The NBA has long promoted the diversity of its players and considered a point of pride that so many men from diverse backgrounds have gravitated to the game of basketball. While this has typically been exemplified by the dozens of different nations players originate from, there is another aspect to players’ personal history that is worth exploring: their financial status growing up.
Playing professional basketball comes with one of the higher financial benefits in sports. The average NBA salary this year is around $4.6 million per year. This means that even the seventh or eighth guy on the roster is living very, very comfortably. At one end of the spectrum, you have LeBron James making just under $31 million and at the other, you have the rookie minimum salary set at over $500,600. All this is to say that NBA players are rewarded quite nicely for making it to the peak of their profession. Their dedication to the game and the work necessary to succeed can all be worth it for the pay day, in addition to the glory of winning, fame, and adoration of fans.
For some players, the money can be something beyond their wildest dreams based on their personal histories. Players who came from difficult family backgrounds, disadvantaged neighborhoods, or poverty can put all that behind them by earning their pay in the NBA. But for some players, the wealth that comes with being in the NBA is just a continuation or slight increase to the lifestyle in which they were raised. While they may have put in the same work to reach the NBA, the financial obstacles faced by their peers were never an issue.
Here are 10 examples of NBA players born poor and 10 examples of players born rich.
20. Rich: Austin Rivers
Austin Rivers is our first example of a player who benefited from having a father in the NBA. Doc Rivers played 13 years in the league during the late 80s and early 90s. While his career salary earnings only totaled about $8 million, he would go on to make a lot more as a coach for the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, and now Los Angeles Clippers. In 2011, he was given an extension with Boston worth $35 million, the same year Austin Rivers was set to become a freshman at Duke.
The younger Rivers could often be seen around the Celtics organization while his father was the coach, learning about NBA life and what it took to compete at that level. Just another added bonus for the player/coach’s son.
19. Poor: Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony was born in the Red Hook projects of Brooklyn, New York. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Red Hook was considered one of the worst neighborhoods in the country and epicenter for the crack epidemic. Things didn’t get much better for Anthony when he moved at the age of eight to Baltimore. The street he lived on was nicknamed “Murder Ave” and Anthony was exposed to violence, homicide, and drugs all while trying to develop his love of basketball. That’s a terrible environment for someone trying to focus on playing a game of hoops.
18. Rich: Kevin Love
Kevin Love is another example of a player whose father was a professionally in the NBA. However, Stan Love did not exactly have a prolific career. He played from 1971 to 1975 but was known more for his success at the University of Oregon than at the next level with the the Baltimore Bullets, Los Angeles Lakers, and the ABA’s San Antonio Spurs.
Kevin Love benefited more from the fact that his uncle Mike Love was a founding member of the band the Beach Boys, making Love a second cousin of the other members Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson. After his playing career, Kevin’s father Stan would go on to act as a bodyguard and personal trainer for Brian Wilson. With Mike Love and Brian Wilson’s individual net worths somewhere around $50-$75 million, it stands to reason that Kevin Love grew up quite comfortably.
17. Poor: Jimmy Butler
Few NBA players have a story like that of Jimmy Butler. To start, his father abandoned his family when Butler was a baby. He grew up in the small Houston suburb of Tomball, Texas where the population was less than 10,000. Butler’s mother would then kick him out of the house when he was just 13 and he was forced to find shelter with friends where and when he could.
Eventually Butler was taken in by the family of Jordan Leslie, who would go on to become a professional football player, before he was able to make it to Marquette and finally the NBA. For starting his life effectively homeless, Butler has been rewarded for his perseverance in the form of a $15+ million salary this past season.
16. Rich: Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol has become one of the more accomplished players in the NBA, especially in terms of foreign imports. Since arriving in the NBA, he has won Rookie of the Year, has been named to six All-Star games, and won two championships.
Gasol comes from an an equally accomplished family back in Spain. His mother was a doctor and father was a nurse administrator for a hospital in Barcelona. The Gasol family lived in the wealthy Barcelona suburbs of Cornella de Llobregat and Sant Boi de Llobregat before moving to the U.S. for Gasol’s NBA career. Gasol was definitely in a great position to find success in whichever avenue he chose to pursue. If he ever decides to return to Spain after his playing career, he has plenty to go back to.
15. Poor: Matt Barnes
If it seems like Matt Barnes has been in the NBA forever, that’s because he was drafted way back in 2002. He’s played for nine different teams over that span and has been almost exclusively a bench player while developing a reputation as a scrappy agitator. But making it to the NBA in any capacity, and sticking around for as long as he has, is even more impressive when you know his story.
