LeBron James Reportedly Thought He Was Underpaid With Heat

LeBron James Reportedly Thought He Was Underpaid With Heat
  • LeBron James took less than the max when he joined the Heat in 2010.
  • James felt he was underpaid in Miami and it bothered him to not be the highest-paid player, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
  • James has since signed max contracts when possible, but rules have prevented him from some massive pay days.

LeBron James is the highest-paid player in NBA historybut in his mind, he should have made even more.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on the “Hoop Collective” podcastwhile James was with the Miami Heat from 2010-14, it bothered him that he wasn’t the highest-paid player on the team.

As Windhorst noted, when James joined the Miami Heat, he took slightly less than the max, signing a six-year, $110 million contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of a sign-and-trade to Miami. By taking slightly less than the max, it allowed the Heat to sign some much-needed veteran depth.

During those four years, James was consistently tied with Chris Bosh as the highest-paid player on the Heat.

Windhorst said he once noted to James that he hadn’t been the highest-paid player on the team. According to Windhorst, James’ head “snapped around” and he said, “That’s an untold story.”

Windhorst said James then went on a “rant about being underpaid.”

According to Basketball-ReferenceJames earned salaries of $14.5 million, $16 million, $17.5 million, and $19 million across his four seasons with the Heat.

In a league with a salary cap, James — who was almost indisputably the league’s best player — was underpaid.

Though James had agreed to take less to help the Heat, it still reportedly irked him to be making less than he could have. According to Windhorst, that feeling cemented James’ philosophy going forward to earn a max contract at every turn.

“Ever since he didn’t get those maxes in Miami, it’s always been like, ‘I am a max player,'” Windhorst said.

LeBron James stands with his hands on his hips and looks up during a Cavs game in 2015.

LeBron James in 2015.

Tony Dejak/AP Images


When James re-signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, he signed a series of one-year deals, hitting free agency each summer, just to re-sign in Cleveland. This accomplished two things: It allowed him to make more money, re-signing under a growing salary cap, which players’ salaries are tied to. It also kept pressure on the Cavs’ front office to keep improving, knowing James could leave in free agency if he wanted to.

James never signed a long-term contract in Cleveland, but he has with the Los Angeles Lakers. His initial deal was a four-year, $153 million contract with the Lakers. He has since signed a pair of two-year extensions, most recently a two-year, $97 million extension that will keep him with the Lakers through 2024-25.

LeBron James looks up during a game in 2022.

LeBron James in 2022.

Mark J. Terrill/AP Images


There is one area where James’ greatness has hurt him, however — signing a five-year maximum deal into his 30s.

James has twice run into an obscure, age-related rule that has foiled his plans to sign massive, $200 million deals.

In 2016, James looked poised to sign a five-year deal worth $200 million with the Cavaliers. However, that version of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) had the “over-36” rule, which prevented teams from signing players to four- or five-year deals that took them past 36 (the belief being that those players were unlikely to see the end of the contract). Under the rule, the money owed to players in years after they turned 36 would be spread out to the earlier years of the contract.

For James, who was 31 at the time, that would have meant taking the money in the fifth year of the deal (when he’d be 36) and spreading it out over the first four years. However, he would have made more than the maximum amount possible in a single season, violating rules.

The same thing happened in 2020, when James could have opted out of his first contract with the Lakers the next summer and signed a five-year max. However, the rule, which had been changed to the “over-38” rule to accommodate longer-lasting careers, once again applied to James, who was 34. The money couldn’t be spread out because he’d once again make more than the maximum allowed.

James, instead signed a two-year, $85 million extension with the Lakers.

Ultimately, James will finish his career with more than $500 million in earnings.

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