Sports athletes’ earnings have never been stronger. The top 25 of the world’s highest-paid athletes, as determined by Forbes, earn a combined income of $2.8 billion. The UFC, basketball, soccer, football, golf, tennis players, and race car drivers had take-home pay coming from a mix of income sources such as business ventures, advertising, and salaries, which made the highest-paid athletes a record high. Allowed to change- Year of establishment.
The National Football League (NFL) has the highest number of highly paid athletes, followed by the NBA with basketball players and soccer players with the highest paid athletes making up the top 3 sports. Here are the top 25 highest paid athletes of 2021.
1. Conor McGregor (UFC Fighter)
From plumber to the king of combat sports, McGregor, a mixed martial arts fighter since 2008, tops the list of highest-paid athletes for 2021. McGregor is a two-time UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) featherweight and lightweight double-champion. He raised $180 million, helping to increase his salary by selling his majority stake in Proper Number Twelve, an Irish whiskey distiller.
2. Lionel Messi (Soccer)
After seventeen seasons with FC Barcelona, Messi made a tearful departure when management could not meet his salary demands. The soccer icon ended the year with a net worth of $130 million. Messi has since signed with Paris-St. Germain. With after-tax salaries and bonuses of €25 million per year, we can expect Messi to continue to be a mainstay in the list of highest paid athletes for years to come.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Soccer)
With forty-seven goals in all competitions in 2021, this soccer sensation will bring home $120 million. 2021 was also a year of transition for Cristiano after leaving Italian football giant Juventus after three years for his former team, Manchester United. With the goal of overtaking Messi and achieving GOAT (Greatest of All Time) status, Cristiano will continue to be a sought-after player and one of the highest paid athletes globally.
4. Dak Prescott (Soccer)
Prescott, who has been with the Dallas Cowboys for five years, earned $107.5 million, making him the highest-paid athlete football player of the year. Thanks to a sizable signing bonus on his deal, Prescott makes more than football’s Superbowl champion quarterback superstars Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes.
5. LeBron James (basketball)
Los Angeles Lakers and 2020 NBA Champion, James had earnings of $96.5 million, making James the highest-paid athlete in the NBA. With twenty seasons under his belt, James’ career earnings recently topped $1 billion (before taxes, so he’s not quite a billionaire), making it a first for an NBA player.
6. Neymar (soccer)
Neymar, another powerhouse on the football field, brought in $95 million in 2021. Neymar was sidelined with injury for weeks in 2021 but remains a key player for Paris-Saint. Germain (PSG) has signed a contract extension until 2025. Neymar’s transfer from Barcelona to PSG is considered the most expensive at $263 million, placing him among the top 10 highest-paid athletes in the world.
7. Roger Federer (tennis)
Fedor, winner of twenty Grand Slam titles, one hundred and three Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) titles, and multiple record holder, brought in $90 million for the year. Pretty impressive, considering he was sidelined a year ago with two knee surgeries. Most of his earnings came from sponsorship in 2021, as he was away from court for most of the year.
8. Lewis Hamilton (race car driver)
Hamilton began his professional Formula One career in 2007. He won his first title in 2008 and became the youngest champion in the history of the sport. Seven-time Formula One World Champion car racer Hamilton earned $82 million. Hamilton is considered the most successful race car driver of all time, having won more races than anyone else in history.
9. Tom Brady (American Soccer)
At the age of forty-four and in his twentieth season, Brady is going stronger than ever, earning $76 million. Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 and brought home the Superbowl Championship (making it lucky number seven) a year later. Tom Brady has earned GOAT status, and after retiring and then retiring, he has almost secured his spot as one of the highest-paid athletes in the years to come.
10. Kevin Durant (basketball)
Durant rounds out the top ten of the highest paid athletes. Durant earned $75 million and signed a four-year, $198 million extension with the Brooklyn Nets in 2021. He has won two NBA championships, multiple awards and two Olympic gold medals. Furthermore, his off-the-court earnings exceed his salary with his partnerships with brands such as Footlocker and Nike.
11. Stephen Curry (basketball)
With an average of 32 points per game in the 2020-2021 season, Curry proved he is the greatest shooter in NBA history. He surpassed Ray Allen’s all-time 3-point lead and marked his 158th straight game with at least one 3-point basket. With an estimated $40 million in brand endorsements, Curry brought home $74.5 million for the year.
12. Naomi Osaka (tennis)
Osaka is the highest paid female athlete on the list and the only athlete to make it to the top twenty. Not only this, she is also the highest-paid female athlete of all time in history. At the age of 23, with four Grand Slam tennis titles and the defending champion for both the US Open and Australian Open, she had earned a whopping $60 million received for the year. Although Osaka withdrew from the French Open citing mental health issues, she remains as marketable as ever.
