While a list of top-earners in NBA history has fascinating results, it is even more interesting when adjusting for inflation in those years.
Due to salary cap spikes and increased TV revenue, the most elite basketball players are making more money now than ever before. But how much farther does the dollar go now compared to lucrative deals signed in previous years? Our list, which accounts for inflation, shows some of the top earners of all-time are now just current massive deals but some with historical significance as well.
Below are the Top 25 players when adjusting for inflation from data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistic.
Career earnings: $143,666,581
Adjusted to inflation: $213,945,047
The longtime defensive stalwart collected big NBA paychecks for 18 seasons, though he never made the All-NBA 1st Team. However, he was a four-time winner of the Defensive Player of the Year Award. He also twice led the league in rebounding and had the most blocks in the NBA during four consecutive seasons. His salary peaked at $16.1 million in 2002-03 when he made the Finals with the New Jersey Nets, though was unable to play much due to injury. During the 2004-05 season, he made more total money ($19.5 million) than everyone in the NBA except Shaquille O’Neal ($27.9 million).
Career earnings: $187,079,273
Adjusted to inflation: $215,545,5700
The former No. 2 overall pick has long been one of the more reliable big men in the NBA. Despite his earnings giving him a spot on this list, Chandler has been an All-Star just once (2013) during his career thus far. The center is also an NBA champion (2011) and Defensive Player of the Year (2012) whose career field goal percentage ranks second-best in league history. He currently ranks Top 5 among active players for total blocks and rebounds recorded. But it is worth noting he never earned more than $14.6 million in a single season and this appearance is more a product of steady contracts than a particularly big deal.
Career earnings: $143,906,333
Adjusted to inflation: $215,551,783
When looking at all of the players who made this list, no one saw a larger percentage difference between their actual earnings and their contracts before inflation than Mourning. He is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year who had the most blocks in 1999 and 2000. The big man later went on to win a title with the Miami Heat in 2006. His most cumbersome deal was for a total of $105 million over seven years, beginning in 1996-97. At the time, that was the first time a contract exceeded $100 million in the history of professional sports. He was one of the three highest-paid basketball players in the NBA from 1999 until 2002.
Career earnings: $158,110,581
Adjusted to inflation: $216,342,931
Wallace is an NBA champion and four-time All-Star who still holds the record for most technical fouls (41) in a single season. His highest salary ($17 million) was in 2003-04. That season, Wallace was the fourth best-paid player in the NBA. He was acquired by the Atlanta Hawks around the trade deadline and played just one game for their squad before getting moved to the Detroit Pistons. Later that year, he would go on to win the NBA title. He played for the franchise until 2009 – when he signed a three-year deal with the Boston Celtics. Wallace retired after just one season in Boston, though he eventually came out of retirement in 2012 to sign a one-year deal with the New York Knicks.
Career earnings: $168,794,021
Adjusted to inflation: $216,734,473
O’Neal was a six-time All-Star who earned the honor every season from 2002 (when he also won NBA’s Most Improved Player) until 2007. Arguably his most notable year came in his 2003-04 campaign in which the Indiana Pacers had the best regular-season record in the NBA. By 2008-09, he was traded to the Toronto Raptors – where he played 41 games. He was traded again the following year, this time to Miami for the 2009-10 season. During that year, he was one of just three players in the league (joining Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady) making at least $23 million. He had brief stints with the Celtics, Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors at the end of his NBA Career. But he never played more than 55 total games with any of those teams.
Career earnings: $151,839,471
Adjusted to inflation: $219,023,989
Two-time NBA champion Juwan Howard had one of the most fascinating backstories with a contract in league history. Howard had entered the 1996 offseason as arguably the most attractive free agent available on the market after playing just two years for the Washington Bullets team that drafted him. The Heat hoped to re-sign Mourning and then add both Howard and Gary Payton – who opted to stay with the Seattle SuperSonics. Washington eventually offered $89 million over seven seasons while Miami ‘s final offer was $101 million over the same duration. But according to the league, the Heat violated salary cap rules and the contract was voided. He eventually agreed to a seven-year deal worth $105 million to remain with the Bullets. On the deal, Howard was one of the five highest-paid players in the NBA every year from 1999 until 2002. The big was traded to the Mavericks in 2001.
Career earnings: $199,499,205
Adjusted to inflation: $225,185,939
While he only once was one of the Top 10 highest-paid players in the league, the three-time NBA champion was the poster child of consistency for over a decade. He made the All-Star team each season between 2005 and 2016, taking home Finals MVP in 2006 and winning the scoring title in 2009. Back in 2010, he actually opted out of his deal with the Heat and accepted less money than he could have to help make room for LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Wade did the same in 2014, who earned $5 million less than Bosh did in the first season when James went back to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Career earnings: $184,351,259
Adjusted to inflation: $227,062,586
Carter heads into what is almost certainly his final NBA season as one of the highest-paid basketball players of all-time. The 1999 NBA Rookie of the Year and 2000 Slam Dunk Contest Champion agreed to a contract extension with the Toronto Raptors on August 5, 2001. It was a six-year deal worth $94 million. He was traded to the Nets in 2004 and in 2007, he agreed to a deal worth $61.8 million over four years. Those were his two biggest deals, though he has continued his career as a role player for several teams.
