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.

Kobe Bryant: Season By Season

 

1996-97

Kobe and Shaq during introductions on opening night at the Forum. Bryant sets the NBA record for youngest player in a game at 18 years, 72 days. (Jermaine O'Neal and Andrew Bynum later break the record.) Bryant wins the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend.

 

1997-98

Averaging 15.4 points, Kobe finishes runner-up to Danny Manning of Phoenix in the voting for NBA Sixth Man of the Year. At 19, he also becomes the youngest player to be a starter in the NBA All-Star Game.

 

1998-99

Bryant becomes a full-time starter during the lockout-shortened season and averages 19.9 points.

 

1999-2000

Bryant is named to the NBA's All-Defensive first team, and the Lakers beat the Pacers in the Finals to win the franchise's first title since 1988.

 

2000-01

The Lakers repeat as champions by going 15-1 in the playoffs when Bryant averages 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists.

 

2001-02

Bryant averages 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in the regular season and makes All-NBA first team for the first time. He also wins the first of his four NBA All-Star Game MVP awards. The Lakers win their third consecutive NBA title.

 

2002-03

Bryant averages 30 points for the first time in his career, and also ties Michael Jordan's league record with 40 points or more in nine consecutive games. The Lakers lose in the second round of the playoffs to the Spurs.

 

2003-04

Bryant misses some games because of court appearances in Colorado for a case in which he was charged with sexual assault. The charges are eventually dropped when his accuser declines to testify. The Lakers, despite adding Karl Malone and Gary Payton, loses to the Pistons in the NBA Finals.

 

2004-05

Despite Bryant's 27.6 scoring average, this season is a nightmare for the Lakers. No longer coaching the team, Phil Jackson publishes a book that rips Kobe. New coach Rudy Tomjanovich quits midway through the season. The Lakers miss the playoffs with a 34–48 record.

 

2005-06

Phil Jackson returns as coach, and Bryant wins his first NBA scoring title with an average of 35.4 points. On Jan. 22, 2006, Bryant scores 81 points against Toronto, the second highest single-game total in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain (100).

 

2006-07

Bryant, seen mingling here with Michael Jordan and Julius Erving before the Slam Dunk Contest, wins his second All-Star Game MVP award. In March, Bryant has four consecutive games of scoring 50 points or more.

 

2007-08

Bryant wins the NBA MVP award for the first time after averaging 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.8 steals. The Lakers return to the Finals for the first time since trading Shaq in 2004, losing to the Celtics.

 

2008-09

Bryant wins his first NBA Finals MVP as he averages 32.4 points, 7.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks in the Lakers' 4-1 series win against Orlando.

 

2009-10

Bryant is Finals MVP again as the Lakers beat the Celtics in Game 7. In the series, Bryant averages 28.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.4 steals.

 

2010-11

Bryant has 37 points and 14 rebounds to win his fourth NBA All-Star Game MVP award, tying Bob Pettit's record. The Lakers' three-peat attempt ends in the second round when Dallas sweeps them.

 

2011-12

Despite injuries to his knees, wrist, ankle and shin, as well as a broken nose and concussion courtesy of Dwyane Wade's hard foul in the All-Star Game, Bryant averages 27.9 points. But the Lakers again exit in the second round of the playoffs, this time against the Thunder.

 

2012-13

The Lakers fire coach Mike Brown after a slow start, and in the second half of the season, Bryant's scoring gets the team back in the playoff hunt. But he tears his Achilles tendon on April 12 against the Warriors.

 

2013-14

Bryant returns from his Achilles injury in December but lasts just six games before a knee fracture ends his season.

 

2014-15

One of the highlights of this season comes on Dec. 14 in Minnesota when Bryant passes Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Bryant averages 22.3 points, but he plays just 35 games after sustaining a torn rotator cuff, which ends his season in January.

 

2015-16

In a 111-77 loss at Golden State on Nov. 25, Bryant shoots 1 for 14 and finishes with just four points. Four days later, Bryant announces he will retire at the end of the season. He finishes an emotional farewell tour with a 60-point explosion in his last game on April 13 against Utah.

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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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