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January 30, 2021

The NBA season tipped off last month and barely made it two weeks before the coronavirus wreaked havoc on the schedule. Twenty-two games have been postponed while others have taken place with thinned-out rosters. Critics have questioned playing hoops during a pandemic, but NBA players have three billion reasons to lace up their high-tops—that’s the payroll that the league’s 400-plus players will divvy up this season.

NBA salaries have skyrocketed over the past three decades, up tenfold to a pre-Covid-19 average of $9.5 million per player last season. The figure is more than double what baseball players make and three times the average in football. There were 44 NBA players scheduled to make at least $25 million in salary this season, compared with seven in MLB and 12 in the NFL (a coronavirus-induced salary cut will drop the NBA’s figure to 34). Credit the disparity to smaller rosters and soaring TV deals that trickle down to players. The gains occurred despite the NBA operating as the only one of the three sports with a cap on individual salaries, first implemented in 1999.

LeBron James is the NBA’s top-earning player for the seventh straight year, including off-court income (2016-17 was the only season of his career James had the highest playing salary). He’s expected to earn $95.4 million, including an estimated $64 million from endorsements, memorabilia and media. It is a record haul for an NBA player and the highest ever in American team sports. The historic year will push his career earnings to $1 billion, including $700 million off the court. He joins Tiger Woods, Floyd Mayweather, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in reaching the three-comma club while still an active athlete.

The four-time MVP’s salary with the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2020-21 season was set to be $39.2 million, but James and every other NBA player will have 20% of their pay placed in an escrow account to help balance the 50-50 split in leaguewide revenue, as defined by the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. Altogether, he will lose out on about $8 million and a chance to enter the rarefied club of athletes who have earned $100 million or more in a single year. The only other Americans to reach that peak as active athletes were Woods and Mayweather.

Read the full story on Forbes