How Much Do NBA Players Make? Average Salary from 1990-2023

how much nba players make

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has evolved dramatically over the years, and so have the salaries of its players. From the early 1990s to the present day, the NBA has seen a meteoric rise in player earnings.

This article takes you on a journey through the evolution of NBA salaries, highlighting the key events and players that shaped the financial landscape of the league. Whether you’re a die-hard basketball fan or just curious about the economics of sports, this article offers valuable insights into the world of NBA salaries.

The Early 1990s: Setting the Stage


In the early 1990s, the NBA was still finding its footing as a major sports league. The league was dominated by legends like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. During this period, the average salary of an NBA player was around $1 million, which was considered substantial at the time. Magic Johnson made headlines in 1991 when he signed a contract worth $18 million over five years.

PLAYER 1990/91 1990/91(*)
Patrick Ewing $4,250,000 $9,694,547
Hot Rod Williams $3,785,000 $8,633,850
Hakeem Olajuwon $3,175,000 $7,242,397
Charles Barkley $2,900,000 $6,615,103
Chris Mullin $2,850,000 $6,501,049
Isiah Thomas $2,720,000 $6,204,510
Danny Ferry $2,640,000 $6,022,024
Michael Jordan $2,500,000 $5,702,675
Robert Parish $2,500,000 $5,702,675
Moses Malone $2,406,000 $5,488,254

The NBA’s popularity was on the rise, and with it, the financial stakes. The league began to secure lucrative television deals, which played a significant role in increasing revenues. These revenues, in turn, contributed to the gradual increase in player salaries. The early 1990s set the stage for the financial boom that was to follow in the NBA.

PLAYER 1992/93 1992/93(*)
David Robinson $5,720,000 $12,089,150
Michael Jordan $4,000,000 $8,453,951
Hot Rod Williams $3,786,000 $8,001,665
Vlade Divac $3,633,000 $7,678,301
Robert Parish $3,513,000 $7,424,682
Kevin McHale $3,500,000 $7,397,207
Dominique Wilkins $3,500,000 $7,397,207
Scottie Pippen $3,425,000 $7,238,695
Reggie Lewis $3,320,000 $7,016,779
Patrick Ewing $3,300,000 $6,974,509

The Mid-1990s: The Jordan Era

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan’s influence on the NBA during the mid-1990s was unparalleled. His on-court success and marketability off the court played a significant role in popularizing the NBA globally. In 1996, Jordan signed a one-year contract worth $30.14 million with the Chicago Bulls, which was a record at the time.

PLAYER 1995/96 1995/96(*)
Patrick Ewing $18,724,000 $36,381,161
Clyde Drexler $9,810,000 $19,061,055
David Robinson $7,700,000 $14,961,276
Chris Webber $7,000,000 $13,601,160
Joe Dumars $6,881,000 $13,369,940
Danny Manning $6,833,000 $13,276,675
A.C. Green $6,473,000 $12,577,187
Shaquille O’Neal $5,700,000 $11,075,230
Derrick Coleman $5,476,000 $10,639,993
Sean Elliott $5,333,000 $10,362,141

Comparatively, the average salaries in the NBA began to outpace those in other major sports leagues like the NFL and MLB. The global appeal of basketball, spearheaded by Jordan, was a major factor in this development. The mid-1990s marked a period where the NBA began to establish itself as a financial powerhouse in the world of sports.

PLAYER 1996/97 1996/97(*)
Michael Jordan $30,140,000 $56,993,066
Horace Grant $14,857,000 $28,093,762
Reggie Miller $11,250,000 $21,273,125
Shaquille O’Neal $10,714,000 $20,259,579
Gary Payton $10,212,000 $19,310,325
David Robinson $9,952,000 $18,818,679
Juwan Howard $9,750,000 $18,436,708
Hakeem Olajuwon $9,655,000 $18,257,068
Alonzo Mourning $9,380,000 $17,737,059
Dennis Rodman $9,000,000 $17,018,500

The Late 1990s: Lockout and Financial Crisis

The late 1990s were marked by the 1998-99 NBA lockout, which resulted from disputes between the players and the league over salary caps and revenue sharing. The lockout shortened the season to just 50 games and had a significant impact on player salaries, with many players receiving prorated paychecks.

