The NBA has evolved in a way that no other sport has. It's become a global game, with players all around the world experiencing life as a pro. Teams are scoring at a breakneck pace, which has resulted in a lot of fun action on the court.
One other change: players are getting PAID. Back during the 1984-85 season, when players like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird reigned supreme and Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon were young rookies, there were 11 players in the entire league earning at least $1 million. That group of 11 takes into consideration salary, deferred payments, signing bonuses, and miscellaneous payments and bonuses.
By contrast, a whopping 366 players currently under contract in the league are earning at least $1 million in salary alone. And the league's highest-paid player, LeBron James, with his $30.9 million salary makes nearly three times more than all 11 millionaires from 1984-85 ($11.3 million total). And when you factor in endorsements, LeBron's $78 million is about five times more than the $16 million the "millionaires' club" made.
In fact, during the 1984-85 season, only five players – Bird ($1.8 million base salary), Moses Malone ($1.6 million), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ($1.5 million), Johnson ($1 million), and Kevin McHale ($1 million) – made $1 million in salary. The other guys in the millionaires' club all reached the mark with help from their side deals.
How do the individual players stack up? The highest earner back then, Magic Johnson, earned $2.5 million in salary and deferred payments. Quite a bit less than LeBron's $78 million in earnings. In second place: Moses Malone, who took home an additional $525,000 from a signing bonus and other miscellaneous payments and bonuses. His present-day comparison is Kevin Durant, whose $26.5 million salary coupled with $36 million in off-court earnings gives him a cool $62.5 million.
Rounding out the top five:
Larry Bird ($1.8 million total) / James Harden ($43.5 million total, $17 million in endorsements)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ($1.53 million, $30,000 in miscellaneous payments) / Derrick Rose ($35.3 million total, $14 million in endorsements)
Bill Walton ($1.35 million total, $675,000 in deferred payments) / Dwyane Wade ($35.2 million total, $12 million in endorsements)
Bottom line: It's a good time to be an NBA player. Can you imagine the difference in another 32 years?