The best thing about being a world-famous sports star is getting to do the very thing you love most and making a ton of cash from it in the process. Who wouldn't want to monetize their hobby like that? We have to say, it almost makes us a little jealous.
However, we're not too jealous - these sports heroes dedicate their whole lives to their profession and have to work ridiculously hard to become the best in their field. Not many people have that kind of motivation. Let's be real - most of us can't even get to the gym once a week!
Whether it's basketball, soccer, tennis, boxing, or golf, nobody can deny that becoming a sporting legend is very hard work. We suppose that's why they get paid so handsomely. Sit back and relax as we take you through the top 50 richest athletes and how much money they actually make.
In the world of soccer, teams will pay a lot of money for someone who can consistently score goals. They're the most valuable commodity in the sport. Historically, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored a lot of goals.
Adored and reviled in equal measure for his outspoken personality and his arrogance, and his habit of talking about himself in the third person, the Swedish striker has had a mercurial career which has seen him play for some of the biggest teams in the world. As a teenager he was offered a trial by Arsenal, but turned it down, saying "Zlatan doesn't do auditions!" Barcelona, Inter Milan, Paris Saint Germain and Manchester United have all benefited from his talents at various stages, and he's not done yet. Currently plying his trade for LA Galaxy in his mid-30s, the United States has only just found out what Ibrahimovic is all about.
Russian professional tennis player and model Maria Sharapova has an estimated net worth of $195 million in 2015. Sharapova made her professional breakthrough in 2004, at age 17, when she defeated two-time defending champion and Serena Williams in 2004 Wimbledon final to win her first Grand Slam singles title, becoming the 3rd youngest woman to win the Wimbledon title, behind Martina Hingis and Lottie Dod. Despite not having good record on court, Sharapova remains the top-earning female athlete in the world according to Forbes Magazine.
Sharapova's portfolio extends beyond tennis, she has been featured in several high-profile modeling assignments, like Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and in many advertisements with Nike, Prince and Canon, and as face of several fashion houses like Cole Haan. She renewed her Nike deal worth $70 million at the start of 2010 and it has been very lucrative for the number one as she receives royalties on her own line of apparel which was up 26% in 2010, as well as for her ballet flat which was the top selling shoe in 2010 at Cole Haan, a Nike subsidiary.
The first basketball player on our list, Kevin Garnett is a Minnesota Timberwolves legend. When he joined the Timberwolves, he did so right out of school, becoming the first player in over 20 years to make the draft without any other experience elsewhere. With multiple MVP and All Star accreditations to his name, the South Carolina native is also an Olympic Gold Medalist, having won with the United States in Beijing in 2008. His unusual pre-game warmup routines included repeatedly banging his head against a padded basketball stanchion.
Now retired from the sport, but still involved in the broadcast journalism aspect of the game, Garnett is trying to use his money intelligently to ensure his family are financially protected for life. In 2011 he made investments into the world of soccer, becoming a shareholder of Italian giants A.S. Roma.
It says a lot about just how successful Wayne Gretzky was as an ice hockey player when he still has so much money, so many years after retiring from the game. You don't get a nickname like "The Great One" without doing something to earn it, and Gretzky is widely considered to be the greatest hockey player of all time. No other player in history has managed to accumulate 200 points in a single season. Gretzky did it no less than four times. When he retired, they didn't just retire his famous number 99 jersey from his own team - the whole league followed suit.
After retiring, he went on to get involved with coaching the Canadian national hockey side, who won their first gold medal in 50 years with him among their management team in 2002. He remains involved in the sport at the business level, returning to his former club the Edmonton Oilers as a partner and vice chairman of their parent company.
You don't have to get out on the field or play a sport in order to make a lot of money from it - just ask Tony Hulman George. It's not true to say he never participated himself - he had a brief career as a racing driver, and although he wasn't bad, he never won any major races. He made a much larger impact on the racing world as a businessman.
Motor racing runs in his blood - George's father purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after the end of the Second World War. The ownership passed on to George, who expanded its usage with a view to increasing its revenue. At one point, the circuit was used for NASCAR, IROC and Formula 1 races, although only NASCAR settled there for the long term. After resigning from the company, he went on to form the Indycar Racing League, and was heavily involved in the short lived Indycar team Vision Racing.
We're moving between different sports a lot at the start of this list, and here's another one. Steve Young is the first former NFL player to make the grade, although looking at his high school figures, he could have chosen to go ahead with just about any sport he wanted to. At one point he was captain of the football, baseball and basketball teams at the same time. There's a certain allure to being an all star quarterback, though, and the chance to be exactly that won out for Young.