Career earnings: $199,124,765
Adjusted to inflation: $228,250,395
Randolph, who won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award in 2004, is a two-time All-Star. As a franchise cornerstone for the Portland Trail Blazers and then the Memphis Grizzlies, he collected at least $10 million each year between 2005-06 and 2018-19, though he did not step on the court at all last season as the Sacramento Kings favored their youth movement. He was then traded to the Dallas Mavericks, though he was waived just two days later and has not been signed since.
Career earnings: $184,356,410
Adjusted to inflation: $240,587,554
Allen is undeniably one of the best shooters in league history and was paid accordingly. He collected at least $10 million each season between 2000-01 and 2011-12, winning the Three-Point Shootout in 2001. He became a two-time NBA champion as well, hoisting the trophy in 2008 with the Celtics and in 2013 on the Heat. Fascinatingly, the guard reportedly declined a deal with Boston in 2012 that would have paid him $6 million annually for two seasons to instead play for Miami. The contract with the Heat was worth just a touch above $3 million a year, though he said he sought $9 million from the Celtics in negotiations.
Career earnings: $220,312,089
Adjusted to inflation: $241,243,408
The nine-time All-Star has led the NBA in assists four times and steals six times thus far in his career. After his rookie contract expired in 2009, Paul signed a five-year extension worth $68 million. He was eventually traded to the Clippers, where he would sign another five-year extension – this time worth $107 million. His most lucrative deal was the four-year deal he had with the Houston Rockets for $160 million over four years in 2018. Last season, the point guard made more money than everyone in the league except Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook. He is going to make $38.5 million in 2019 with $41.3 million in 2020 and $44.2 in 2021 (assuming he opts into the final year of his deal).
Career earnings: $200,708,312
Adjusted to inflation: $244,878,140
Pierce, a ten-time All-Star who won NBA Finals MVP in 2008, spent the majority of his career with the Celtics. After signing a rookie extension worth $79 million over six years, he helped lead Boston to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001. At the time, that was their first appearance in the playoffs in seven years. Pierce signed another extension with the franchise in 2006, the most lucrative average annual value of his career at $19.6 million. He agreed to another extension with the Celtics in 2010 but was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in 2013. He spent his final years in the NBA with the Clippers and the Washington Wizards.
Career earnings: $187,675,468
Adjusted to inflation: $249,815,341
During the 2008-09 season, he made more money than everyone except for Kevin Garnett. Even before adjusting for inflation, he is the second-highest-paid point guard of all-time. But when factoring inflation, he ranks ahead of everyone else who has ever played the position. Kidd, who won the NBA title with Mavericks in 2011, is a ten-time All-Star who led the league in assists five times during his playing career. He continued to collect checks after his playing career as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. He is now an assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Career earnings: $217,316,875
Adjusted to inflation: $249,983,199
Johnson played a key role for the Phoenix Suns early in his career but was underwhelmed by their offers to retain his services in the 2005 offseason. In fact, he told the organization not to match the $70 million offer sheet he signed with the Atlanta Hawks as a restricted free agent. He made his first All-Star team in 2007 and by 2010, his $123 million deal with the Hawks was briefly the highest in the league. The deal paid him such that by 2014-15, earning $23.2 million, he was the second-highest paid NBA player. In fact, even now, he is the second-highest-paid shooting guard of all-time.
Career earnings: $178,230,697
Adjusted to inflation: $253,151,354
Webber has one of the most unusual contract backstories in league history. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA 1993 draft and signed a fifteen-year deal with the Golden State Warriors that would pay him $74.4 million. The deal, signed before there was a rookie scale, reportedly required his representation to meet with the team three days a week for five weeks. The paperwork included a clause that allowed him to opt-out, which he did after just one year. Webber had to sign a one-year deal worth $2 million as part of the exit. But it ended up being a smart decision as he ended up making more than double the original contract with Golden State during the 14 years after his buyout. During the 2005-06 season, only Shaq ($20 million) earned more money than Webber ($19.1 million).
Career earnings: $219,784,441
Adjusted to inflation: $253,314,717
Gasol, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft after three strong seasons for FC Barcelona, is a two-time champion and six-time All-Star. Back in 2004, he signed a rookie extension in 2004 worth $86.5 million over six years. The big man was traded to the Lakers in 2008 and signed a three-year, $57 million extension with them in 2009. He made at least $10 million each season between 2005-06 and 2013-14 and then again between 2016-17 and 2018-19. After stints with the Chicago Bulls as well as the San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks, Gasol signed with the Portland Trail Blazers this offseason.
