Talent, determination, and strategic business acumen have propelled some athletes to the pinnacle of financial success. Beyond their salaries and winnings, endorsement deals, personal brands, and investments contribute to their wealth. From football fields to tennis courts, the top 10 richest athletes in the world have not only mastered their respective sports but also the art of monetizing their fame.
Richest Athletes in the World
Cristiano Ronaldo, born on February 5, 1985, in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, is synonymous with success in soccer. His journey began with Andorinha, where he played from 1992 to 1995, before moving on to Nacional and then Sporting CP’s youth academy.
At 16, he was promoted to Sporting’s first team, making his debut in the Primeira Liga in 2002. His exceptional talent caught the eye of Manchester United, and he signed with them in 2003. Ronaldo’s time at United marked his transformation into one of the world’s top players, winning his first Ballon d’Or at the age of 23.
During his career, Ronaldo has played for some of the most prestigious clubs in the world. After six successful years at Manchester United, he moved to Real Madrid in 2009 for a then-world record transfer fee of £80 million.
His time at Real Madrid was marked by numerous individual and team accolades, including four Champions League titles. In 2018, he joined Juventus, where he continued to shine, winning two Serie A titles. In 2021, he briefly returned to Manchester United before signing with Al Nassr in 2023.
Ronaldo’s financial success is as remarkable as his on-field achievements. Forbes ranked him the world’s highest-paid athlete in 2016, 2017, and 2023. His earnings have come from his lucrative club contracts, endorsement deals, and CR7 brand. In 2014, Time included him on their list of the 100 most influential people globally, reflecting his global appeal. He is the first footballer and the third sportsman to earn US$1 billion in his career.
His wealth is not just confined to his playing contracts. Ronaldo’s endorsement deals with some of the biggest brands in the world have contributed significantly to his fortune. His CR7 brand includes clothing, fragrances, and hotels, further adding to his wealth. His philanthropic efforts are also well-known, as he has donated millions to hospitals and charitable organizations.
Lionel Messi, born on June 24, 1987, in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina, is widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer players ever. Messi’s passion for soccer began early, playing with his older brothers and cousins. He joined local club Grandoli at four, where his father coached him. At six, Messi joined Newell’s Old Boys, where he scored almost 500 goals. However, his future was threatened when he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency at age 10. Messi relocated to Spain at age 13 to join Barcelona’s youth academy, La Masia, where he quickly rose through the ranks.
Messi’s professional career began with Barcelona, where he played for various youth teams before debuting for the senior team in 2003. He played for Barcelona’s C, B, and A teams, and his performance quickly caught the eye of the senior squad. Messi played for Barcelona from 2003 to 2021, scoring a record 474 goals in La Liga. After leaving Barcelona, he joined Paris Saint-Germain for two seasons, winning Ligue 1 twice. In July 2023, Messi joined the Major League Soccer club Inter Miami.
Lionel Messi’s earnings have been substantial throughout his career. He was the world’s highest-paid soccer player for five years between 2009 and 2014 and was ranked the world’s highest-paid athlete by Forbes in 2019 and 2022. Messi’s earnings come from his club contracts, including significant wages and buyout clauses. His contract with Barcelona in 2008 had an annual salary of €7.8 million, making him the club’s highest-paid player at the time.
In addition to his earnings from soccer, Messi has also made money through endorsements and sponsorships. He has endorsed the sportswear company Adidas since 2006, contributing to his income. In 2020, Messi became the second soccer player and second team sport athlete to surpass $1 billion in career earnings.
Kylian Mbappé, born on December 20, 1998, in Paris, France, is a name that resonates with soccer fans worldwide. Raised in Bondy, he began his senior club career in 2015 with Monaco, where he won the Ligue 1 title. At 18, he signed with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) for an astounding €180 million, making him the second-most-expensive player and the most expensive teenager ever. With PSG, he has won numerous titles, including five Ligue 1 titles, and has become the club’s all-time top goalscorer.
Mbappé’s journey through soccer clubs has been nothing short of spectacular. Starting his youth career at AS Bondy, he moved to Monaco’s youth team in 2013. His senior career began with Monaco, where he played from 2015 to 2018, before moving to PSG on loan and eventually making a permanent transfer. His time with PSG has been marked by incredible success, including domestic trebles and leading the club to its first-ever UEFA Champions League final in 2020.
Kylian Mbappé’s financial success is as impressive as his on-field performance. His transfer to PSG for €180 million set records, and his earnings have continued to soar. In 2023, he was ranked third on the Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid athletes. His contract extension with PSG until 2025 includes a monthly wage of £4 million, making him the highest-paid player in the world. Additionally, Mbappé and PSG reportedly secured a signing-on figure in the region of £100 million.
The young French superstar’s wealth is not just confined to his club earnings. His exceptional speed, dribbling abilities, and finishing have earned him numerous awards and endorsements. He has won the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award multiple times and has been named to prestigious teams such as the FIFA FIFPro World 11. His influence extends beyond the pitch, as he was named among Time’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2023.
