The stadiums may be empty and the spectators absent, but that hasn’t stopped the highest-paid Olympic athletes from raking in a massive payday.
After five years of waiting, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have finally kicked off, bringing the world’s largest assortment of specialist athletes together in one all-encompassing display of sporting excellence. For thousands, winning Olympic gold is an unobtainable dream, but for others, it’s another shining stepping stone on the path to riches.
In fact, the contention surrounding the even has done little to quash salaries, with the highest-paid Olympians making a staggering amount of money. Take NBA superstar Kevin Durant, for instance. Forbes has announced the Brooklyn Net as the richest Olympian for Tokyo 2021, thanks to a series of lucrative endorsement deals and a whopping annual salary, but he’s not the only basketballer to make this list.
The Business of Sport
In its recently unveiled report, Forbes‘ Highest-Paid Olympians of 2021 revealed the incredible amount of money the world’s best athletes are receiving. Unsurprisingly, the big names that lead transcending global sports, such as basketball, tennis, and golf ranked high on the list, buoyed by enormous third-party deals and endorsements. As Forbes rightly points out, while some champions have the possibility of landing more money by winning gold, “the surest way to leave Tokyo this summer with a windfall is to arrive with one”. But it wasn’t always this way.
A landmark decision by the International Federation in 1986 allowed professional athletes to compete at the games alongside their amateur counterparts. This, in turn, meant some of the least-funded sportspeople on earth now had to share the Olympic Village with the world’s best-paid athletes in a bizarre wealth contrast.
This year, NBA superstar Kevin Durant topped the list for highest paid Olympian, raking in a cool USD$75 million through his earnings with the Brooklyn Nets. Joining him are three professional tennis players, a golfer, and four fellow NBA players, with the top earners collecting a combined USD$353 million in the past year. It’s a staggering amount of money, particularly when you consider the reward for taking out the gold isn’t actually that much.
What Do You Get For Winning the Olympics?
Remarkably, athletes don’t get paid for taking part in the Summer or Winter Olympic Games, meaning that they receive nothing from the Games’ organizers for winning other than the satisfaction of being the world’s best. That being said, they do tend to receive a monetary reward from the country’s Olympic Committee if they win a medal.
In the United States, the Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) states that it currently gives athletes USD$37,500 for each gold medal they win at the Games, plus USD$22,000 for every silver and USD$15,000 for every bronze. Putting that into perspective, by those figures, US swimmer Michael Phelps would have earned USD$862,000 for his 23 Olympic gold medals, USD$66,000 for his three silvers, and USD$30,000 for his two bronze medals, tallying an impressive USD$958,000 for his ridiculous career. Sure, it’s an amazing figure, but when you consider Durant is earning USD$75 million, it feels chump change.
In other countries, the prize fund for medal winners differs greatly. Singapore pays Olympic gold medal winners an insane $1 million for winning, whereas here in Australia, the athletes receive a meager AUD$20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze.
Highest-Paid Olympic Athletes Japan 2021
While it’s likely the highest-paid Olympians for 2021 will swell their wealth with a victory in Tokyo, it will be a drop in the bucket. The richest athletes at the Olympics are already raking in cash without ever needing to compete, but nevertheless, it’s a chance to show off their skills and make bank in the process.
To compile this list, Forbes tracked income collected between May 1, 2020, and May 1, 2021, based on conversations with industry insiders. The earnings figures are rounded to the nearest half-million and include both on-the-field income (from prize money, salaries, and bonuses) and off-the-field income (from sponsorships, appearance fees, and licensing deals). Importantly, the figures for the NBA reflect a 20 percent cut to players’ base salaries to account for the league’s pandemic escrow adjustment for the current season. Here is a list of the highest-paid Olympic athletes at Tokyo 2021.
1. Kevin Durant – USD$75 Million
Two-time Olympic gold medal winner and Brooklyn Nets star forward Kevin Durant is the highest-paid Olympic for the Japan Games, but it’s got little to do with his on-court antics. While his salary is a stunning USD$42 million, it is his investments off the court that have garnered the highest praise.