Young spent the bulk of his career at the San Francisco 49ers, where after a long wait to really establish himself as a regular first choice pick, he went on to become league MVP twice. Younger readers may not remember his playing career at all, though - he moved into doing commentary and analysis for football games after he retired and has been a regular face with ESPN on Monday Night Football.
Another name, and another different sport. This time, we're in the world of cricket, which is a sport that's never really taken off in America. In many other parts of the world - especially India, home of Sachin Tendulkar - it's the biggest sport there is. And Tendulkar is one of the very best ever to play the game.
Such is Tendulkar's skill as a batsman, his nickname within the sport is simply 'The Master'. By the time of his retirement, he had broken a number of all-time records, including being the first player in history to score over 14,000 career runs. With Tendulkar at the peak of his powers, India won the Cricket World Cup in 2011. His greatness was appreciated by fans of opposition teams - even the notoriously hostile Australian crowds greeted Tendulkar with warm applause whenever he played in their country. It was once a common sight at cricket grounds to see banners reading "Cricket is my religion, and Sachin is my God".
It's no secret that the NFL just isn't as big a deal in the rest of the world as it is in the United States. It's a uniquely American sport, and players who are huge stars here could probably walk the streets of most European countries without being recognized. There are some exceptions to that rule though - most people in America know who David Beckham is even if they've never watched a game of soccer, and most people in Europe know who Peyton Manning is even if they've never watched the NFL. He's transcended the sport.
A four-time NFL MVP, he's also won two Super Bowls and 14 Pro Bowl selections in a glittering career filled with major honors. Only the most bitter cynic would refuse to recognize him as one of the greatest quarterbacks who ever played. The Indianapolis Colts unveiled a statue of him outside their stadium in 2017, immortalizing Manning as a legend.
Golden Boy by name, Golden Boy by nature. Oscar De La Hoya has the bank balance to go with his auspicious nickname after a career of success both inside and outside the boxing ring. De La Hoya has the distinction of winning ten versions of the world championship across six different weight classes, beating larger men with his speed and smaller men with his power. Only the rise of Manny Pacquaio could stop him, and after tasting the Filipino's power in a 2008 loss, he decided his time as a competitor was over.
Wanting to stay in boxing, he's stayed focus on his Golden Boy Promotions company, which was originally created to promote his own fights, and has been involved in promoting some of the biggest matches in recent years. Ricky Hatton, Bernard Hopkins and Deontay Wilder have all fought under the Golden Boy banner. As of January 2017, they're partnered to work exclusively with ESPN, and bring the network a total of 48 fights in two years.
Tennis is a very difficult sport to earn money in. Only the very best players can earn a living out of it without sponsorship from elsewhere, and because it's an individual sport, there are only so many seats at the top table. Fortunately for Novak Djokovic, he's very good at tennis.
Playing in an era of tennis that's been dominated by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Djokovic has emerged as the new poster boy of the sport. Still in his prime in his early 30s, he's won the prestigious Wimbledon tournament four times to go with two US Opens, one French Open and an amazing six Australian Opens. With a charming and charismatic personality, Djokovic's good nature and ability to communicate in several languages has seen him appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. He also sells a range of nutritional food products under the brand name Djokolife.
John Madden is a bona fide legend of the NFL. He played in an era long before huge amounts of money began to circulate in the sport, and a serious injury ended his career before he ever really had chance to make his name out on the field. Undeterred, he learned the coaching side of the game instead, and achieved his peak success when he took the Oakland Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XI.
For most people reading this, though, it's his work as a commentator ('BOOM!') that's turned him into a legend. Madden spent thirty years as the voice of the sport across every major network, as both a color commentator and an analyst. It was in this capacity that video game company EA Sports approached him to license his name to promote their NFL games, and the endorsement has so far earned him in excess of $150m. By this point, he's better known for the games than via anything he did as a player, coach or commentator.
Jeff Gordon is pretty much "Mr. NASCAR". Across 23 seasons driving in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he's won everything there is to win, and broken records at every turn. He has more Cup wins in NASCAR's modern era than any other driver and has a NASCAR record of achieving at least one pole position in every season he drove in.
