Nearly every player on the Miami Heat’s roster took some sort of contract discount to play for the team. The idea, in addition to competing for championships, is that some of that money will be recouped in off-court earnings.
That certainly appears to be working out for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who combined to earn more than $54 million last year in endorsement income according to a study released this week by Forbes Magazine. The Heat stars, who are popular internationally and especially in China, make up about a third of the $155 million NBA players brought in last year in endorsement money.
James leads all American team sport athletes in off-court earnings with an estimated $42 million in endorsement earnings and Wade is fifth overall with $12 million, according to Forbes. Kobe Bryant is second behind James with $34 million earned.
Wade and James both have an expansive portfolio of sponsors. For James, he’s aligned with Coca-Cola, Samsung, Dunkin' Donuts, Beats headphones, Upper Deck and watchmaker Audemars Piguet. Wade has deals with Gatorade, McDavid, Hublot watches and several clothing lines.
But the vast majority of their money comes from their shoe deals. James has a nine-figure contract with Nike, and the deal he signed in 2009 enabled him to get a larger part of the profits from his signature shoes and apparel. Last year he had more than $300 million in sales, according to industry tracker SportsOneSource. His current LeBron XI shoe model has been a success, leading to sales surges that could bump up his earnings even more in 2014.
In 2012, Wade left Nike’s Jordan Brand and signed with Chinese shoemaker Li-Ning in a wide-ranging deal that got him some equity in the company. Wade’s shoes, which have gotten attention for their stylish designs, are not widely available in the United States, but the contract is still proving to be quite lucrative and is keeping him among the NBA’s highest earners.
“Dwyane has been focused on understanding the importance of recognizing opportunities and making decisions on what works for him,” said Henry Thomas, Wade’s agent who put together the groundbreaking deal with Li-Ning two years ago. “It’s been important to him to focus on opportunities that will endure beyond his playing career.”
The high profile and volume of national and international television appearances with the Heat have benefited James' and Wade’s teammates, as well. Chinese shoe company PEAK signed Shane Battier to a contract, and Mario Chalmers is the most prominent player in the league paid to wear Spalding’s basketball shoe. Udonis Haslem also has a deal with Li-Ning.