The amount of money professional athletes make is a constant talking point among fans and the general public. When you’re job is to keep your body in shape year-round, maintain and improve your reps, and perform well when it’s time to compete, these massive price tags for your services are justified. We see this practice in plenty of sports worldwide. Boxing (and other combat sports) and soccer are pros at dropping an entire bank on someone’s wallet.
Of course, American sports leagues are no strangers to this norm. In 2020, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, signed a 10-year deal for $503 million. In 2022, the New York Yankees secured nine more years of Aaron Judge for $360 million. Just this summer, Major League Soccer went all in to get Lionel Messi to play for Inter Miami FC.
The NBA is nowhere close to being left out. On July 25, the Boston Celtics signed Jaylen Brown to a five-year, $304 million supermax extension, the biggest in NBA history. While nine-figure contracts have become common across the board, one question remains– do these players deserve what they’re getting paid?
Let’s look at the NBA’s three milestone contracts and answer this question.
$100 million, Juwan Howard, 1996
With a laundry list of legendary players in the NBA, you’d be surprised that the first $100 million deal fell to then-second-year player Juwan Howard. The Michigan standout was no scrub. In his first two years in the NBA, he garnered All-Rookie Second Team, All-NBA Third Team, and All-Star selections.
It is a long tale that involves miscalculations, the NBA office, and state courts. But long story short, the Washington Bullets offered Howard $89 million to stay in DC. As a free agent, Howard looked at his options, which included a $98 to $101 million bid from the Miami Heat for seven years. Determined to keep him around, Washington re-signed Howard with a $105 million, seven-year deal.
From then, it was crickets. Howard stopped collecting accolades in his third season. He made his lone playoff appearance with Washington in 1997 before the team missed the postseason from 1998 to 2004. Howard parted ways with the Wizards in 2001 and began bouncing around the league.
He did end up in Miami and won championships with the Heat in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately, he was long removed from his glory days and was solely a roster spot holder for a team that starred LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Though he got his rings, it is safe to say that the Bullets were overreaching when they gave him that massive contract.
$200 million, Stephen Curry, 2017
Need I say more? Steph Curry’s story is already a fairytale and is far from over. He came from being an undersized and overlooked high school prospect to the greatest shooter of all time. By the time Curry signed his $201 million, five-year extension with Golden State, he was a two-time NBA champion, two-time MVP, had four All-NBA selections (split between the first and second teams), and a scoring title.
That was just the tip of the iceberg, considering that he had been in the NBA for eight years at that point.
The Warriors rewarded Curry with the extension after winning his second title in their colors. He returned the favor by winning one more right at the end of the contract. Do not be surprised if Curry continues to win and earn big bucks at 35.
Curry is the first and only player to sign back-to-back $200 million contracts with his $215 million, four-year extension in 2022. Best believe that the Warriors have been getting their money’s worth.
$300 million, Jaylen Brown, 2023
If the biggest contract in NBA history belongs to the Boston Celtics’ second-in-command, I can not wait to see how much Jayson Tatum gets at the end of his contract next year.
Jaylen Brown securing this much money came as a shock to many. With how he did this past postseason, many thought the Celtics were through with him (at least after the last year of his previous deal). These Celtics have been through a lot for such young players. But we have seen their potential. Brown and Tatum have grown in front of our eyes and gained the Celtics’ trust to make them the foundation of the team.
This deal feels like a gun to the head as much as a ticket to paradise. Perhaps this, and the acquisition of Kristaps Porzingis, lights up a fire and brings out the best in Brown.
But as it stands, he has been part of an All-Rookie and All-NBA second team, has two All-Star nods, and zero rings. Now would be the time for Brown and the Celtics to add a title to that portfolio.