Gordon is still connected to the sport to this day, and even came out of retirement as recently as 2016 as an emergency substitute for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 2016 season. He lends his years of experience and expertise to Hendrick Motorsports - the team he drove for his entire career - as an executive, and he's also an announcer for FOX NASCAR. As much of $140m of his $200m fortune is believed to have come from prize money, and such is his knowledge of what makes a great race track that he was asked to design the Canadian Motor Speedway.
"The Dream". One half of the Twin Towers. The only player in history to win the NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP awards all inside the same season in the mid-1990s. It's the offensive players who claim all the glory, but Olajuwon was a wall in defense, and when he retired he was the league's all time block leader.
Born Nigerian, Olajuwon adopted American citizenship, which enabled him to play for the USA team in the 1996 Olympics, where he won a gold medal. Proud of his Muslim faith, it was noted that observing the fasting ceremony of Ramadan didn't seem to affect him at all, and indeed in 1995 he was named NBA Player of the Month for February despite observing fasting at the time. Beloved in the city of Houston for his sporting achievements, Olajuwon has built a property empire there, which makes sure his finances stay healthy in his retirement.
Not many basketball players spend their entire career playing for the same team, but "The Admiral" did. David Robinson took his nickname from his military service prior to becoming a professional player and ran the center of the court for the San Antonio Spurs for fourteen whole years. He's widely regarded as being one of the greatest centers in NBA history.
Robinson has enjoyed huge success in business since retiring from the sport, forming the Admiral Capital Group in 2008, with the idea of investing in ideas and business that will provide not only financial returns, but social ones as well. The company has a portfolio worth over $100m and includes the world leading hospitality brand Centerplate. He also created and paid for the Carver Academy, a private school focused on developing and providing opportunity for inner city children in the San Antonio area.
Dave Whelan would probably be an even richer man if it wasn't for his passionate love of soccer. He started out life as a soccer player, in the 1950s and 1960s, enjoying a degree of success and famously breaking his leg during the 1960 FA Cup Final. He used the money he earned wisely and started a chain of supermarkets called Whelan's Discount Stores and retired early from playing to concentrate on developing these.
By the mid-1990s he was the chairman of a very successful chain of sports stores in Britain, but the soccer bug bit him, and he purchased Wigan Athletic Football Club, who at the time were playing in the lower leagues of English football. Whelan invested heavily in new players, better facilities and a new stadium, and his input was rewarded when Wigan were promoted up through the rankings, eventually reaching the lucrative English Premier League in 2005.
The little-known Paul Caddick was, for a time, a star of rugby in England. For those of you who don't know what rugby is, picture an NFL game and then imagine the players without the padding. If you think that looks like it would hurt, you're right. Injury forced Caddick to retire from playing the game in 1980, but his involvement in the sport would continue.
He'd trained as a civil engineer even before he stopped playing rugby and opened his own engineering firm shortly after retiring. Fast forward thirty years, and that firm is now one of the largest in its sector in the whole of the United Kingdom. Caddick, like Dave Whelan, decided to invest the profits of his success back into the sport he loves, and purchased the Leeds Rhinos rugby team in 1997. With his financial backing, they finally ended their 32-year championship drought by winning the 2004 Super League Final.
You'd like to think that if you were willing to strap yourself into the cockpit of a rocket car and drive it at speeds of over 200kph around dangerous, winding tracks, you would receive adequate financial compensation for doing so. Fortunately for Formula 1 legend Fernando Alonso, you do.
Alonso is still active today as a veteran of the racing circuit but reached his peak whilst driving for the Renault team, where he won the World Championship twice in 2005 and 2006. Approaching the end of his career in F1, he's shown a desire to stay involved in racing, experimenting with both IndyCar and endurance racing in the past couple of years. His driving career has not been without controversy; his partnership with rookie driver Lewis Hamilton on the McClaren team in 2007 was intended to be a teacher-student relationship, but the ambitious Hamilton seemed more interested in racing against Alonso than learning from him, often leaving Alonso furious.
They say golf is a rich man's sport, and the fact it's taken us this long to find one on our list backs up that idea. Gary Player is undoubtedly one of the most successful golfers of all time. He is the only non-American to win all four Majors, way back in 1965 - a feat that only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have matched in all the years since. He'd also be a lot higher up this list had he not made a very expensive apology.
During times of apartheid in his home land, Player was quoted as having made a statement that was deemed to be racist, and in support of white and black segregation. His reputation damaged, Player insisted he'd been misquoted, and to prove it he's donated over $100m over the course of his life to underprivileged - and mostly black - communities in South Africa.