Growing up as a mixed-race kid in the Sacramento, California area, Barnes dealt with issues of racism and frequently found himself defending both his sister and himself either verbally or physically. Barnes has also gone on the record recalling how his father was a drug dealer, he was threatened by the KKK, and lived in areas with a heavy gang presence.
14. Rich: Tim Hardaway Jr.
The name should tell you all you need to know about why Tim Hardaway Jr. had a different upbringing than some of his NBA peers. His father, Tim Hardaway, was a five time All-Star during his 15 year NBA career. The elder Hardaway’s career earnings in the league total over $46 million with a single year high of $12 million for the 2000-01 season. Needless to say, Jr. must have been spoiled as a kid.
Hardaway, Jr. was born in 1992 and would play high school basketball at two prestigious Miami-area schools before playing at Michigan. He was drafted in 2013 and has just started to develop into a productive pro. Having the Hardaway name and upbringing was definitely a big help. But he worked as hard as any other kid to get to where he is.
13. Poor: Marcus Smart
In his three years in the NBA, Marcus Smart has become known for his hard-nosed defense and willingness to throw his body around the court. His shooting ability may not match his heart or courage but the Boston Celtics seem pleased with what he brings off the bench. The Celtics will keep looking to him to be a spark off the bench as they attempt to climb the mountain in the NBA Playoffs.
The attitude with which Smart plays may be influenced in part by his upbringing in Lancaster, Texas. He grew up in projects surrounded by gangs while his brother Michael became a drug dealer. On top of that, he dealt with the personal tragedy of his brother Todd passing away after a prolonged battle with cancer.
12. Rich: David Lee
By the sound of things, David Lee’s life was set long before he started pursuing basketball. It seems to be the love the game, not fame and fortune, that has motivated Lee in the NBA. It’s paid off as he’s had a solid career and helped win a title with the Golden State Warriors.
Few fans probably know that David Lee comes from a very wealthy family thanks to his grandfather, E. Desmond Lee. That Lee was a co-founder of the Lee-Rowan Company that had $100 million in revenue in 1992 and was then sold to Rubbermaid for over $70 million. Lee surely didn’t have to go to the NBA to earn a fortune, but playing basketball is a great way to earn a living, isn’t it?
11. Poor: Kevin Durant
Most NBA fans probably know a little bit of Kevin Durant’s story and his relationship with his mother, who he dubbed “the real MVP” while accepting the league’s award in 2014. After his father abandoned the family while Durant was an infant, he was raised by his mother and grandmother in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. That town is on the lower end of per capita rankings for Maryland. Knowing where KD is today, you can’t argue his mother is the real MVP.
According to Durant himself, he effectively had nothing growing up as his mother worked long hours to support both he and his brothers. He’s made the most of his talent, racking up contracts and endorsements that now put him in the top-ten highest paid athletes in the world.
10. Rich: Kobe Bryant
When you see that Kobe Bryant’s career earnings in the NBA totaled about $328 million, and then consider how much more he’s made in endorsements, it seems unfair to think that he grew up pretty comfortably to begin with.
His father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, had a solid eight year NBA career and his uncle, Chubby Cox, was also a professional basketball player in the CBA. At age six, the Bryant family moved to Italy where Jellybean continued to play professionally. Kobe’s childhood was then marked by trips between Italy and the U.S. where is own basketball skills developed. Sounds like a pretty good life for the Mamba. Now, he gets to enjoy retired life while enjoying all of those massive earnings he made.
9. Poor: Derrick Rose
It was a homecoming for Derrick Rose when he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls first overall in the 2008 NBA draft. He seemed destined for greatness, winning Rookie of the Year in 2009 and MVP in 2011. But then the injuries started piling up and Rose was never really the same player.
Overcoming injuries are nothing compared to Rose’s background. He was raised in Englewood, a neighborhood of Chicago that had a poverty rate of 44% when Rose was growing up. The crime, and homicide, rate in the area is also exceptionally high. Rose’s older brothers are credited with keeping the current New York Knick protected and out of trouble so he could focus on basketball. Thankfully, it all worked out in Rose’s favor.
8. Rich: Jerian Grant
Grant is a pretty common last name so NBA fans can be forgiven if they don’t know the famous family of Chicago Bulls guard Jerian Grant. Some may now his brother Jerai, who played at Clemson, or his brother Jerami who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But it is Grant’s father, Harvey Grant, and his uncle, Horace Grant, that gave Jerian a comfortable childhood. Harvey Grant played in the NBA from 1988 to 2000, pulling down career salary earnings of over $22 million. Harvey’s twin brother Horace had a slightly longer and more productive NBA career most notably with the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic. His career salaries total just under $68 million. With that kind of family support and genetics, you can see how Jerian and his brothers have been able to make it in basketball.
