LeBron, Durant Lead The NBA's Highest-Paid Players 2015





NBA franchises have skyrocketed in value over the past year thanks to lucrative new local and national TV deals. A booming stock market has also helped, with franchises in the biggest U.S. MARKETS commanding trophy premiums. The five NBA franchises in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are all worth at least $1.5 billion, by our count, and rank among the top six franchises (the Boston Celtics are the outlier).

But you need to look outside the large markets to find the two biggest stars in the game, with Cleveland and Oklahoma City ranked 19th and 44th among the largest U.S. markets. Memphis and New Orleans are the only NBA markets smaller than Oklahoma City, where the NBA’s reigning MVP plays. The small markets haven’t slowed LeBron James and Kevin Durant from becoming global superstars and the top-earning players in the NBA.

James, 30, leads the way with total earnings of $64.6 million from salary and endorsements this season. After four years in Miami, James returned to the Cavaliers this summer under a two-year, $42.1 million contract. James inked the shorter deal, instead of a richer four-year pact, so he could be a free agent again in 2016 when the NBA’s new $24 billion TV deals kick in and send the salary cap soaring. James’ salary is $20.6 million this season.

In October, the NBA’s top pitchman added Kia Motors to his endorsement portfolio. The South Korean car company inked James to promote its entry into the luxury sedan MARKET. Kia is in its eighth year as an official partner of the NBA. Other James partners include Nike, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola KO +0.00%, Samsung Electronics , Beats by Dre, Upper Deck, Tencent and Audemars Piguet. His total off-court earnings are an estimated $44 million.

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