Sun | Dec 3, 2023

Who's the best where it counts?

Published:Thursday | October 3, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Hubert Lawrence
Usain Bolt . File Photo

Have you ever heard of Calvin Johnson, Ray Rice, Joe Mauer or Johan Santana? What do these hard-to-place names have in common with first-name-only sport superstars Tiger, Roger, Kobe and Lebron? You'd never guess, but they all make more money than Usain Bolt. That's according to Forbes Magazine and its 2013 list of the Highest Paid Athletes.

The tall man appears at No. 40, well below Tiger Woods who is No. 1. According to Forbes, Tiger rakes in US$78.1m in pay, US$13.1m in salary/prize money and US$65m in endorsements. The corresponding figures for Usain are US$24.2m/US$0.2m/US$24m.

Comparing athletes in different sports is hard, but has Tiger been as good and dominant in golf as Bolt has been in athletics?

The Forbes top 10 is Tiger, Roger Federer, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, NFL quarterback Drew Brees, golfer Phil Mickelson, Aaron Rodgers, also of the NFL, retired footballer David Beckham, and active star footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Many of those ahead of Bolt play the big US domestic sports. Others like Federer, Beckham, Ronaldo and Messi are in sports with big championships every year. Kobe, Lebron and No. 13 Derrick Rose are from the NBA.

Bolt once wanted to be a cricketer. True to form, there is a cricketer above Bolt on the Forbes list. It's Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the No. 16. His numbers are $31.5m, $3.5m and $28m.

highest-ranked woman

For what it's worth, the highest-ranked woman, tennis star Maria Sharapova, appears at No. 22. The Russian is one of three ladies on the list and they are all from the same sport. Serena Williams, widely viewed as the best female tennis player around, is No. 68, and the Chinese Li Na is the No. 85 highest earner, according to Forbes.

These figures are remarkable. In 2012, Bolt won a third hold on the prestigious Laureus Award for the outstanding sports person of the year. Another list, generated by the Bleacher Report, rated the sixth best performer in sports for 2012.

Tiger is 81st on that list with Roger at 89th. Messi and Lebron are 1-2. Rodgers and Brees come in at 56 and 63, respectively, with Ronaldo at 16.

Usain plays a sport that has the spotlight only in an Olympic year. Interest drops even when there is a World Championships. So even though NBA stars like Lebron flocked to watch Bolt at the Olympics, track and field can't generate the money the NBA does.


Bolt's no pauper and does a brisk US$24m business on endorsements. Even there, however, he ranks well behind seven of the top 10, all of whom out-earn him with pay and salary. For example, Forbes' No. 10 Messi pulls in US$21m for endorsements, in addition to a hefty US$20.3m Barcelona salary.

There aren't any other track and field athletes in the Forbes top 100, and that leads to a clear conclusion. Athletics isn't the sport for what young people call crazy money. The best can make a good living, but it's still best to approach athletics as a way to explore God-given talents. It's a professional sport and the best can make a good living, but it isn't a mega-money sport.

Bolt is probably the most recognisable sportsman of the last decade. His winning personality, six Olympic gold medals, five world record, four set in major Championship finals, and eight World Championship gold medals have given him a high profile. It's just that when it comes to money, that isn't quite enough. Playing the right sport in the right economy counts for more, where it counts.

There's one more thing. The recently announced extension of his deal with Puma might usher in a day when Usain is among the top 10 earning athletes. After all, he's moving up from No. 63 on the Forbes list for 2012.

Hubert Lawrence has been making notes at trackside since 1980.