LeBron James, born on December 30, 1984, in Akron, Ohio, is one of history’s most celebrated basketball players. Growing up, he faced struggles as his family moved from apartment to apartment in Akron’s seedier neighborhoods. He began playing organized basketball in the fifth grade and quickly showed immense talent.
LeBron played for St. Vincent–St. Mary High School, where the national media heavily touted him as a future NBA superstar. His all-around scoring, passing, athleticism, and playmaking abilities made him a standout player, and the Cleveland Cavaliers selected him as the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft.
LeBron’s NBA career started with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he played from 2003 to 2010. He then moved to the Miami Heat from 2010 to 2014, returned to the Cavaliers from 2014 to 2018, and has been with the Los Angeles Lakers since 2018. He has won four NBA championships with three teams (Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and Los Angeles Lakers). His playing style, leadership, and ability to deliver in crucial moments have made him a key player for every team he has played for.
LeBron’s financial success is as impressive as his on-court achievements. He is the first player in NBA history to accumulate $1 billion in earnings as an active player. This wealth has not only come from his salary as a player but also from numerous endorsement contracts. He has been featured in books, documentaries, and television commercials and has won 20 ESPY Awards. LeBron’s business acumen extends beyond endorsements; he has been a part-owner of Liverpool F.C. since 2011.
Off the court, LeBron has used his wealth and fame to contribute to his community significantly. He leads the LeBron James Family Foundation, which has opened an elementary school, housing complex, retail plaza, and medical center in Akron. His commitment to philanthropy and activism, combined with his unparalleled success in basketball, makes LeBron James a unique figure in the world of sports.
Santos Saúl Álvarez Barragán, famously known as Canelo Alvarez, was born on July 18, 1990, in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. The youngest of eight children, he grew up in a family with a strong boxing tradition, as all his brothers ventured into professional boxing. Canelo’s journey into the sport began at 13, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Rigoberto Álvarez. His nickname, “Canelo,” is the Spanish word for cinnamon, reflecting his hair color.
Canelo’s professional career took off quickly, winning numerous titles in various weight classes. He clinched the Jalisco Welterweight title in 2007 and the WBA Fedecentro Welterweight title in 2008. Over the years, he won and defended multiple titles, including the WBC Youth Welterweight, WBC Silver Light Middleweight, and WBO Light Middleweight. His bouts against renowned boxers like Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto, and Gennady Golovkin have been highlights of his career.
Canelo’s financial success is as impressive as his boxing record. In 2018, he signed a 5-year deal with ‘DAZN,’ a video streaming service worth $365 million, making it one of the most lucrative contracts in sports history. This deal allowed ‘DAZN’ to broadcast his next 11 fights in the U.S., replacing his expired contract with ‘HBO.’ His earnings from various title fights and endorsements have contributed to his substantial wealth.
Besides his earnings from boxing, Canelo has also made significant strides in promoting the sport in Mexico. In 2010, he established ‘Canelo Promotions,’ a company representing 40 boxers across Mexico as of 2013. His business acumen, combined with his success in the ring, has made him one of the wealthiest athletes and an influential figure in boxing. His dedication to the sport and entrepreneurial spirit have solidified his legacy inside and outside the ring.
Dustin Johnson was born on June 22, 1984, in Columbia, South Carolina, and currently resides in Jupiter, Florida. He attended Coastal Carolina University before turning professional in 2007. Johnson’s grandfather, Art Whisnant, was a prominent basketball player, and his younger brother Austin played guard for Charleston Southern University. Johnson’s passion for golf led him to form the Dustin Johnson Golf School and launch the Dustin Johnson Foundation in 2010, focusing on youth and college golf programs.
Johnson has played for various PGA TOUR events throughout his career, achieving 24 victories. His wins include the Turning Stone Resort Championship in 2008, the U.S. Open in 2016, and the Masters Tournament in 2020. He has also represented the United States in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup. Johnson’s international victories include the 2019 and 2021 Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers.
Johnson’s earnings have been substantial, with a career total of $75,417,837 as of 2023. His largest paycheck was $2,070,000 from the 2021 Masters Tournament. He has consistently ranked high in the FedExCup and the Official World Golf Rank. Johnson’s financial success also extends to his entrepreneurial endeavors, such as his golf school and foundation, contributing to his wealth.
Johnson’s financial achievements have surpassed $50 million in career prize money on the PGA Tour, and he is fifth on the all-time list. His earnings from endorsements, business ventures, and other off-course activities have further contributed to his wealth.
Phil Mickelson, born on June 16, 1970, in San Diego, California, began his golfing career at a young age. He won 34 San Diego Junior Golf Association titles and three NCAA individual championships at Arizona State University. Turning professional in 1992, Mickelson quickly made a name for himself, winning his first PGA Tour event in the same year.
