

Kevin Durant

Instagram Post Value: $147 thousand
Twitter Post Value: $322 thousand

Endorsement Earnings
$35 million

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Instagram Post Value: $133 thousand
Twitter Post Value: $22 thousand

Endorsement Earnings
$28 million

Russell Westbrook

Instagram Post Value: $218 thousand
Twitter Post Value: $119 thousand

Endorsement Earnings
$27 million

Zion Williamson

Instagram Post Value: $129 thousand
Twitter Post Value: $13 thousand

Endorsement Earnings
$20 million

James Harden

Instagram Post Value: N/A
Twitter Post Value: $126 thousand

Endorsement Earnings
$19 million

Kyrie Irving

Instagram Post Value: $182 thousand
Twitter Post Value: $78 thousand

Endorsement Earnings
$18 million

Damian Lillard

Instagram Post Value: $110 thousand
Twitter Post Value: $37 thousand

Endorsement Earnings
$14.5 million

Klay Thompson

Instagram Post Value: $102 thousand
Twitter Post Value: $24 thousand

Endorsement Earnings
$14 million

A Market Rate From Real Experience

Opendorse began facilitating social media endorsement opportunities with professional athletes in 2012. Thousands of paid opportunities have been published using our platform in the eight years that followed. These deals have involved thousands of athletes representing dozens of sports and leagues, with opportunities coming from brands ranging from the largest sponsors in sports to local businesses.

We have used nearly of decade of social media and payment data to establish a formula that offers a true market rate — an accurate assessment of what any given athlete can command for a single branded post.  

Value Per Post Calculation:

Estimated Value per Post is calculated using the cost per thousand followers (CPR), cost per engagement (CPE), and cost per thousand impressions (CPM) from thousands of paid posts published via Opendorse since 2012. 

The calculation factors in the athlete’s sport, status, current follower count, average engagement rate per post, impressions per post, and additional proprietary data points to provide an estimate of the dollar amount the athlete could command from sponsors in exchange for publishing one branded content post on their own social media channels.

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