PLAYER 1998/99 1998/99(*)
Patrick Ewing $18,500,000 $33,630,389
Shaquille O’Neal $15,000,000 $27,267,883
David Robinson $14,841,000 $26,978,843
Kevin Garnett $14,000,000 $25,450,024
Alonzo Mourning $13,130,000 $23,868,487
Juwan Howard $13,125,000 $23,859,398
Hakeem Olajuwon $12,943,000 $23,528,547
Derrick Coleman $12,267,000 $22,299,674
Dikembe Mutombo $11,218,000 $20,392,741
Scottie Pippen $11,000,000 $19,996,447
Jayson Williams $11,000,000 $19,996,447

Despite the lockout, the NBA recovered remarkably well. The late 1990s saw the emergence of players like Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, who carried the league into the new millennium. The league continued to grow in popularity, and player salaries began to rebound and increase.

The Early 2000s: The New Millennium


The early 2000s saw an influx of international players like Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobili, which further globalized the NBA. The league also secured massive television deals, including a $4.6 billion deal with ESPN and TNT in 2002, which had a direct impact on player salaries.

PLAYER 2001/02 2001/02(*)
Kevin Garnett $22,400,000 $37,288,575
Shaquille O’Neal $21,428,572 $35,671,469
Alonzo Mourning $18,754,800 $31,220,525
Juwan Howard $18,750,000 $31,212,535
Scottie Pippen $18,083,564 $30,103,140
Karl Malone $17,500,000 $29,131,699
Jayson Williams $15,125,000 $25,178,111
Rasheed Wallace $14,400,000 $23,971,226
Dikembe Mutombo $14,315,790 $23,831,045
Gary Payton $12,926,493 $21,518,326

Key contracts during this period included Kevin Garnett’s $126 million deal in 1999 and Allen Iverson’s $71 million contract in 1999. These contracts set new benchmarks for player earnings and signaled the NBA’s financial strength.

PLAYER 2002/03 2002/03(*)
Kevin Garnett $25,200,000 $41,506,599
Shaquille O’Neal $23,571,429 $38,824,200
Alonzo Mourning $20,629,800 $33,979,080
Juwan Howard $20,625,000 $33,971,174
Scottie Pippen $19,727,524 $32,492,953
Karl Malone $19,250,000 $31,706,429
Rasheed Wallace $16,200,000 $26,682,813
Dikembe Mutombo $16,105,264 $26,526,775
Chris Webber $14,343,750 $23,625,408
Allan Houston $14,343,750 $23,625,408

The Mid-2000s: The Age of Superstars


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The mid-2000s were defined by the rise of LeBron James and other superstars like Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. The impact of these superstars on average salaries was significant, as they became the faces of the league and commanded massive contracts.

PLAYER 2004/05 2004/05(*)
Shaquille O’Neal $27,696,430 $43,261,765
Dikembe Mutombo $19,485,719 $30,436,651
Chris Webber $17,531,250 $27,383,775
Allan Houston $17,531,250 $27,383,775
Kevin Garnett $16,000,000 $24,991,966
Jermaine O’Neal $14,796,000 $23,111,320
Jason Kidd $14,796,000 $23,111,320
Shareef Abdur-Rahim $14,625,000 $22,844,219
Allen Iverson $14,625,000 $22,844,219
Ray Allen $14,625,000 $22,844,219

In 2005, the NBA introduced the luxury tax aimed at ensuring competitive balance within the league. This tax penalized teams that exceeded a certain payroll threshold, but it also indirectly contributed to the rise in player salaries as teams were willing to pay the tax to secure top talent.

