It’s free agency season in the NBA. For my money this is a bigger deal than the draft and I enjoy the drama and hype of learning where everyone is going. At the time of my writing this post I am waiting to see what my team, the San Antonio Spurs, is going to do with their franchise player Kawhi Leonard who apparently no longer wants to play for the Spurs.



While all of this is going on we get a little more exposure to the big money that is at play in professional sports. I was curious how the state of play in America lined up to the state of economics around the world. For example, is the budget of the Golden State Warriors equal to the GDP of any country? Is the salary of the NBA’s highest paid player equal to the GDP of any country on the planet? Below are a few of the things I found.


Top Three Teams by Contract Salaries Last Year


The highest combined salaries in the NBA belongs to the recently re-crowned champs, the Golden State Warriors (also the team single handedly ruining the NBA in my opinion). The combined annual contracts here come in at around $137.4 million. Cleveland, who was trounced in the NBA finals last month has the second highest total contracts at $137.3 million. (All of these stats are for the season we just ended. The stats are obviously going to shift with free agency.) Third is OKC at $134.2 million in total contracts.

if the nba was a national economy

These combined salaries surpass the total GDP of a number of countries around the globe – all island nations. I think it might be easy to think that island nations are always poor nations but that kind of thinking forgets that England was an island nation. Island status is not synonymous with constraints to poor economies.


  • Tonga is an island nation made up of 169 islands and a population of around 103,000 people. Total GDP is LESS THAN the top 3 NBA teams at $403 million a year.
  • São Tomè and Prìncipe is an African island nation. Total GDP $350 million per year.
  • The Federated States of Micronesia consist of more than 600 islands and a total GDP of $322 million.
  • Palau is an island nation of 340 islands and a GDP of $293 million.
  • The Marshall Islands have a combined GDP of $183 million. Most of that is from income received from the US government as part of an agreement to account for major damage the US imposed upon the inhabitants of the island when they tested nuclear weapons there.

The top 3 teams in the NBA have contract totals greater than the GDP of all of these nations.

Individual Contracts 

Twenty seven individual players in the NBA were paid more than $23 million each last season. The combined total of these 27 individual contracts are greater than the annual GDP of the nations listed above and also:


  • Dominicia

  • Comoros

  • Vanautu



The nation with lowest GDP in the world is Kiribati (among those nations which are measured). This GDP is spread out over a population of slightly more than 100,000 people. The following NBA players have individual contracts with the NBA that are at least $5 million larger than the total GDP of Kiribati:

  • Steph Curry ($201.2 million)
  • Blake Griffin ($171.2 million)
  • Russell Westbrook ($186 million)
  • James Hardin ($181 million)


GDP per capita is Kiribati was slightly under $1,500 per year when last measured in 2016.



I gathered most of my data on the NBA here. I gathered most of my data on GDP and nation profiles here.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like this idea I had about college sports and the pay for play debates.



JB Shreve and the End of History

↑ Grab this Headline Animator

Previous articleThings You Might Not Know About the Founding Fathers
Next articleLeaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran [infographic]
JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at