13. Tiger Woods (Golf)
The start of 2021 hasn’t been the best for Woods, who was involved in a single-vehicle accident in February. With more than two decades of experience in professional golf, Tiger Woods was able to hit balls at the driving range by November of the same year. Despite not playing much golf that year, his endorsements and other business ventures placed him on the list of highest-paid athletes with earnings of $60 million.
14. Russell Westbrook (basketball)
Westbrook is a point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2021 and is a nine-time NBA All-Star. Westbrook signed a four-year contract with the Lakers and has a ten-year deal (since 2017) for its shoe line with Nike’s Jordans brand. Westbrook took home the net worth of $59 million.
15. Patrick Mahomes (American football)
Considered one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Patrick Mahomes has taken the Kansas City Chiefs to four consecutive AFC championships and helped them win the Superbowl championship in 2020. Mahomes can be seen regularly in commercials for Head & Shoulders and Allstate, allowing him to pocket $54.4. million in annual earnings, making him one of the highest paid athletes in the world.
16. James Harden (basketball)
Widely recognized as one of the best shooting guard and leading scorer in the NBA, Harden was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in the 2020-21 season. The nine-time All-Star earned $51 million for the year, thanks to his salary and a thirteen-year deal with Adidas for $200 million.
17. David Bakhtiari (American football)
Bakhtiyari was drafted into the Green Bay Packers in 2013 as an offensive tackle. Bakhtiyari earned $47.5 million for the year. He recently agreed to a revised contract that gave him a huge signing bonus that would earn him millions for years to come.
18. Ronnie Stanley (American football)
After playing only one game in 2021, a football player and offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, Stanley brought home $47.5 million in earnings. Shortly after signing a massive contract extension in the middle of the 2020 season, Stanley suffered from two ankle surgeries that kept him off the field in 2021.
19. Giannis Antetokounmpo (basketball)
Antetokounmpo was born in Greece and has played the forward position for the basketball team Milwaukee Bucks since 2013. Antetokounmpo helped the Bucks bring home the NBA Championship in 2021. Another player with his own signature sneaker line received for this basketball star, Nike. Take-home salary of $47 million in annual income.
20. Dustin Johnson (golf)
Johnson is a professional golfer who has won two major championships: the 2016 US Open and the 2020 Masters Tournament. In the Masters tournament, Johnson had three Eagles in Round Two, a new record. He has also won six World Golf Championships. Johnson’s annual earnings were as high as $44.5 million, making him one of the highest paid athletes in the world.
21. Klay Thompson (basketball)
Thompson was included in the Golden State Warriors NBA team in 2011. Thompson is a three-time NBA Champion and a five-time All-Star. 2021 turned out to be the year of his comeback after being sidelined for two years due to a serious injury. Thompson also starred in the new Space Jam movie and inked a shoe deal with Chinese brand Anta, which helped bring in $44.5 million of her net worth.
22. Joy Bossa (American football)
Bossa has been a football player and outside linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers since 2016. He is the third bossa to play in the NFL; His father is a former NFL player, and his younger brother currently plays for the other team. Bossa signed a five-year $135 million extension with the Chargers in 2020, helping Bossa to net annual earnings of $44 million and securing a spot as one of the highest-paid athletes in the world.
23. Kyrie Irving (basketball)
Irving plays for the NBA team, the Brooklyn Nets. He won the NBA Championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers, was a seven-time All-Star, was voted Rookie of the Year in 2012, and is an Olympic gold medalist. Kyrie missed a few sports during the pandemic when she refused to receive the vaccine, but still managed to take home a whopping $44 million, which included salary from acting and voiceover work.
24. Jalen Ramsey (American football)
Ramsey plays the cornerback position for the Los Angeles Rams. He signed a contract extension with the Rams in 2020 for $105 million over five years, which at the time made him the highest-paid athlete as a defensive back in NFL history. Ramsey took home total annual earnings of $43.5 million.
25. Trent Williams (American Soccer)
Williams plays the offensive for the San Francisco 49ers. On March 23, 2021, Williams signed a six-year, $138.06 million contract extension with the 49ers, making him the highest-paid athlete as an offensive lineman in the NFL. CBS Sports named Williams Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2021. Williams’ net worth was $43.5 million.
world’s highest paid athletes
The combination of on-the-field salaries and off-the-field earnings from endorsements, partnerships, business ventures and side gigs has helped drive the earnings of the highest-paid athletes to record levels. Basketball players and soccer players make up the majority of the top twenty-five highest-paid athletes, followed by football, tennis, and golf. A racecar driver and a UFC fighter who took the top spot complete the list of the top twenty-five highest-paid athletes.