Dwayne Johnson is everywhere. He has a huge following on social media and seems to be in every action movie that's come out in the past five years. Some reports even place him as the top grossing star in Hollywood in recent years. For that reason, you could be forgiven for thinking that 'The Rock' was already a billionaire, but he's some way off yet. Given his work ethic, we suspect he'll get there eventually.
Johnson has come a long way from being a WWE wrestler, 'laying the smack down' on muscular opponents with flashy moves and wicked verbal put downs. Hulk Hogan couldn't completely make the crossover from the ring to the screen, but the highly likable and charming Johnson makes it look effortless. He's even hinted that he may one day run for the Presidency of the United States. Can you imagine ending the State of the Union address with 'If you smell what the President is cooking?'
Lewis Hamilton is a rare case of a child prodigy who actually completely lived up to his potential. Just 21 years old when he started driving for the McClaren Formula 1 team, he was partnered with then-reigning world champion Fernando Alonso in the hope that he'd learn from the more experienced man in order to compete in the future. Hamilton had no intention of waiting. Shocking the world and infuriating Alonso, Hamilton raced against his teammate and everyone else, having the greatest rookie year in F1 history and finishing second overall in the championship. The next year, aged just 22, he won it.
Now a veteran himself, Hamilton is a four-time world champion and the greatest British F1 driver of all time. He enjoys the celebrity lifestyle his money brings him too, having dated Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger for many years.
Greg Norman has the unfortunate reputation of a man who just couldn't quite get it done when the pressure was on. Between 1980 and 1990, he spent almost half of the entire decade ranked as the best golfer in the world on form, but in the final stages of major tournaments his game just fell apart. In a career that should have been full of trophies, all he ever won was two Open Championships, having entered the final day of many other tournaments in the lead, only to collapse and finish second. None of this, though, stopped him making big money.
He has the killer instinct in business that he lacked in golf. The Greg Norman Company has designed over 100 golf courses worldwide, and also manages premier quality restaurants, prime real estate, and even manufactures specialist golfing sunglasses! 'The Great White Shark' is doing just fine financially.
The George Foreman story is incredible. One of boxing's all time greats, in the first half of his career, George Foreman knocked out the previously undefeated 'Smokin' Joe Frazier, and tangled with Muhammad Ali in the 'Rumble in the Jungle', which may be the most famous fight of all time. He retired in the late 1980s, but bad financial planning left him almost bankrupt, so he returned to the ring and amazingly became a world champion again in 1994, at 45 years of age.
Citing healthy eating as the reason for his longevity, he was approached by a company making a new kind of grill, seeking his endorsement. The George Foreman grill was born, and with his licensing of his name to the product earning him 40% of the value of each grill sold, Foreman was quickly making $4.5m every month as the grill became a worldwide must-have kitchen accessory.
Schumacher is a very famous name in racing all over the world. Unbelievably though for such an uncommon name, Don Schumacher and his son Tony are not related in any way to Formula 1 racing legend Michael Schumacher. There must be something in the name that makes people want to get in a car and drive as fast as they can go. In the case of this Schumacher, he's yet another man who walked away from his sport to go into business, only to find himself drawn back in.
A good drag racer in the 1960s, Schumacher retired after eleven years to take over his father's electronics business. Cleverly, he saw the way the world was changing and positioned the firm so it is now the largest manufacturer of phone chargers in the world. He took the profits from this, returned to the sport he loved, and opened Don Schumacher Racing, with Tony as the star driver.
There's being a star in your sport, and then there's completely dominating a whole era of your sport. The charismatic and popular Dale Earnhardt Jr. fits into the second category. Starting in 2003, Earnhardt was voted as NASCAR's most popular driver thirteen times in a row. He's not just well liked either, he's really good, with well over 50 race victories and two Daytona 500 wins.
Racing runs in Earnhardt's blood - he's a third generation driver, who stayed in the sport even after the tragedy of seeing his father killed in a racing accident in 2001. Now retired himself, he owns the JR Motorsports racing team, who won their first NASCAR national championship in 2014. He also provides color commentary on the sport for NBCSN's NASCAR America show. He's also been happy to drive cars in music videos for many pop and rock stars!
All great boxing matches are built around a personal rivalry. It's therefore a great shame that Bob Arum and rival boxing promoter Don King have never got in the ring to settle the score; the two premier names in the world of fight promotion have been at each other's throats for most of the past fifty years.