Throughout his illustrious career, Mickelson has played exclusively on the PGA Tour. He has been a prominent figure in the golfing world, earning a reputation for his aggressive playing style and exceptional short game. His achievements include winning six major championships, including three Masters titles, and being part of 12 U.S. Ryder Cup teams.
Mickelson’s earnings from his golfing career are substantial. As of 2021, he has won over $94 million in prize money on the PGA Tour alone. His success on the course has also led to lucrative endorsement deals with companies like Callaway, Rolex, and KPMG. These endorsements have significantly contributed to his overall wealth.
Beyond his earnings from playing golf and endorsements, Mickelson has also been involved in various business ventures. He has invested in real estate, restaurants, and other enterprises, further diversifying his income. His estimated net worth is around $400 million, reflecting his success on and off the golf course.
Stephen Curry, born on March 14, 1988, in Akron, Ohio, is an iconic figure in basketball. His journey began with his father, Dell Curry, a former NBA player, who introduced him to the game. Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, Stephen played for various teams as a youth. His college career at Davidson College was marked by record-breaking performances, leading to his selection by the Golden State Warriors as the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft.
Curry has played exclusively for the Golden State Warriors throughout his professional career. His early years were promising, but the 2012–13 season marked a turning point. Along with Klay Thompson, the “Splash Brothers” became known for their perimeter scoring. Curry’s performances earned him various accolades, including being the leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game and breaking the NBA single-season three-point record. His contributions were instrumental in the Warriors’ playoff appearances and transformation into a title contender.
Stephen Curry’s financial success is a reflection of his on-court achievements. His initial four-year, $44 million contract extension with the Warriors was considered risky at the time but proved to be a wise investment. Curry’s value continued to rise, and his performances led to more lucrative contracts, endorsements, and business ventures. His MVP award in the 2014–15 season and contributions to the Warriors’ NBA championship further solidified his status as one of the game’s highest earners.
Curry’s wealth is not solely derived from his playing contracts. His brand endorsements, including a significant deal with Under Armour, have contributed substantially to his earnings. His influence extends beyond basketball, with investments in tech companies and participation in various philanthropic efforts.
Roger Federer was born in Basel, Switzerland, on August 8, 1981. He began playing tennis at a young age, showing immense promise and talent. Federer’s family supported his passion, and by age 11, he was among Switzerland’s Top 3 junior tennis players. His professional career began in 1998, and he quickly rose through the ranks, gaining international recognition.
Throughout his illustrious career, Federer has won 20 Grand Slam singles titles, including eight Wimbledon championships. His playing style, characterized by precision, elegance, and innovative shots, has earned him the nickname “The Maestro.” Federer’s rivalry with other tennis greats like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic has become legendary, contributing to some of the most memorable matches in tennis history.
Federer’s success on the court has translated into substantial financial gains. His career prize money exceeds $130 million, making him one of the highest-earning players in the sport’s history. Beyond his winnings, Federer has secured lucrative endorsement deals with brands like Rolex, Mercedes-Benz, and Uniqlo, contributing significantly to his income.
Federer’s financial acumen extends beyond tennis and endorsements. He has invested wisely in various business ventures and real estate, further augmenting his wealth. His estimated net worth is around $450 million, reflecting his prowess on the tennis court and his savvy off it. Federer’s philanthropic efforts, including the Roger Federer Foundation, demonstrate his commitment to using his wealth for positive impact.
Kevin Durant, born on September 29, 1988, in Washington, D.C., grew up playing basketball with dreams of making it big. His hard work and determination paid off when he was recruited by the University of Texas, where he played for one season before declaring for the NBA draft. Durant’s exceptional skills and performance in college earned him the second overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft.
During his illustrious NBA career, Durant has played for three major teams. He started with the Seattle SuperSonics, later the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he played until 2016. Afterward, he joined the Golden State Warriors and played there for three seasons, winning two NBA championships. In 2019, Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets. In 2023, he was traded to the Phoenix Suns.
Kevin Durant’s income indicates his exceptional skills and appeal in the market. His NBA contracts alone have earned him over $300 million. His deal with the Brooklyn Nets was worth $164 million over four years. Besides his playing contracts, Durant has also secured lucrative endorsement deals with companies like Nike, contributing significantly to his income.
Aside from his playing contracts and endorsements, Durant has achieved financial success through wise investments in technology companies and restaurants. His smart investment choices and business acumen have further increased his net worth, making him one of the wealthiest athletes in the world. His total estimated net worth is around $170 million, reflecting a career that’s as successful off the court as it is on it.
These athletes’ stories extend beyond their sporting achievements, reflecting financial mastery and entrepreneurial flair. Their field, court, and course success has been skillfully translated into economic prosperity, showcasing multifaceted excellence. Each has carved a unique path from global brands to community impact, leaving a lasting impression in sports and business.
Jason Butler is the owner of My Money Chronicles, a website where he discusses personal finance, side hustles, travel, and more. Jason is from Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from Savannah State University with his BA in Marketing. Jason has been featured in Forbes, Discover, and Investopedia.