Forbes Top 50 Highest-Paid Athletes Taught Us That Greek Freak’s Brand Is Booming, Women Are Still Underpaid and Saudi Money Is Changing Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a few years removed from his NBA championship (2021) and MVP seasons of 2018-19 and 2019-20. Injuries kept him from competing in these NBA playoffs with his new sidekick Damian Lillard as the Bucks were eliminated in the first round by the Indiana Pacers with the franchise player in street clothes nursing myriad injuries. 

Greek Freak Is No. 5 On Forbes’ 50 Highest-Paid Athlete List: LeBron No.4

Giannis’ off-court earnings are what has propelled him into the top tier. Per Forbes, the former back-to-back MVP pocketed $46 million from his deal with Milwaukee and $65 million coming from his various sponsorship deals with Nike, Amazon, Google, Meta, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Walt Disney, just to name a few. 

His absence didn’t affect his standing as one of the highest-paid athletes in the world for 2024. Giannis joins a very exclusive list led by soccer legend Cristiano Ronaldo who enjoys his second straight year atop the Forbes rich list. The 39-year-old earned $260 million in 2024, which mainly comes from his ridiculous contract with Saudi Arabia club Al-Nassr.

Golfer John Rahm is in second with $218 million worth of earnings, while Lionel Messi rounded out the top three with $135 million.

If you’re not familiar with Rahm, that’s because he’s also a recipient of the “new” Saudi money that has infiltrated American sports. 

Saudi Money Pushes Ronaldo and Rahm to The Top

According to the report, Rahm moved from 28th place on the 2023 list to second place in 2024, largely because of his deal with LIV Golf. The article mentions that the Spaniard reportedly signed for $350 million, although some media suggest the deal was more than $500 million.

Rahm is another of the athletes from American sports who have seen their pockets inflate after entering a league backed by Saudi money. 

LeBron James sits one spot above Giannis at No. 4. The King brought in $128.2 million in 2024 between his Lakers salary and many endorsement and side companies. 

The only other NBA players in the top 12 are Stephen Curry ($102 million, ninth) and Kevin Durant ($93.3 million, 12th)

Women Absent From Forbes Highest-Paid Athlete List For 2024

Interestingly enough, despite the rise of women’s sports Forbes didn’t have one female athlete listed in its Top 50. The Top 50 highest-paid athletes earned a combined total of $3.88 billion before taxes and fees.

Back in 2018 there were no women on the Top 100 list of highest paid athletes. That was the first time in more than eight years. Serena Williams made the list in 2017, but then took time off to have her baby in 2018. Naomi Osaka was caking before she took her hiatus, had a baby, faced great challenges in her relationship with rapper Cordae and fell off of the tennis map for a sec. CoCo Gauff is on her way, btu not there yet.

The cutoff for this year’s top 50 is $45.2 million, a 20 percent hike from the previous record in 2022. The NBA has the most players on the list of any sport at 19, while the NFL has 11 and global soccer comes in third with eight. 

Serena Williams was the only woman who made last year’s list, which marked her sixth appearance. But now that she’s retired, Williams is no longer eligible. 

Since 2012, only three other women have appeared on the list: fellow tennis players Maria Sharapova, Li Na, and the aforementioned Osaka. Many will argue that no women being on the list proves how deep the economic disparities in pay and endorsement opportunities are in men and women’s sports. 

“This year and last year have been phenomenal for women in sports,” Anjali Bal, associate professor of marketing at Babson College, told Forbes. “It’s just going to take time for the market to catch up with the fans.”

“It’s so unfair for people to say things like, ‘Well, women’s sports will never be viewed like men’s sports’ because we’ve never tried to give them equity in terms of distribution, in terms of pay, in terms of other things,” Bal continued. “Sponsors are driven by things like viewers. There’s no question about it.”

WNBA players are constantly pointing out these disparities and the Caitlin Clark Effect isn’t going to fix things overnight, although we are trending toward more women breaking into that exclusive financial group sooner rather than later.

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