Arum used to work for the Department of Justice, and only became interested in boxing when he was assigned by the Government to confiscate profits from a Sonny Liston vs Floyd Patterson match in 1962. Stunned by the amount of money that a big fight could generate, Arum chose to get involved, founding Top Rank, a promotion company that would go on to shape much of the way boxing has been promoted in the years since. He's worked with everyone from Muhammad Ali to Floyd Mayweather, but has often been a controversial figure, admitting in court that he once bribed the IBF to boost the ranking of one of his fighters.
Until Tiger Woods came along, Jack Nicklaus was probably the man most people thought of as the greatest golfer of all time. There are many among his wide fan base who would say that he still is. "The Golden Bear" had a long career full of accolades and championships, winning the masters six times, the US Open four times, the Open Championship three times and the PGA Tour an astonishing seventy-three times. He won his sixth masters at 46 years old, an age by which most professional golfers have called it a day.
His course design company, Nicklaus Design, is believed to have designed and opened over 400 golf courses across the world. Nicklaus Golf Equipment retails golfing goods aimed at players of all levels of experience and licensing his name to video game developers has also kept the money rolling in for the legend. In 2014, his long and glorious career was recognized as he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
You name a record, and Kobe Bryant has probably broken it. He played more seasons in the NBA for the same team - the LA Lakers - than anyone else in history. He was the first guard in NBA history to play for 20 seasons. He's the Lakers all time leading scorer, and a seventeen time all star. Some have said that he's second only to Michael Jordan in terms of greatness in the sport. Others, like Kevin Durant, have said that Bryant was simply the Jordan of their generation. That kind of legacy brings money, and money is something Bryant has plenty of.
The hugely marketable star was bringing in massive amounts of money through sponsorship and endorsement at one stage, although a rape allegation in 2003 damaged his reputation somewhat even though he was cleared. More recently, he teamed up with Jeff Stibel to launch a venture capital fund to bring in some income from various sectors.
If you've ever seen a game of baseball, you've probably got an opinion about the man they call 'A-Rod'. To his admirers, he's the greatest baseball player since Babe Ruth and has the 25 grand slam record to prove it. To his haters, he's a drugs cheat with a bad attitude who was more concerned with living the high life off the field than he was performing on it.
Rodriguez played baseball very well and made a lot of money out of it, no doubt. He's a 14 time All Star and a world series winner, with 696 home runs to his name. Sponsors loved him, and he signed some of the biggest marketing deals the sport ever saw, which made him a rich man. But his teams never won as much as they should have done with him on the side, and his habit of freezing in clutch situations earned the nickname 'Mr. Cooler'.
Do not, in any circumstances, tell Kobe Bryant about this. 'Shaq' is above him on our rich list. Bryant may have had more success on the court when all was said and done, but O'Neal has the edge on him financially so far.
O'Neal was a shooting star from his first day as a professional. During his debut season with Orlando Magic, he became the first player since Michael Jordan to win 'Rookie of the Year' and make the All Star team in the same season. A giant of a man, one of the heaviest and tallest ever to play the sport, O'Neal stood out. His personality is as large as his frame, and that made him a celebrity outside the world of baseball. His endorsement deals include, bizarrely, licensing his name to a kung fu video game which has nothing to do with the sport he played, and he's also made the transition to the wrestling ring, appearing at one of WWE's WrestleMania events.
Phil Mickelson is a golfer so good that he won his first PGA Tour when he was still officially classed as an amateur. Playing in the richest era of the sport, he ranks behind only Tiger Woods in terms of prize money earned over the course of his career, at an estimated $87m. His style is eye catching, often described as 'risky' due to his habit of always choosing the more difficult shots. 'Lefty' still plays today, although it's been a few years since he won his last major tournament, which was the US Open in 2013.
Mickelson has an eye for recognizing a good endorsement deal, and that's where the rest of his money comes from. His partnership with Rolex has been particularly profitable, and when he was diagnosed with arthritis in 2010, he even made money by promoting the drug that was used to treat him!
Strictly speaking, Michael Buffer is not a sportsman, in that he has never played professional sport at any level. However, he makes his money from the world of sport, which we think qualifies him for this list. Plus, it's our list anyway, so we get to choose.
Buffer has, amazingly, made every dime he ever earned by saying five words, and then copyrighting those five words so he gets paid every time someone else uses them. If you've watched big time boxing matches, you've seen and heard Buffer start the proceedings with 'Let's get ready to rumble!'. He only took on ring announcing as a job because he was struggling to find work as an actor but finding a catchphrase that fit the moment perfectly has brought him a fortune. He's been paid up to $1m a time to turn up and say it at the start of world title matches.