PLAYER 2005/06 2005/06(*)
Shaquille O’Neal $20,000,000 $30,468,997
Chris Webber $19,125,000 $29,135,978
Allan Houston $19,125,000 $29,135,978
Michael Finley $18,612,500 $28,355,210
Kevin Garnett $18,000,000 $27,422,097
Allen Iverson $16,453,125 $25,065,511
Stephon Marbury $16,453,125 $25,065,511
Jermaine O’Neal $16,440,000 $25,045,515
Jason Kidd $16,440,000 $25,045,515
Brian Grant $16,006,220 $24,384,673
Kobe Bryant $15,946,875 $24,294,264
Tim Duncan $15,845,156 $24,139,300

The Late 2000s: Economic Recession and its Effects

The 2008 economic recession had a profound impact on the NBA. Teams became more cautious with their spending, and some players took pay cuts to help their teams financially. The average salary, however, continued to grow, albeit at a slower pace.

PLAYER 2009/10 2009/10(*)
Tracy McGrady $23,239,562 $31,925,643
Kobe Bryant $23,034,375 $31,643,765
Jermaine O’Neal $23,016,000 $31,618,522
Tim Duncan $22,183,220 $30,474,480
Shaquille O’Neal $20,000,000 $27,475,254
Dirk Nowitzki $19,795,714 $27,194,613
Paul Pierce $19,795,712 $27,194,610
Rashard Lewis $18,876,000 $25,931,144
Ray Allen $18,776,860 $25,794,950
Michael Redd $17,040,000 $23,408,916

In 2011, another lockout occurred due to disagreements between the players and owners regarding the division of basketball-related income. The lockout resulted in a shortened season but also led to a new collective bargaining agreement that addressed salary issues and set the stage for future growth.

The Early 2010s: The Social Media Boom


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The early 2010s saw the rise of social media platforms, and the NBA was quick to embrace this new medium. Players like Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant became social media sensations, and this popularity translated into increased revenue for the league through sponsorships and advertising.

PLAYER 2011/12 2011/12(*)
Kobe Bryant $25,244,493 $33,139,086
Vince Carter $21,300,000 $27,961,050
Kevin Garnett $21,247,044 $27,891,534
Tim Duncan $21,164,619 $27,783,332
Rashard Lewis $21,136,631 $27,746,592
Gilbert Arenas $19,269,307 $25,295,308
Dirk Nowitzki $19,092,873 $25,063,699
Pau Gasol $18,714,150 $24,566,539
Carmelo Anthony $18,518,574 $24,309,802
Amare Stoudemire $18,217,705 $23,914,843

In 2016, the NBA experienced a salary cap spike due to a new television deal worth approximately $24 billion. This led to unprecedented contracts, with players like Mike Conley signing a then-record $153 million deal over five years.

PLAYER 2014/15 2014/15(*)
Kobe Bryant $23,500,000 $29,215,494
Joe Johnson $23,180,790 $28,818,648
Carmelo Anthony $22,458,401 $27,920,565
Amare Stoudemire $21,896,658 $27,222,199
Dwight Howard $21,436,271 $26,649,840
Chris Bosh $20,644,400 $25,665,376
LeBron James $20,644,400 $25,665,376
Chris Paul $20,068,563 $24,949,488
Kevin Durant $19,997,513 $24,861,158
Deron Williams $19,754,465 $24,558,998

The Late 2010s to Early 2020s: The Modern NBA

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The late 2010s and early 2020s have been characterized by the evolution of player roles and positions, with an emphasis on versatility and shooting. Players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Dončić have secured record-breaking contracts, with Giannis signing a supermax extension worth $228 million over five years in 2020.

PLAYER 2018/19 2018/19(*)
Stephen Curry $37,457,154 $44,045,441
Russell Westbrook $35,665,000 $41,938,067
LeBron James $35,654,150 $41,925,309
Chris Paul $35,654,150 $41,925,309
Kyle Lowry $32,700,000 $38,451,558
Blake Griffin $31,873,932 $37,480,194
Gordon Hayward $31,214,295 $36,704,534
James Harden $30,570,000 $35,946,915
Paul George $30,560,700 $35,935,979
Mike Conley $30,521,115 $35,889,432

However, the COVID-19 pandemic also had a significant impact on the NBA’s finances. The league had to adapt to new realities, including playing games without fans and in a bubble environment. Despite these challenges, the NBA has shown resilience, and player salaries continue to be on an upward trajectory.

