Top Athletes Racked Up $4.5 Billion In The Last Year | LeBron James And Naomi Osaka Are The Top Brands Thanks To the Fans

(Twitter/HB)

Sportico has released its annual list of the top-100 highest paid athletes in the world. The list is made up of athletes across 10 sports who earned an estimated $4.5 billion in salary, prize money, and endorsement deals.

Lakers’ star LeBron James topped all male athletes with $127 million earned over the past 12 months. Four-time Grand Slam tennis champion Naomi Osaka leads all female athletes with $53.2 million.

International soccer stars Lionel Messi ($122 million) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($115 million) finished second and third.

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is the highest-ranking NFL player, coming in at 11th with $73.3 million.

Roger Federer ($85.7 million) and Tiger Woods ($73.5 million) came in at eighth and 10th respectively despite being inactive due to injuries over the last 12 months.

NBA players had the most representation on the top-100 list with 36 players. Stephen Curry ($86.2 million) and Kevin Durant ($85.9 million) were the next highest after James. They finished sixth and seventh, respectively.

Osaka finished first among women for the second consecutive year. She and tennis GOAT Serena Williams were the only women to finish in the top-100.

Neither woman played a lot of tennis in the last 12 months, so their earnings came from their myriad of sponsors, proving how marketable they are as lead women.

Making Moves

Osaka is now taking 100 percent control of her very lucrative off-court business. She is no longer represented by IMG and will instead launch her own sports agency, according to Yahoo.

The new agency will be called Evolve, and Osaka and her agent Stuart Duguid, who also left IMG, will hold equity stakes in the new firm.

“I’ve spent my career doing things my way, even when people told me that it wasn’t what was expected or traditional,” Osaka said. “Evolve is the natural next step in my journey as both an athlete and businesswoman, as well as a way to continue being myself and doing things my way.”

This is the 21st century and athletes are eliminating agencies and middlemen as they understand and know their worth and want equity whenever their name is attached to something.

Osaka is following in the footsteps of James, Federer, and Durant. All of whom have started their own enterprises to manage their many business interests.

“I’m excited to start this with my business partner Stuart and our plan is to use the same approach we took in building my businesses authentically and strategically as a vision for this company,” Osaka added. “I strongly believe in the power athletes have to use our platforms to drive meaningful business.”

Evolution is a part of life and it’s not a coincidence that Osaka’s agency is called Evolve. She is Gen Z and is a product of an interconnected world in a way previous athletes were not.

“We’ve moved away a bit from traditional endorsements and are focused more on true equity partnerships where we can add value, along with creating our own companies at the same time,” Duguid said in a phone interview. “This gives a platform to take bigger swings.”

Michael Jordan’s imprint with Nike, the Jordan Brand, still seen by many as the gold standard for athlete business was once rare. Now these types of equity partnerships will be commonplace, and there will be the next evolution to come.