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China-Backed LeBron James Tops Athlete Salary List with $127 Million in 2021

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LeBron James has come in at the top of Sportico’s list of highest-paid players for 2022. He was not just the highest-paid athlete, but it was also the highest annual earnings take of his career.

“The 18-time All-Star earned $127 million during the past 12 months from the Lakers and his expanding off-court empire,” Sportico reported, adding, “It is the highest tally of his two-decade career and more than any other athlete on the planet.”

The Lakers were shut out of this year’s playoffs — and for the second year in a row — but that has not put a dent in James’s earnings. Instead, James raked it in with his rich shoe deals, deep ties to China, and TV and film deals.

James earned $41 million in salary as an NBA player, Sportico reported and ranked second in the NBA in scoring with 28.5 points a game in 2021-22. But that was the least of the windfall coming his way.

As far as sports go, along with his stake in the Boston Red Sox, James also has a stake in Liverpool, a soccer team in the English Premier League.

The Laker also earns millions from his Nike contract and his endorsement, deals with Walmart, GMC, AT&T, PepsiCo, and others. In addition, personal brands, including Calm, Ladder/Openfit, and Lobos 1707 tequila, all bring in rich returns.

Nike, of course, is heavily invested in the Chinese market and is said to have raked in upwards of $6 billion in China in just the last year. And as it happens, James is one of Nike’s biggest-selling names in the Chinese market.

Nike is listed among 83 international companies benefitting directly or indirectly from Chinese slave labor.


Protesters demonstrate against Chinese slave labor (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

James also fills his pockets with earnings from his 7-year-old media group, the SpringHill Company.

Almost all these deals lead back to China with the manufacturing of products being made by Chinese factories, to media projects earning millions from Chinese audiences.

With all these lucrative ties to the communist nation, it is no wonder that James refuses to criticize China for its genocidal human rights abuses.

Pro-Uyghur demonstrators rally against Chinese slave labor (OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty)

The other athletes at the top of Sportico’s list include Lionel Messi ($122 million), Cristiano Ronaldo ($115 million), Neymar ($103 million), and Canelo Albarez ($89 million).

Also in the top ten are Steph Curry at number six with $86.2 million, then Kevin Durant ($85.9 million), Roger Federer ($85.7 million), James Harden ($76 million), and Tiger Woods at number ten with $73.5 million.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Facebook at:, or Truth Social @WarnerToddHuston


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