Chances are you've heard of Lionel Messi even if you don't watch soccer. The little Argentinian, who has spent his entire career at Barcelona, is widely believed to be the best player of all time, his reputation eclipsing even Diego Maradona and Pele. When Messi runs at defenders they can fall over their own feet trying to keep up with his tricks, while the ball seems to stay glued to his.
The world of soccer is awash with money at the top level, and Messi is believed to have a contract with pays him $670,000 per week. On top of that, there's the prize money which comes with his many Spanish Championships, European Championships and World Player of the Year awards, and his sponsorship deals with global brands like Pepsi. Messi is still playing, so his incredible wealth is only going to keep on growing.
Bud Selig is the embodiment of the American Dream. The son of Romanian parents who came to the United States as immigrants when he was only four years old, he took over the work his father started and became one of the richest men in sport. His influence on baseball is so significant that even after retiring, he is MLB's Commissioner Emeritus of Baseball, a position that was created especially for him.
Selig made his money initially from taking over his father's car leasing firm - a business that still exists today, and Selig still retains an interest in. The founding father of the Milwaukee Brewers, where his statue can be found outside the stadium, Selig was elected as Acting Commissioner of baseball in 1992, and after continuing in this capacity for six years, he was eventually awarded the role permanently in 1998, remaining in the position until 2015. By the time of his retirement he'd been overseeing the game of baseball for 23 years.
You may not know his name, but you've almost certainly worn his clothes, and you've seen his logo everywhere your whole life. Bowerman was a track and field coach, and the man who introduced the concept of jogging to America, but what really made him money - and continues to make money for his estate - was the brand he launched. Wanting to create a more comfortable running shoe for athletes, he founded Blue Ribbon Sports. The company would eventually be rebranded as Nike.
The first Nike trainers were hand made by Bowerman using his wife's waffle iron, which he ruined in the process. His experimental approach involved heating plastics and materials in an enclosed space, and the resulting fumes gave him nerve damage, eventually leaving him unable to walk. His biographer later noted that Bowerman had sacrificed his ability to walk in order to give the world better shoes to run in.
Ayrton Senna is one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time, and his tale is one of triumph and absolute tragedy. Taken from the world far too soon, three-time world champion Senna was killed in a fatal racing accident during the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, a race he was leading at the time of his crash. He was 34 years old.
The race itself was a black one for Formula 1 - Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger had been killed in a pit lane fire during qualifying for the race, and crash investigators found an Austrian flag in Senna's car after his crash, which the driver had intended to unfurl to pay tribute to Ratzenberger at the conclusion of the race. Senna was worth $400m at the time of his death, and in his will instructed almost all of it be used to benefit the poor in his home country of Brazil.
Every time we bring up a basketball player in this list, it feels like we're adding to the debate of who's the greatest of all time. Kobe Bryant is said to be the Jordan of his generation, but then there are just as many people who say LeBron James is even better than Jordan. The statistics make it hard to argue; the NBA's all time leading playoff scorer is a fourteen time All Star, three time NBA champion and four time NBA MVP.
James is still playing basketball, so the money is going to keep rolling in, but his bank balance got a big boost when Apple bought the 'Beats' chain of headphones from Dr. Dre. James was a minority shareholder in the company and received $30m from that one transaction. Now a man of wealth, means and profile, he's spoken of wanting to own an NBA team himself in the future.
With apologies to Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Boris Becker, Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all time, and it's not even close. Whilst most players dream of winning the Wimbledon tournament just once in their career, Federer has done it eight times. That's more than anyone else in history. He's also won the US Open five times in a row, which is another achievement he holds alone.
Prize money has earned Federer $116m, and major endorsements from Nike, Rolex, Mercedez-Benz and Moet & Chandon have helped bring in the rest of his fortune. Making good use of his money, he opened the Roger Federer Foundation in 2003 to help disadvantaged children gain access to sport. UNICEF appointed him as a Goodwill Ambassador in 2006, and he's appeared several times on their behalf to promote AIDS awareness. His exhibition 'Match for Africa' against Rafael Nadal in 2010 raised more than $4m for charity.
David Beckham isn't the greatest soccer player who ever lived, but he is one of the most recognizable. During his long career, which saw him play for Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, LA Galaxy and Paris Saint Germain, he was particularly known for his accuracy with long balls, being able to find teammates from distance with ease. His playing style could be compared to a quarterback in US Football.