7. Poor: Caron Butler
Caron Butler started down a path at a young age that was unlikely to end in a long, successful, and ultimately financially rewarding NBA career. He grew up in the tough neighborhood of Racine, Wisconsin and it was not long before he found himself dealing drugs. Butler was arrested 15 times by the time he turned 15, resulting in his imprisonment in a juvenile detention center.
Butler has said that during his incarceration, he began to focus on basketball and it turned his life around. He received a scholarship to UConn, was a top-10 pick, and went on to make millions in the NBA. It just goes to show you how well a young person can learn from their mistakes and turn their life around if given the chance.
6. Rich: Steph Curry
Every fan knows Steph Curry’s story or became familiar with it once he found himself in the NBA spotlight. The only fact about Curry’s life that most fans probably don’t know is that his first name is Wardell, named after his father, who everyone knows as in the NBA.
Dell Curry started in the NBA in 1986, two years before Steph was born, and played through the 2002 season. We’ve all seen the pictures of young Steph sitting courtside before games or hanging around the locker room with his father. Dell never made huge money in the NBA based on the era he played in and the type of player he was. Regardless, being the child of a professional athlete comes with its advantages and there is no doubt the Curry’s lived comfortably.
5. Poor: Dwyane Wade
Similar to another player appearing on this list, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade was raised in a rough neighborhood of Chicago. Drugs, violence, and gangs were common on the South Side as Wade was growing up in the 80s. His family struggled financially and Wade’s mother had drug addiction problems herself. Wade needed a change of scenery as a youngster.
Wade’s life improved slightly when he moved in with his father and basketball became a greater focus in his life. He’s gone on to make hundred of millions through contracts and endorsements and also seems intent on using his platform to improve conditions on the South Side. Wade’s days as a basketball player are numbered, but he’s going to enjoy a very fruitful retired life.
4. Rich: Klay Thompson
Just like his Splash Brother Steph Curry, Klay Thompson is also the son of a former NBA player. His father Mychal Thompson played in 935 between 1978 and 1991 after he was taken first overall in the ’78 draft. Playing in that era meant the salaries weren’t what we’ve come to know in the NBA now but the Thompsons were still better off than most.
Klay was able to grow up in the same Oregon town as Kevin Love (who also shows up in the “Rich” category of this list) before the family relocated to another nice area of Orange County, California. Thompson definitely had a good head start as a youngster but he’s made his own success as he’s one of the best shooters in the league.
3. Poor: Ben McLemore
Ben McLemore grew up in the poverty stricken town of Wellston, Missouri and was raised by a single mother while his older brother served a prison sentence for armed burglary. Even heading in to the 2013 draft, there were up to 15 family members still living in McLemore’s 600-square foot home.
According to family members, going to school was the only time McLemore had a chance to eat and when his high school was shut down, many of his classmates turned to drug dealing or gangs to occupy their time. Sometimes your environment really can make or break you. McLemore benefited from his basketball gifts and the support of coaches, however, and made it to Oak Hill Academy and then Kansas before the NBA.
2. Rich: Gary Payton II
Gary Payton II had a successful college career at Oregon State, the alma mater of his father Gary Payton. While the younger Payton was a skilled guard, it probably didn’t hurt having the Payton name when trying to get recruited. It was probably one of many perks that came with being the son of a former NBA star who amassed over $100 million in salary alone.
Payton II’s career hasn’t got off to quite the fast start like his father’s. After going undrafted in 2016, he had a stint in the D-League. But in April of 2017 he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to a multi-year deal and appeared in a handful of games down the stretch. We’ll see if he’s able to become a full-time NBA player next year.
1. Poor: LeBron James
We had to end this list with one of the ultimate rags-to-riches stories. The kid from Akron who became King James and one of the most powerful athletes in the world. While most fans know most of James’ story, it is nevertheless an impressive one.
His mother was only 16 when James was born and his father, an ex-con, was not in LeBron’s life. Gloria James had her own difficulties and her lack of steady work meant that she and her son moved from one project to another in Akron’s rougher neighborhoods. Things got bad enough to the point where LeBron’s mother sent him to live with the family of a coach, hoping to give him a little more stability. Whatever approach was used work as James went on to become the global icon he is today.
With that status comes money. A lot of money. He has been paid around $172 million by NBA teams over his career. Then there are the endorsements and business deals that push James’ weatlh well beyond anything imaginable for the kid from Akron.
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