LeBron James has never signed a maximum-level contract. He is the ninth highest-paid player in the NBA. He makes the exact same amount as Miami Heat teammate Chris Bosh.
So when the defending NBA MVP and Finals MVP says he is underpaid, well, he’s right.
But Forbes estimates James hauls in about $40 million a year in endorsements to go along with his $17.5 million salary. When you’re making almost $60 million, no one wants to hear you complain about money. Even if your beef is reasonable.
“I have not had a full max deal yet in my career — that’s a story untold,” James told ESPN on Friday. “I don’t get (credit) for it. That doesn’t matter to me; playing the game is what matters to me. Financially, I’ll sacrifice for the team. It shows for some of the top guys, it isn’t all about money. That’s the genuine side of this, it’s about winning. I understand that.
“If you want the truth, if this was baseball, (my salary would) be up. I mean way up there,” he added.
Again, he’s right. New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez raked in $29 million last season for mediocre production. His salary comes from a 10-year contract extension signed in 2008. James signed his six-year deal (with opt-out clauses) with the Heat in 2010.
That deal infamously came when he joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Bosh in Miami. In order to bring three stars together and still have cap space for a decent supporting cast, the Heat gave Wade, Bosh and James less money than they could have made elsewhere.
That cap-space issue is what James is harping on, even if he chose his words poorly. The deal the players agreed to after last season’s lockout substantially limited the length and size of even maximum contracts. Gone are the days when Juwan Howard could earn $20 million a year. Major League Baseball still operates without a salary cap.
But James also chose not to take the biggest possible contract, which would have come from staying with the Cleveland Cavaliers. And moving to Miami helped increase his name-recognition factor, albeit not all in a good way.
Still, James says he took the lesser value to give the Heat a better team. And he says even the bigger contract wouldn’t have equaled his actual value to a team.
“I don’t think my value on the floor can really be compensated for, anyways, because of the (collective bargaining agreement),” James told ESPN.
Yes, he’s still right. And there are 58 million reasons most people won’t care.