Professional basketball players have some of the highest incomes in the country. Due to the sport’s popularity and the team owner’s willingness to dish out handsome sums for talent, NBA players are greatly rewarded for their skills on the court. It comes as no surprise that they are paid well, but what may shock viewers are the discrepancies in salaries.

From 1999 to 2009, average NBA salaries were steadily increasing. In 2009, it became stagnant at around $5M per year. We used salaries from the NBA’s top 400 players to calculate the averages:

Average Salaries in NBA

The NBA’s top salaries tell a different story, however. According to Patricia Bender’s website, the highest salary in 1997 broke $30M. The largest annual salary paid was $33M – and that was 16 years ago! Both of these were earned by Michael Jordan. This figure is probably the highest annual salary ever paid to a US athlete, especially when considering inflation adjustments. The $30M mark was only breached a second time in 2014 by Kobe Bryant. However, due to inflation, $33M in 1998 would approximate to $48M by 2014 figures.

Top Salaries in NBA

Despite being the highest paid NBA athlete in 1997 and 1998, Michael Jordan has only been the highest paid annual player twice. In fact, he is not even in the top three in annual earnings. Kevin Garnett holds that title with 7 years won. Kobe Bryant, who achieved it for 4 years, is the second highest annual earner. Third place goes to both Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal, who each achieved highest paid player three times.

Highest Earning Player Counts in NBA

We also examined the lifetime earnings of NBA players. According to what we found, Kevin Garnett still came out on top with over $315M for his lifetime salary. It’s important to note that these figures only account for salaries. They do not include endorsements, which can earn a player millions.

Lifetime Salary Earnings of Top 20 NBA Players

Despite being the record holder for top annual income in a single year, Michael Jordan’s total lifetime salary is only $87.76M. It is important to note, however, that Michael Jordan’s lifetime salary is only comprised of ten seasons, whereas Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal (the two top lifetime earners) played nineteen seasons each.

Lifetime Salary Earnings of Michael Jordan

Let’s compare salaries in the NBA to those of the MLB during the same period. We analyzed the top 400 salaries of ranked players in both leagues and calculated the annual average. In every year, the average salary for NBA players lagged behind those of players in the MLB. Also, since 2009 standard earnings have been stagnant for the NBA. MLB salaries have been increasing steadily.

Average Annual Salary NBA vs MLB

Top salaries paint a drastically different picture, however. NBA top salaries were higher than in the MLB during for 13 out of the 24 years analyzed. The highest salary to be awarded in the NBA went to Michael Jordan in 1998 for $33.14M. This is just above the highest paid player in the MLB. In 2009 and 2010, Alex Rodriguez earned the highest MLB salary with $33M for each year. This may not sound like much of a difference, but factoring in the inflation rates between 1998 and 2010 will show a large discrepancy between the two figures.

Top Annual Salary NBA vs MLB

Source Data: Patricia Bender’s Various Basketball Stuff Page