The two-time NBA champion is the league’s latest multimedia mogul thanks to his breakout media network Boardroom, a stake in MLS’s Philadelphia Union, and his own venture capital firm, Thirty-Five Ventures. The Tokyo Games marks Durant’s second time leading Team USA without LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, who last went to the Olympics in 2012.
Total earnings: USD$75 million
Born: 29 September 1988 (age 32 years), Washington, D.C., United States
Height: 2.08 m
Shoe size: 18
Weight: 109 kg
Wingspan: 2.25 m
2. Naomi Osaka – USD$60 Million
The host nation’s golden girl, Naomi Osaka is the second-highest-paid athlete at the Olympics in 2021 and the richest female athlete competing.
The 23-year-old tennis dynamo shattered the earnings record for female athletes, surpassing veteran top-earner Serena Williams and former record-holder Maria Sharapova. Amazingly, Osaka earned USD$55 million in endorsement, compared to her USD$5 million in prize money over the last 12 months. She currently has dealt with Google, Louis Vuitton, Workday, and Levi’s.
Total earnings: USD$60 million
Born: 16 October 1997 (age 23 years), Chuo Ward, Osaka, Japan
Grand slams won (singles): 4
Height: 1.8 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Parents: Leonard Francois, Tamaki Osaka
3. Damian Lillard – USD$40.5 Million
Best known for pulling up from the logo, Portland trailblazers point guard Damian Lillard may soon be pulling up in a Bentley (as if he’s not already).
The 31-year-old has racked up endorsement deals with Adidas, Gatorade, Hulu, and 2K Sports, helping him to a hefty USD$40.5 million earning figure in the last 12 months. His new deal with Adidas is reportedly worth USD$100 million and his starring role in Space Jam: A New Legacy probably didn’t hurt.
Total earnings: USD$40.5 million
Born: 15 July 1990 (age 31 years), Oakland, California, United States
Height: 1.88 m
Date drafted: 2012
Weight: 88 kg
NBA draft: 2012 (Round: 1 / Pick: 6)
4. Novak Djokovic – USD$34.5 Million
The Serbian ace is the only member of tennis’ big three to make the list of highest-paid Olympians this year.
After a stunning comeback at Wimbledon earlier this month, Djokovic is back to his best and looking for Games glory. Off the court, the 34-year-old Serbian made USD$30 million from endorsement deals with companies like Lacoste, Peugeot, NetJets, and Austrian tennis equipment maker Head.
Total earnings: USD$34.5 million
Born: 22 May 1987 (age 34 years), Belgrade, Serbia
Grand slams won (singles): 20
Tour Finals: W (2008, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
Coach: Marián Vajda; Goran Ivanišević
Olympic Games: (2008)
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Spouse: Jelena Đoković (m. 2014)
5. Rory McIlroy – USD$32 Million
Widely regarded as the next best thing, Rory McIlroy may not have lived up to his initial hype, but that hasn’t stopped him from making some serious money.
The golfer is representing Northern Ireland at the Tokyo Olympics following an impressive year in the learning stakes. McIlroy collected USD$29 million in the last 12 months through his partnerships with brands such as Nike, Omega, and UnitedHealth Group. That being said, McIlroy did pick up a cool USD$15 million for winning the 2019 FedEx Cup.
Total earnings: USD$32 million
Country: Northern Ireland
Born: 4 May 1989 (age 32 years), Holywood, United Kingdom
Height: 1.75 m
Spouse: Erica Stoll (m. 2017)
Caddy: Harry Diamond
Nationality: British, Irish, Northern Irish
Parents: Rosie McDonald, Gerry McIlroy
6. Devin Booker – USD$30.5 Million
After an impressive debut finals run that ending in heartache, USA Basketball star Devin Booker is raking in the cash. The sixth highest-earning Olympian at Tokyo, Booker has made more than USD$30 million over the last 12 months. It all comes by way of his record-breaking 2018 deal, which saw him become the highest-paid Phoenix Suns player in history, earning USD$158 million over five years.
Total earnings: USD$30.5 million
Born: 30 October 1996 (age 24 years), Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States
Height: 1.96 m
NBA draft: 2015 (Round: 1 / Pick: 13)
Salary: 27.28 million USD (2019)
Parents: Melvin Booker, Veronica Gutierrez