Some Athletes Were Legendary, But Their Salaries Weren’t

Some Athletes Were Legendary, But Their Salaries Weren't Today’s professional athletes get paid a lot more than their predecessors did. But how much have salaries changed over the years?

For some perspective, we looked up the highest annual salary for each of the Elite Eight legends from Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York (over the course of each career in that city). We found most salaries but were unable to find and/or verify some. We adjusted for inflation and added them up.

Here’s the breakdown:

Boston
Red Auerbach (1950-1966, as head coach of Boston Celtics)
Highest annual: $10,000
Adjusted: $67,286.73

Larry Bird (1979-1992, as forward for Boston Celtics)
Highest annual: $7,070,000
Adjusted: $10,985,913.26

Tom Brady (2000-2009, as quarterback for New England Patriots)
Highest annual: $16,004,840
Adjusted: $16,004,840

John Havlicek (1962-1978, as forward/guard for Boston Celtics)
Highest annual: $200,000
Adjusted: $668,739.26

Bobby Orr (1966-1976, as defenseman for Boston Bruins)
Highest annual: $500,000
Adjusted: $1,915,720.56

Bill Russell (1956-1969, as center for Boston Celtics)
Highest annual: $100,001
Adjusted: $594,035.91

Ted Williams (1939-1942, 1946-1960, as left fielder for Boston Red Sox)
Highest annual: $125,000
Adjusted: $935,000

Carl Yastrzemski (1961-1983, as left fielder and first baseman for Boston Red Sox)
Highest annual: $242,500
Adjusted: $810,846.36

Boston total (annual): $24,252,341
Boston total (adjusted): $31,982,382.08

Chicago
Ernie Banks (1953-1971, as shortstop/first baseman for Chicago Cubs)
Highest annual: $85,000
Adjusted: $491,834.55

Dick Butkus (1965-1973, as linebacker for Chicago Bears)
Highest annual: $50,000
Adjusted: $336,441.21

Mike Ditka (1961-1966, as tight end for Chicago Bears; 1982-1992, as head coach of Chicago Bears)
Highest annual: $25,000 (as player in 1966)
Adjusted: $163,479.70

Bobby Hull (1957-1972, as left wing for Chicago Blackhawks)
Highest annual: $60,000 (in 1968-69)
Adjusted: $347,177.33

Joe Jackson (1915-1920, as outfield for Chicago White Sox)
Highest annual: $8,000
Adjusted: $132,674.34

Michael Jordan (1984-1993, 1994-1998, as shooting guard for Chicago Bulls)
Highest annual: $33,140,000
Adjusted: $44,106,193

Stan Mikita (1958-1980, as center for Chicago Blackhawks)
Highest annual: $8,500
Adjusted: $57,195.01

Walter Payton (1975-1987, as running back for Chicago Bears)
Highest annual: $475,000
Adjusted: $1,220,738.40

Chicago total (annual): $34,265,500
Chicago total (adjusted): $46,855,733.54

Los Angeles
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
(1975-1989, as center for Los Angeles Lakers)
Highest annual: $3,000,000
Adjusted: $5,124,842.33

Kobe Bryant (1996-present, as shooting guard for Los Angeles Lakers)
Highest annual: $23,034,375
Adjusted: $23,034,375

Wayne Gretzky (1988-1996, as center for Los Angeles Kings)
Highest annual: $6,545,400
Adjusted: $8,859,398.08

Magic Johnson
(1979-1996, as point guard for Los Angeles Lakers)
Highest annual: $3,142,860
Adjusted: $5,368,887.33

Sandy Koufax (1955-1966, as pitcher for Los Angeles Dodgers)
Highest annual: $125,000
Adjusted: $817,398.48

Tommy Lasorda (1954-1955, as pitcher for Los Angeles Dodgers; 1976-1996, as manager of Los Angeles Dodgers)
Highest annual: $600 per month ($100 per month, first salary)
Adjusted: $4,880.80

Jerry West (1960-1974, as guard/forward for Los Angeles Lakers)
Highest annual: $90,000
Adjusted: $484,464.44

John Wooden (1948-1975, as head coach of UCLA basketball)
Highest annual: $38,000
Adjusted: $163,476.61

Los Angeles total (highest annual): $35,982,835
Los Angeles total (adjusted): $43,857,723.07

New York
Babe Ruth
(1914-1935, as outfielder for New York Yankees)
Highest annual: $80,000
Adjusted: $1,116,484.85

Joe DiMaggio (1936-1942, 1946-1951, as center fielder for New York Yankees)
Highest annual: $100,000
Adjusted: $816,977.20

Walt Frazier (1967-1980, as guard for New York Knicks)
Highest annual: $300,000
Adjusted: $875,076.68

Derek Jeter (1995-present, as shortstop for New York Yankees)
Highest annual: $21,600,000
Adjusted: $21,600,000
 
Mickey Mantle (1951-1968, as center fielder for Yankees)
Highest annual: $100,000
Adjusted: $609,874.84

Mark Messier (1991-1997, as center for New York Rangers)
Highest annual: $860,000
Adjusted: $1,337,671.20

Joe Namath (1965-1977, as quarterback of New York Jets)
Highest annual: $427,000
Adjusted: $2,873,207.97

Jackie Robinson (1947-1956, as infielder for Brooklyn Dodgers)
Highest annual: $35,000
Adjusted: $308,531.44
 
New York total (highest annual): $26,502,000
New York total (adjusted): $29,539,824.18

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