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25 Sports Celebrities Who Redefined Athletic Endorsements

TristaNovember 17, 2020
Virat Kohli has $20 million in endorsement contracts. Shutterstock

5. Virat Kohli

Have you ever heard of Kohli? If not, you must not be a fan of professional cricket. While the game is not very common in the United States, outside of some cricket enthusiasts, it is big business in countries such as South Africa, Australia, India, and the United Kingdom.

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One of the cricket world stars is Indian batsman Kohli, who has endorsement contracts worth $20 million. They come from Audi cars, Puma athletic apparel, Pepsi beverages, and Oakley eyewear. The money he makes from endorsements is several times the amount he earns from playing professional cricket.

If you can get a big apparel endorsement from Nike, your salary will increase significantly. Shutterstock

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo 

The “Greek Freak” of the NBA was born in Greece to parents who immigrated from Nigeria. He was spotted by NBA recruiters while playing for youth teams in Athens and entered the NBA draft in 2013. In the 2016-2017 season, playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, he became the first basketball player in the NBA’s history to finish in the top 20 for statistics in all five areas of rebounds, total points, blocks, assists, and scores.

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The Greek Freak has an impressive array of endorsements that have added 28 million dollars to his salary. Those endorsements are for the sports brands Nike and 2K Sports, along with internet TV company Hulu. Nearly 60% of his salary comes from endorsements.

3. Zion Williamson

Williamson played one season at Duke University, in 2018-2019, before being drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA draft. At Duke, he was the ACC Rookie of the Year, ACC Athlete of the Year, and ACC Player of the year, and in January of 2019, he set the scoring record for first-year students in a single game and claimed the Wayman Tisdale Award. His newly begun career in the NBA seems to be just as promising as his college basketball career was.

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Despite being new to professional sports, having only been picked up in 2019, Zion has an estimated $20 million in endorsement contracts. They are mainly sports companies, including 2K Sports, Nike, Fanatics, and Panini. Gatorade has also picked him up along with Mountain Dew.

She brings home 90% of her earnings from endorsements. Shutterstock

2. Naomi Osaka

Osaka’s name may not be as well-known as her counterpart Serena Williams’, but she brings home enough money from endorsement contracts to make up for any difference. She has won three Grand Slam singles championships, and the Women’s Tennis Association considers her to be number one.

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Osaka has an impressive portfolio of endorsements that go well beyond the tennis world. Companies that pay to use her face in advertising include Bodyarmor, All Nippo Airways, Mastercard, Nissan Motors, Nike, Nissin Food Holdings, Yonex, Shiseido, and Procter and Gamble.

Number one will always be Michael Jordan. Shutterstock

1. Michael Jordan 

The man whose name is ubiquitous with endorsements, Michael Jordan’s name is a brand in itself. The professional basketball player is the man behind Nike’s iconic Air Jordans. Before athletes were endorsing brands the way they are today, in 1991, Gatorade signed a deal with Michael Jordan worth $13.5 million, making him the only celebrity spokesman for the sports drink at the moment. This endorsement set the standard for just about every celebrity athlete endorsement to come.

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He had already been featured by Hanes underwear since 1989. However, he remains an ambassador of the underwear company to this day. 

Even though MJ has never had much hair, in 1988, Ultra Star Hair Products signed MJ on to sing in a commercial. His hair was not the point. His celebrity with the Chicago Bulls was. There’s also been Upper Deck trading cards, Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Chevrolet, and General Mills, with their Wheaties box featuring him.  No athlete will ever top MJ. Even those who bring in more dollars from celebrity endorsements will always have to thank him for setting the standard for athletes endorsing brands. 

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