His face and lifestyle are what really made him rich, though. Blessed with film star good looks, his marriage to Victoria Beckham made them iconic as a couple, and attracted many sponsorship deals, including a $160m lifetime contract with Adidas. Determined to stay in football now he's retired from playing, Beckham and a team of investors have been granted an MLS franchise in Miami, which is expected to begin in 2020.
Walk into a bar in Spain and ask who the better player is between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and you're likely to start a fight. Most experts agree Messi has the sight edge, but Ronaldo has a strong claim, and more personal World Player of the Year awards in his collection.
The fact that Ronaldo has a little more money than Messi may be because he's a couple of years older, or just that he's transferred between clubs whilst Messi hasn't. Ronaldo has won championships with Manchester United in England and Real Madrid in Spain, before joining Italy's Juventus. It's also possible that the sponsorship and endorsement opportunities Ronaldo gets are a little more lucrative; he's the better looking of the two, and so gets more modeling work! Such is Ronaldo's popularity at home in Portugal that a bronze bust of him is on permanent display in Madeira airport.
After Bernie Ecclestone, the name most associated with Formula 1 on a business level is probably Eddie Jordan. A former racing driver, Jordan started the Jordan F1 team after his retirement, running it from 1991 until he decided to sell it in 2005. He also ran Formula 3 and F3000 teams, which gave many legendary drivers their start in racing.
Future World Champions Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna all made their debuts driving Jordan's cars, and viewed him as a mentor during their early years as competitors. He remains involved in the sport to this day as a TV analyst on race days, and when he's not at track side you may find him in small venues in England or Ireland, playing drums with his band V10. You may recognize the V10 name from a brand of vodka, which is made by a company owned by Jordan.
'Just win, baby'. Al Davis had a simple but positive philosophy to life and looked to follow it at all times. To date, he's the only man in NFL history to have been involved in the sport as a coach, a general manager, commissioner of the sport and owner of a team. He was also a major proponent of civil rights within the game, refusing to take his Oakland Raiders where players of different skin colors had to stay in separate hotels.
Davis success is all the more extraordinary considering he never played a game of professional football before he became a coach; he was a solid but unspectacular player at high school level and never quite made the grade. He achieved what he did through persistence, and his long tenure in charge of the Raiders yielded three Super Bowls. In his honor, the Al Davis Torch was created inside Oakland Coliseum, burning every time there's a home game.
Floyd Mayweather is a man so rich that his nickname is 'money', and if you're going to choose a name like that for yourself, you have to live up to it. We don't think anyone can accuse Mayweather of missing an opportunity to line his own pockets. Whilst the boxing world laughed at and derided his boxing vs UFC clash with Conor McGregor, Mayweather was laughing back at them and watching his bank account swell by $300m.
It took serious talent for Mayweather to get where he is - he was arguably, pound for pound, the best boxer in the world for a long time, beating Manny Pacquiao to end any real debate about that. He now claims to be retired for the final time, meaning he leaves the sport with a career record of 50-0, undefeated. Outside the ring, he's competed in a wrestling match for WWE at 'WrestleMania', and was also a contestant on 'Dancing with the Stars'.
Vietnam veteran Roger Staubach has had the sort of pro football career - and life - that you can be really proud of. Joining the Dallas Cowboys fresh from his tour of duty with the army, staying with them for all 11 years of his career and winning the Super Bowl an amazing five times during those years. He is one of only four men to win both the Heisman Trophy and the Super Bowl MVP award.
Sensing the end of his career coming, he started the Staubach Company to pursue interests in real estate, which he hoped would give him a strong income in retirement. It did a little more than that. His company grew and grew, and when the time came to sell it to multinational firm Jones Lang LaSalle in 2008, it was valued at $613m. Staubach could easily have chosen to retire, but seems to enjoy his work, remaining with the merged firm as executive chairman to this day.
Magic Johnson is a name that's synonymous with great achievement and great bravery. For everything he achieved as a basketball player - and that was a lot - he achieved a great deal more for society by helping to break down the taboos around HIV and AIDS.
Johnson's name is synonymous with the LA Lakers. He served the team as a great player, then as a coach, and then as part owner. He's still with the team today as the president of basketball operations, meaning he's been involved with the Lakers for 39 years. When he was first diagnosed with HIV, awareness that the illness could affect heterosexuals was very low, and those who were affected never spoke about it. By choosing to speak publicly, and educate others about the dangers of unsafe sexual conduct (which Johnson admitted was the cause of his own infection), Johnson may have saved more lives, and educated more people, than anyone could ever count.
