No. 1 Tiger Woods
Woods has earned almost $900 million in prize money, endorsements and appearance fees during his 13-year professional golf career and next year is poised to become the first athlete to earn $1 billion during a career. Woods racked up more than twice the earnings of any other athlete over the past 12 months despite being sidelined for eight months after knee surgery thanks to lucrative endorsement deals with Accenture, Gillette and Nike as well as a thriving golf course design business
Bryant secured his place among the NBA’s all-time greats when he won his fourth NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers in June. The Black Mamba’s popularity is at its zenith as his No. 24 jersey is the top seller in the U.S., Europe and China. Bryant pads his $21 million Lakers salary through endorsement deals with Nike, Upper Deck, Activision and VitaminWater.
No.3 Michael Jordan
MJ retired as a player for the third and presumably final time six years ago, but he is still the most famous athlete in the United States. The Jordan Brand is approaching $1 billion in sales for Nike which turned Jordan into a marketing phenomenon. Jordan is on the short list of potential buyers for the Charlotte Bobcats where he is head of basketball operations and a minority owner.
Formula One’s highest-paid driver finished a disappointing third in the World Championship standings last year after winning the title in 2007. This year has been even worse for the Iceman who sits in 10th place in the current standings. Ferrari resigned Raikkonen in September to a one-year contract extension keeping the Finn behind the wheel for Ferrari through 2010.
No. 5 David Beckham
Becks is far from the best player on the pitch, but he is still the most famous which is why companies like Adidas, Giorgio Armani and Motorola pay him millions for his endorsement. Beckham spent five months on loan this year playing for AC Milan before his planned return to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy in July when the MLS season is half over.
The NBA’s MVP led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the league’s best record and had a playoff performance for the ages this year, but his team was bounced from the playoffs by the Orlando Magic in the Conference Finals. His free agency next summer has teams maneuvering to get under the salary cap in hopes of signing King James. The Cavs can offer the biggest contract under NBA salary rules, but James might go in search of a bigger market.
No. 7 Phil Mickelson
Playing second fiddle to Tiger Woods has proven very lucrative for the world’s second-ranked player. His most lucrative deal is with Callaway, which signed Mickelson to a five-year extension this year. Other sponsors include Barclay’s, Exxon, KPMG and Rolex. Mickelson has won $54 million in prize money during his career, third all-time behind Woods and Vijay Singh
Pac-Man hogged the boxing spotlight over the past year with victories in two blockbuster fights against Oscar De La Hoya in December and Ricky Hatton in March that combined generated more than $100 million in pay-per-view revenue in the U.S. A member of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, Pacquiao plans to run for political office when his days in the ring are over.
No. 9 Valentino Rossi
The Doctor won his eighth World Championship in 2008 after two straight years of falling short of the title. The biggest star in motorcycle racing earns $16 million annually from his contract to ride for Yamaha and his earnings more than double when you count licensing income, bonuses and endorsement deals with the likes of energy drink Monster.
Earnhardt was chosen as Nascar’s most popular driver for a sixth straight year in 2008 despite winning only one race during the past two seasons. His merchandise sales were twice the total of any other driver. Earnhardt’s biggest personal sponsorship deals are with Adidas, Chevrolet, Polaris, Wrangler and Nationwide Insurance, which he added this year.