Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant's ranking among the all-time greats is a point of great contention. But there's no disputing his financial dominance: No one's ever made as much money playing basketball and Bryant.

Not even Michael Jordan.

According to numbers compiled by Forbes, Kobe's career earnings upon his retirement at the end of this season will hit $680 million. That's more than any other U.S. athlete playing a team sport, and far ahead of Jordan's career figure of $465 million.

Accounting for inflation, MJ and Kobe are much closer. But Kobe still edges out his predecessor, by a margin of $762 million to $720 million.

Those figures include both Bryant's NBA salary and basketball-related endorsements. Salary-wise, he trails only Kevin Garnett, who has earned $332 million and counting during his NBA career.

But Bryant's endorsement deals have eclipsed his NBA salary. In addition to a large contract with Nike, he's enjoyed major deals with McDonald's, Mercedes-Benz, Hublot, Nintendo, Sony and Sprite.

Kobe has never been shy about his earnings aspirations. Even during the final legs of his NBA career, he has insisted upon being at the top, or near the top, of the league's salary. He's currently operating at the end of a two-year, $48-million deal that is far beyond his on-court production.

That type of deal was made, at least in part, to avoid an ugly public falling out between Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers, and it worked. It's hard to say the Lakers didn't owe Bryant that money, though: In his time with the team, its valuation rose from $200 million to a Forbes-estimated $2.6 billion.

Bryant still has a long way to go to match Jordan's present net wealth, though. Buoyed by smart investing, a resilient personal brand and a timely purchase of the Charlotte Hornets, MJ has a personal fortune valued at $1.6 billion.

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