Career earnings: $233,478,229
Adjusted to inflation: $262,762,934
Anthony, drafted No. 3 overall in 2003, signed a five-year extension with the Denver Nuggets in 2006. In 2011, he was traded to the New York Knicks in and agreed to a three-year extension worth $65 million as part of the deal. He signed an impressive contract for $124 million over five years in 2014-15. The only players who made more than Anthony did in 2015-16 were LeBron and Kobe Bryant. The Oklahoma City Thunder acquired him in 2017, where he played just one season. The Atlanta Hawks paid out the rest of his contract in 2018, though he never played a game for the team. Anthony signed a one-year deal with the Rockets in 2018, though that experiment lasted just 10 games. He now remains a free agent with several NBA players speaking out in favor of signing the ten-time All-Star.
Career earnings: $238,067,152
Adjusted to inflation: $264,574,842
Howard, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NBA draft and an eight-time All-Star, is currently on a non-guaranteed deal with the Lakers. While he has struggled to find stability on a roster in recent years, the dominant big man was once one of the most coveted players in the league. His rookie extension in 2007 was for $83.2 million over five years and he won NBA Defensive Player of the Year in three consecutive seasons on that deal. Howard was traded to the Lakers for his first stint with the team in 2012, where he originally played just one season. His next notable contract was for $87.5 million over four years with the Rockets. Howard signed a $70.5 million deal over three years with the Hawks in 2016, though he was traded the following season. He signed a two-year deal with the Washington Wizards worth $10.9 million, though he played just nine games.
Career earnings: $242,110,053
Adjusted to inflation: $269,644,815
Bosh, a two-time NBA champion and eleven-time All-Star, had to retire early due to medical concerns. In 2006, he signed a three-year extension for $42.6 million with the Raptors. He was offered another extension in 2009, which he declined. The big man was part of a sign-and-trade with Toronto to the Heat, in which he surrendered $15 million over the terms of the deal to allow them to sign James and Wade. His final deal in 2015 was for $118 million over the course of five years but his last game was in February 2016.
Career earnings: $272,674,122
Adjusted to inflation: $303,039,711
James has been the highest-paid player in the NBA just once, which was in the 2016-17 season. While he has been near the top several other times, it’s particularly surprising to see he was in the pole spot on just one occasion considering he is a four-time MVP and arguably the greatest player of his generation. He has often taken less than the maximum earning potential at the time of signing each deal to have his free agency line up more with when he wanted to hit the open market. He could have signed a four-year deal in 2006 but instead accepted a three-year extension. James also opted out of his deals with the Cavaliers so he could sign new deals that would pay him more as the salary cap spiked.
Career earnings: $255,371,800
Adjusted to inflation: $304,198,519
According to Business Insider, 2007 MVP and 2011 champion Dirk Nowitzki surrendered somewhere around $197 million in order to help accommodate his Dallas Mavericks. Their research suggests he could have made up to $446 million had he not accepted team-friendly deals. Regardless of the discounts where the superstar did not sign up to the full max, Nowitzki was still paid handsomely. During the 2013-14 season, for example, Nowitzki only trailed Bryant ($30.4 million) for the highest-paid player in the NBA.
Career earnings: $245,964,351
Adjusted to inflation: $307,745,968
Five-time NBA champion and two-time MVP Tim Duncan hardly played for free. But like Nowitzki, he accepted less than market value twice to help the San Anontio Spurs assemble the best team possible. He first did this in 2013, cutting in his salary in half so the Spurs could make room for Danny Green as well as Boris Diaw and other free agents. Duncan also accepted less money than he could have in 2015 so that San Antonio could offer big man LaMarcus Aldridge a max deal. He signed a two-year deal worth $10.4 million rather than one that could have paid him $18 million to help his team bring in another big man.
Career earnings: $328,237,108
Adjusted to inflation: $400,241,994
It is no secret that 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant signed some of the most lucrative contracts in league history. The most shocking, of course, was the one his former agent Rob Pelinka (now the general manager of the Lakers) negotiated in 2013. Bryant, who had already torn his Achilles, signed a two-year extension worth $48 million. Bryant played just 101 games after the injury, meaning he earned nearly half a million dollars per appearance. Even before that, Bryant was the highest-paid player in the NBA each season between 2009 and 2016.
Career earnings: $292,198,327
Adjusted to inflation: $409,383,973
Former Orlando Magic superstar Shaquille O’Neal won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award in 1993 and then the scoring title in 1995. When the Orlando Sentinel ran a poll in 1996 asking if he was worth $115 million over seven years, 91 percent of the readers said no. O’Neal then signed a $120 million deal with the Lakers. The four-time champion earned at least $17 million per season each year between 1999-00 and 2009-10, playing for four teams in the process. O’Neal made more money than everyone else in the NBA during the 2009-10 season. He did the same twice more (2004-05 and 2005-06) earlier in his career as well.
Career earnings: $343,862,398
Adjusted to inflation: $445,769,453
When 2004 NBA MVP and 2008 NBA champion Kevin Garnett retired, he was the all-time leader in career earnings. He came into the league out of high school when rookie deals allowed players out of their contracts after just three years, so he was able to sign a six-year extension worth $126 million when he was just 21 years old. This led to the NBA instituting a cap on how much players could make, though his deal was already ensured. By the time he was 31 years old, he had already earned $180 million. Garnett led the league in salary between 2000-01 and 2003-04.