|Who needs to play? LeBron James will collect $33 million in endorsement money for the season [GALLO/GETTY]
The NBA season may be in danger of being wiped out by a bitter labour dispute already five months old but the big bucks will keep rolling in for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and a select few of the game's biggest stars.
While some players might be left counting the cost of the lockout with their average annual salaries of $5 million on hold, at least 10 of the sport's marquee players will be earning at least that much in off-court endorsements, regardless of whether they play or not, according to Forbes.com.
At the top of the rich list is James, the Miami Heat forward who will collect $33 million in endorsement money for the season, twice his annual salary, Forbes reported.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Bryant, who was set to reel in the league's highest salary this season at $25.2 million, would also fare well with estimated off-court endorsements of $28 million.
James' Miami Heat teammate Wade has also found success on and off the court. The guard should collect $12 million in endorsement money even without his $15.5 million salary for the2011-12 season.
Shoe and apparel companies, soft drinks, airlines and a variety of other entities help make the big paychecks possible while escrow money from the 2010-11 season that was withheld from NBA players' paychecks will help boost the totals.
Players will share more than $190 million in escrow money because team owners did not spend 57 percent of basketball related income, as required in the collective bargaining agreement that expired June 30.
For Bryant, that would mean an extra $2 million, Forbes said.
Other members of the $5 million endorsement club include Orlando Magic centre Dwight Howard ($11 million in deals) and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant ($9 million).
New York Knicks forwards Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are not far behind. Both have deals worth $8 million.
New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul will earn $6 million and Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett and Washington Wizards guard John Wall will each collect $5 million off the court.
Many players, including some of the league's richest, also are looking to supplement their income with deals with professional basketball teams in Europe and elsewhere should there not be an NBA season.
League owners locked out the players on July 1 after negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement failed.
After weeks of trying to find common ground on a new agreement, the players dissolved their union on Monday and began filing antitrust lawsuits.
The owners responded by cancelling games through mid-December.
They claim the NBA lost $300 million last season with 22 of its 30 teams in the red and have demanded a reduction in the players' share of income, which was 57 percent under the prior deal. They also want a firm salary cap and shorter contracts.
Their final offer, which called for a 50-50 split of basketball-related income, was rejected by union leaders.