The USA’s NBA is the most popular basketball league in the world drawing on talented players from across the globe. For international fans, the sport provides high-octane action with a simple set of rules. However, the sport also produces some of the world’s most famous athletes, like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant. Today’s top players still on the court include LeBron James and Steph Curry, who make millions more than their counterparts given their lucrative endorsements with brands like Nike.
But when it comes to salaries from the NBA alone, LeBron and Curry aren’t at the top of the list when it comes to the NBA’s most expensive signings. For hardcore basketball fans, this may come as a shock. From a sports pundit’s view, it may make more sense: talented players that carry a team are compensated at a much higher rate. Let’s take a look at the NBA’s biggest contracts from the past few years.
In June of 2019, Damien Lillard made headlines after extending his contract with the Trailblazers. This came after an original 2016 signing which saw the star point guard agree to a five-year term in Portland worth $139 million. The 2019 extension will see Lillard stick with the team until the 2024-25 season for an additional $196 million extension. With an overlap in his contractual agreements (2019 and 2020), Lillard’s total contract with the Trailblazers now totals $257 million for the 28-year-old.
This also makes his contract the most lucrative in the NBA’s history. Despite this, Lillard hasn’t delivered on an NBA Championship title since joining the Trailblazers in 2012. Though he’s helped guide the team to two division titles, the Portland team doesn’t feature highly on sites that offer NBA championship betting odds for the upcoming season. Pundits can’t wait to see what Lillard has up his sleeve now that he’s plenty motivated to turn the team’s odds.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
In December of 2020, the NBA’s sweetheart, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks (by way of Nigeria and Greece), signed on a massive five-year extension for the Wisconsin team. The extension will see Antetokounmpo stay with the Bucks until 2026. The contract extension, which will kick in this upcoming December, will be added on to his previous four-year $100 million-dollar deal from 2016. Much like Lillard, Antetokounmpo has benefited from extending his current contract for an additional $228.2 million. This puts the 26-year-old just below Lillard for the league’s most lucrative signings, with a total of $256 million for his remaining six seasons with the Bucks.
3. Russell Westbrook
Unlike Lillard and Antetokounmpo, Westbrook represents one of the NBA’s most seasoned talents. The 32-year-old point guard moonlighted with the Houston Rockets for a single season before signing with the Washington Wizards in December 2020. The new contract will see the Wizards take control of a contract Westbrook had signed with the Oklahoma Thunder in 2017. The 2017 contract saw Westbrook agree to $205 million, which is now being added to his contract with the Wizards for a total of $233 million in salary over the next six years.
4. James Harden
Harden has a reputation in the league. Like Westbrook, he’s a seasoned player with ample talent. However, rumors abound regarding Harden’s unmanageable style from a staffing point of view. Even so, it hasn’t affected his ability to take home millions. When he signed an extension with the Houston Rockets in 2017, Harden made headlines for surpassing the league’s largest contract signing.
The deal saw Harden take home $228 million over six years, which is set to expire in 2023. However, Harden most recently made headlines after being traded to the Brooklyn Nets in January 2021. Given the complex trade agreements between the Rockets and the Nets, which includes a range of other trades from top players, it seems Harden’s original contract in Houston won’t be altered during his move to the Big Apple.