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The Highest-Paid Athlete of Every Year From 1990 to 2020

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Thanks to the new coronavirus, Americans are being robbed of their national pastime as the future of the 2020 baseball season remains in serious doubt. They’ve also lost another of their favorite pastimes: complaining about the enormous salaries of superstar athletes. While sympathizing with multimillionaires is never easy, it’s a tough time to be someone who earns a living with their athletic prowess. In a career where retirement comes at age 40 — if you’re lucky — every single lucrative season in your 20s and 30s is crucial. Having an entire year wiped out by COVID-19 can be the same as a small business owner having to close up shop for the next decade.

So, while many of the people on this list are not in dire financial straits — particularly when compared to the rest of America right now — it is worth noting just how much money sweeping shutdowns can cost a top-tier athlete. As such, GOBankingRates used Forbes’ annual list of the highest-paid athletes and found the top earner — in combined salary/winnings and endorsements — from every year going back to 1990.

Take a look at just how much the top athletes are at risk of losing if the current crisis hampers their earning power for the year. None of these athletes are likely going to end up in serious need of a paycheck, but top earners like soccer superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo could still miss out on an awful lot of money.

Last updated: April 13, 2020

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1990

  • Athlete: Mike Tyson
  • Sport: Boxing
  • Total earnings: $28,600,000

See: Athletes Who Got Rich for Something Other Than Sports

Mark J Terrill/AP / Shutterstock.com

1991

  • Athlete: Evander Holyfield
  • Sport: Boxing
  • Total earnings: $60,500,000

Tim Boyle/AP / Shutterstock.com

1992

  • Athlete: Michael Jordan
  • Sport: Basketball
  • Total earnings: $35,900,000

Bill Kostroun/AP / Shutterstock.com

1993

  • Athlete: Michael Jordan
  • Sport: Basketball
  • Total earnings: $36,000,000

Barry Jarvinen/AP / Shutterstock.com

1994

  • Athlete: Michael Jordan
  • Sport: Basketball
  • Total earnings: $30,010,000

Kobal/REX / Shutterstock.com

1995

  • Athlete: Michael Jordan
  • Sport: Basketball
  • Total earnings: $43,900,000

Check Out: These 13 Athletes Won the Most Lucrative Endorsement Deals

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1996

  • Athlete: Mike Tyson
  • Sport: Boxing
  • Total earnings: $75,000,000

Winslow Townson/AP / Shutterstock.com

1997

  • Athlete: Michael Jordan
  • Sport: Basketball
  • Total earnings: $78,300,000

Remy De La Mauviniere/AP / Shutterstock.com

1998

  • Athlete: Michael Jordan
  • Sport: Basketball
  • Total earnings: $69,000,000

Andy Hooper/Daily Mail / Shutterstock.com

1999

  • Athlete: Michael Schumacher
  • Sport: Formula One
  • Total earnings: $49,000,000

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2000

  • Athlete: Michael Schumacher
  • Sport: Formula One
  • Total earnings: $59,000,000

Amy Sancetta/AP/REX / Shutterstock.com

2001

  • Athlete: Tiger Woods
  • Sport: Golf
  • Total earnings: $65,000,000

Editor’s note: In 2002, Forbes changed its reporting period from the full calendar year to June-to-June. As such, there is no list for the highest-paid athletes of 2001. This figure was sourced from a report by Men’s Health.

Lenny Ignelzi/AP/REX / Shutterstock.com

2002

  • Athlete: Tiger Woods
  • Sport: Golf
  • Total earnings: $69,000,000

Denis Poroy/AP / Shutterstock.com

2003

  • Athlete: Tiger Woods
  • Sport: Golf
  • Total earnings: $78,000,000

Ryan Kang/AP / Shutterstock.com

2004

  • Athlete: Tiger Woods
  • Sport: Golf
  • Total earnings: $80,300,000

Andrew Gombert/EPA/REX / Shutterstock.com

2005

  • Athlete: Tiger Woods
  • Sport: Golf
  • Total earnings: $87,000,000

Ryan Kang/AP / Shutterstock.com

2006

  • Athlete: Tiger Woods
  • Sport: Golf
  • Total earnings: $90,000,000

See: Most Successful Athlete From Every Decade

TANNEN MAURY/EPA-EFE / Shutterstock.com

2007

  • Athlete: Tiger Woods
  • Sport: Golf
  • Total earnings: $100,000,000

Danny Moloshok/AP/REX / Shutterstock.com

2008

  • Athlete: Tiger Woods
  • Sport: Golf
  • Total earnings: $115,000,000

Tony Bowler / Shutterstock.com

2009

  • Athlete: Tiger Woods
  • Sport: Golf
  • Total earnings: $110,000,000

Eric Gay/AP/REX / Shutterstock.com

2010

  • Athlete: Tiger Woods
  • Sport: Golf
  • Total earnings: $105,000,000

Gregory Vasil/CSM/REX / Shutterstock.com

2011

  • Athlete: Tiger Woods
  • Sport: Golf
  • Total earnings: $75,000,000

KCR / Shutterstock.com

2012

  • Athlete: Floyd Mayweather Jr.
  • Sport: Boxing
  • Total earnings: $85,000,000

Ray Acevedo/EPA/REX / Shutterstock.com

2013

  • Athlete: Tiger Woods
  • Sport: Golf
  • Total earnings: $78,100,000

BPI / Shutterstock.com

2014

  • Athlete: Floyd Mayweather Jr.
  • Sport: Boxing
  • Total earnings: $105,000,000

Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

2015

  • Athlete: Floyd Mayweather Jr.
  • Sport: Boxing
  • Total earnings: $300,000,000

Marco Canoniero / Shutterstock.com

2016

  • Athlete: Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Sport: Soccer
  • Total earnings: $88,000,000

Read: 23 Athletes Who Love Giving Their Money Away

Laszlo Szirtesi / Shutterstock.com

2017

  • Athlete: Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Sport: Soccer
  • Total earnings: $93,000,000

The Times/REX / Shutterstock.com

2018

  • Athlete: Floyd Mayweather Jr.
  • Sport: Boxing
  • Total earnings: $285,000,000

Christian Bertrand / Shutterstock.com

2019

  • Athlete: Lionel Messi
  • Sport: Soccer
  • Total earnings: $127,000,000

Waraporn Wattanakul / Shutterstock.com

2020

  • Athlete: TBD
  • Sport: TBD
  • Total earnings: TBD

Handicapping who will ultimately be the top earner in the 2020 fiscal year is anyone’s guess. The cancelation of so many sporting events has left things in serious flux, with a lot of game checks going unwritten and uncollected. However, look for athletes for whom endorsements are a major portion of their earning power to rise to the top yet again — last year’s top earner, Lionel Messi, is a good bet — as that income is less likely to take as deep of a hit as salaries.

More From GOBankingRates

Methodology: GOBankingRates determined the highest-paid athlete of every year from 1990 to 2019 by looking at Forbes’ highest-paid athletes for the years 2004 and 2007 to 2019. TopEnd Sports was used for all other years, as they have archived Forbes’ figures since 1990. GOBankingRates only analyzed contemporaneously active athletes. All data was collected and up to date as of March 17, 2020.