PLAYER 2020/21 2020/21(*)
Stephen Curry $43,006,362 $49,431,367
Russell Westbrook $41,358,814 $47,537,680
Chris Paul $41,358,814 $47,537,680
John Wall $41,254,920 $47,418,265
James Harden $41,254,920 $47,418,265
Kevin Durant $40,108,950 $46,101,091
LeBron James $39,219,566 $45,078,836
Paul George $35,450,412 $40,746,583
Klay Thompson $35,361,360 $40,644,227
Mike Conley $34,502,132 $39,656,633

The Current Scenario: 2024


As of the 2022-23 season, the average salary of an NBA player is approximately $6.62 million, with the salary cap being $123,655,000. The highest-paid player is Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, earning $48,070,014 for the season. The median salary stands at $2,000,000. Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns holds the largest guarantee at $290,467,200.

PLAYER 2022/23
Stephen Curry $48,070,014
John Wall $47,345,760
Russell Westbrook $47,080,179
LeBron James $44,474,988
Kevin Durant $44,119,845
Bradley Beal $43,279,250
Paul George $42,492,492
Kawhi Leonard $42,492,492
Giannis Antetokounmpo $42,492,492
Damian Lillard $42,492,492

In 2024, the NBA is a global phenomenon. The league is more diverse than ever, with players from all over the world. The style of play has evolved, with a greater emphasis on three-point shooting and pace.

The Landscape of the NBA

In 2024, the NBA is a global phenomenon. The league is more diverse than ever, with players from all over the world. The style of play has evolved, with a greater emphasis on three-point shooting and pace.

The Highest Earners

Apart from Stephen Curry, players like Russell Westbrook and LeBron James are among the highest earners in the league. Their salaries are a combination of their playing contracts and various endorsements.

The Role of Endorsements and Personal Brands

Endorsements and personal brands play a significant role in the earnings of NBA players in 2024. Players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant have built business empires that extend beyond basketball, including production companies and investment portfolios.

Factors Contributing to Salary Growth

Television Contracts

The NBA’s TV contracts have brought in billions of dollars. For instance, in 2014, the NBA signed a nine-year, $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports. This influx of money has had a direct impact on player salaries, as a significant portion of it is allocated to them.

Globalization of the NBA

The NBA has become a global brand, with games being broadcast in over 200 countries. This international expansion has opened up new revenue streams through merchandise sales, international TV deals, and exhibition games.

Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)

The CBA, which is an agreement between the NBA and the players’ Association, has played a crucial role in ensuring that players receive a fair share of the revenues. For example, the CBA ensures that players receive between 49-51% of the league’s total basketball-related income.

The Future: Beyond 2024

Looking ahead, the NBA is likely to continue its upward trajectory. With the ongoing globalization of the sport, the introduction of new technologies, and the ever-increasing popularity of basketball, player salaries are expected to continue to rise.

Technological Innovations

Emerging technologies like virtual reality and blockchain could open up new revenue streams for the NBA. For instance, the NBA could sell virtual tickets for fans to watch games in VR, creating an immersive experience.

The Next Generation

As the next generation of players like Zion Williamson and Luka Dončić take center stage, they will likely command even larger salaries and endorsement deals, continuing the trend of increasing player earnings.

Closing Thoughts

The journey of NBA player salaries from 1990 to 2024 is a testament to the league’s growth and success. From the era of Michael Jordan to the current stars like Stephen Curry, the NBA has evolved into a global powerhouse.

With the continued global expansion of the NBA, technological innovations, and the evolution of the game, player salaries will continue to rise in the future. This reflects not just the popularity of the sport but also the value that these incredible athletes bring to the game and to fans around the world.

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