Victor Wembanyama has been the most-hyped rookie since LeBron James. To be fair, Wembanyama’s skill set is perhaps the most unique one we’ve seen since LeBron entered the league in 2003. Wembanyama, or “Wemby,” is 7’4″ with an eight-foot wingspan. He’s got tremendous defensive prowess, impressive handles, and the agility of a guard.
The San Antonio Spurs drafted Wembanyama with the No. 1 pick with hopes of turning the franchise around. However, the Spurs have been terrible on the court. They’d be the worst team in the league if not for the Detroit Pistons, who set a single-season record with 28 straight losses. As of this writing, the Spurs have a record of 5-29, which is good enough (or bad enough, in this case) for last place in the Western Conference.
Yet Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich isn’t worrying too much. He knows this team isn’t built to compete. His job is to get Wembanyama ready for the future, when he’ll likely have a better roster around him.
And if things break the right way, Wembanyama could make over $1 billion entirely from on-court earnings. FYI, that’s more than double what LeBron has made ($479 million) over a 21-year-and-counting career.
Billion Dollar Player
Every NBA player who gets drafted in the first round is offered an amount of money on a sliding scale. Each draft pick has a corresponding yearly salary, which increases in subsequent years. The No. 1 selection has the largest contract, with the total contract value decreasing as the selections get lower.
That means Wembanyama is the highest-paid rookie in the NBA. His rookie contract is $55.2 million over four years, a little less than $14 million per year.
Though his deal has a fifth-year option, he’ll almost certainly look to get a max contract in the summer of 2027. With the NBA’s salary cap rising each year thanks to its current broadcast deal, that max contract could be worth five years and $316 million.
Assuming he continues playing well under that max contract — and maybe the Spurs win a couple of championships along the way — Wembanyama would become a free agent again in 2032. By then, the NBA will have signed a new broadcast deal, and the supermax contract would potentially be worth more than half a billion dollars. Wembanyama would be eligible for the supermax if he hit a number of criteria, such as being named MVP, winning Defensive Player of the Year, or making All-NBA teams in two out of the previous three seasons before he’s eligible for a new deal.
His potential earnings in that deal? $529 million over five years. He’d be making nearly $106 million per season.
If NBA rules remain the same as they are right now, that insane salary will be just 35% of the league’s salary cap. Teams would be able to pay players a collective $1.511 billion without penalty.
In both cases, Wembanyama would have to stay with the Spurs to maximize his earnings. Other teams could only offer four years and about around $250 to $260 million in the first contract and four years and likely $420 million to $440 million with the second one.
By the time that supermax contract is up in 2037, Wembanyama would already have made more than $900 million in pre-tax salary. Even a modest contract — when he’d still be just 32 years old — would push him over the billion-dollar mark.
Of course, there are some potential complications to this hypothetical. First, Wembanyama would have to be among the best players in the league consistently. There are only 15 All-NBA nods every season. Obviously, winning MVP would also mean he’s one of the best players in the league, if not the very best, though there are more opportunities for an All-NBA recognition.
Second, Wembanyama would have to stay healthy for the majority of his career. In terms of size, his best comparison is probably Kevin Durant. This is Durant’s 17th year in the NBA, though he missed the 2019-20 season after recovering from an ACL tear. However, Durant is typically not guarding centers on the other team, while Wembanyama at least spends some of his time banging around in the paint. Across NBA history, players over seven feet have typically had shorter careers than their more modestly sized counterparts. Wembanyama could certainly buck that trend, though it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.
Third, Wembanyama may decide not to sign the max and supermax contracts, even if he’s eligible. Why would someone not sign a supermax contract? Maybe the person like the team. Or management. Or its prospects of winning championships. Or maybe the player dooesn’t like the city. If someone owns a huge amazing mansion in Los Angeles, and your kids are all situated in local schools, at some point you don’t reallllly want to spend half your year in… say… Cleveland?
Finally, perhaps the biggest financial barrier: All of this money is pre-tax. While Wembanyama does catch a bit of a break with his home games (and a few road games) being played in Texas, which has no state income tax, he still has to pay 37% on the majority of his earnings in federal taxes, and he has to pay the state tax for road games in states that do collect income tax.
So, while he could potentially reach $1 billion in pre-tax earnings, he’d have to get somewhere between $1.8 and $2 billion over his career actually to take home $1 billion.
What about in off-the-court earnings?
Wembanyama has plenty of opportunities to earn off the court, too. He’s already thinking about how he can put his money to good use. He’s an early investor in Barcode, a plant-based drink that offered him equity in the company rather than a set payday.
Even more importantly, he’s expressed an interest in saving lives by providing money and support to give people access to clean water. There are billions of people around the world who don’t have that access. The World Resources Institute reported that 25 countries that house a quarter of the world’s population have “extremely high water stress.”
And don’t forget that this year’s Summer Olympics are in Paris. Wembanyama grew up in Le Chesnay, a suburb of Paris. His stardom in his country could lead to some lucrative deals this summer.
Before all that, though, Wembanyama has to continue focusing on improving. Reaching the NBA is an impressive accomplishment. Sticking around and earning max salaries is even more difficult.