Arnold Palmer and television were a perfect match. His ascendancy to the top of the golf game came at the same time that people were buying home televisions for the first time and were able to watch sports. Palmer's charismatic showmanship was perfect for the new medium and made him a star. Before long he'd been nicknamed 'The King'.
Possibly golf's first real megastar, Palmer's career lasted for over six decades and yielded 62 PGA Tour titles between 1955 and 1973. He was an inaugural entrant to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974. After retirement, he made most of his money designing golf courses, co-creating the Golf Channel, and, bizarrely, licensing his name to the Arnold Palmer line of beverages. That strange iced tea and lemonade drink you can buy in stores was invented by the man himself.
There's been a lot of debate in recent years about whether Tiger Woods has permanently lost his sparkle out on the golf course, and if his best years are behind him. If they are, he'll be walking away with more money than any other pro golf player in history. Whether he's the greatest of all time is subjective, but he has spent more time ranked as world #1 than any other player in history and has 14 Major championships to his name.
As the new poster boy of golf, Woods was the most marketable sports star in the world in the early 21st Century, signing endorsement deals with Nike, American Express and many other big companies. He's designed a golf proof watch with TAG Hueur and licensed his name to EA Sports for a series of video games, all of which sent his cash reserves through the roof. Back surgeries may have slowed him down, but the money keeps on coming.
We've talked about Ayrton Senna being one of the greatest drivers of all time. We've also talked about Lewis Hamilton being the greatest of the modern era. Now here's the greatest of all time. Michael Schumacher is the legend of all legends in Formula 1, having won the world championship seven times. For some of the early years of this century, Schumacher's iconic Ferrari led all the other cars like a procession, such was his dominance of his rivals.
A competitive, sporting man, Schumacher could have made the grade as a soccer player had he not chosen to pursue a career in F1, and he was actually registered as a player for his local side in Switzerland, appearing whenever he wasn't racing. Tragically, a serious injury suffered whilst skiing in 2003 left Schumacher on the edge of death, with serious brain injuries. He survived, but his current health is a closely guarded secret.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James may be the pretenders to Michael Jordan's crown on the basketball court, but when it comes to financial muscle they have a long, long way to go. Michael Jordan, to most of the world, is still the first name people think of when someone mentions basketball to them. He is to basketball what Babe Ruth is to baseball - although of course Jordan is such a sporting great that he also played professional baseball, too!
As a sporting megastar, Jordan was a natural choice for brand endorsements, and worked with Nike to create the iconic Air Jordan sneakers in the mid-1980s, which are still wildly popular today. That deal alone brings huge yearly paychecks to Jordan. McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Gatorade have all paid big bucks for the Jordan seal of approval. He's used that money to invest in sport, now being a part owner of the Charlotte Hornets and the Miami Marlins.
Who used to laugh at the big, fake wresting shows on television? Who thought Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior were funny? Who thought WWE was for kids, and shouldn't be taken seriously? Take a look at the money Vince McMahon has in the bank. He's had the last laugh on all of you.
Making household names out of not only Hogan but 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, the Rock, John Cena and Dave Bautista, McMahon won the wrestling war when he bought out his final major competitor, World Championship Wrestling, in 2001. His wealth has grown despite his disastrous attempt to break into football with the XFL; and he wasn't put off by that failure, because he's recently confirmed he's going to try again! He has the reserves to do so; WWE's most recent round of TV rights negotiations earned them over $1bn. Will McMahon retire any time soon? 'No chance in Hell'!
And our winner - the richest sportsperson on the face of the Earth - is Ion Tiriac! What do you mean 'who's Ion Tiriac'? You've never heard of two-sport Tiriac, who played both tennis and ice hockey professionally?
Tiriac is a proud Romanian with an impeccable sense of timing. When Communism failed in Romania in the 1990s, he moved quickly, investing the money he'd earned from sport into several business ventures, including the founding of Romania's first privately owned bank following the collapse. He also started up firms specializing in insurance, retail and car leasing, as well as an airline. With his name value as a Romanian sporting hero, and his investment driving them forwards, all of his companies became dominant in the Romanian market. By 2005 he was worth £1bn, and his fortune has continued to grow since then. Tiriac is a collector of rare and valuable cars, with a personal collection of 350. He was the first ever Romanian billionaire.