Former Big Orange Stars Earn Long Green

In an era when it is all too common for high school basketball players to jump directly to the NBA and for college players to exit early for the NFL, it's gratifying to see that a couple of Tennessee graduates are doing fabulously financially and have the full college experience to boot.

Sports Illustrated came out with "The Fortunate 50" in the May 17th issue, listing the top 50 money earners in the United States. At No. 4 on the list behind Tiger Woods, Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James is Indianapolis Colts quarterback and former Vol all-American signal caller Peyton Manning, while New York Knicks guard and UT's all-time leading scorer, Allan Houston, checks in at No. 32 just ahead of Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd and boxer Roy Jones Jr.

S.I. took into account each athlete's salary or winnings, including bonuses and endorsement fees but not personal investments or other non sports related revenue streams. Woods current annual earnings totaled over $76 million or nearly double O'Neal's $40 million total. James, who just finished his first NBA season after a sensational high school hardwood career was close behind with $39 million while Manning totaled a mere $36,400,000 a year.

The remainder of the top 10 features Minnesota Timber Wolves start Kevin Garnett, another direct to the pros from high school player, at No. 5 with $36,000, followed by welterweight boxer Oscar De La Hoya with $32 million, tennis star Andre Agassi with $27 million, Kobe Bryant with over $25 million, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter ($25 million) and Orlando Magic forward Grant Hill.

Incidentally, Wood's total featured $70 million in endorsement deals while Manning's total included $9.5 million in endorsements. By comparison, Houston only had $500,000 in commercial contracts.

Basketball and baseball players dominated the top 50 list with 24 coming from the NBA and 10 from the Major League ranks including five Yankees — Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown.

Conversely, there are only four NFL players on the list led by Manning, who is far ahead of the League's next highest paid player — LaVar Arrington at No. 29 with $16 million a year. The other two NFL stars to make the top 50 are Grant Wistrom at No. 37 and Donovan McNabb at No. 47.

By the way, the only women on the list is the tennis star sister tandem of Serena and Venus Williams at No. 23 and No. 41, respectively. Two NASCAR drivers made list led by Dale Earnhardt Jr. at lucky No. 13 and Jeff Gordon at No. 21. Earnhardt is credited with earnings of $22 million with $15 million of that coming from advertising deals or appearance fees. Gordon made $19 million, including $12 in endorsements.

If athletes outside the US had been included on the list, German race car driver Michael Schumacher would have been No. 2 with earnings of $71 million. The other two Europeans that made enough to crack the top 50 were British soccer demigod David Beckham with $30 million and Czech hockey star Jaromir Jagr with $14 million.

One of the most interesting athletes on the list at No. 26 is superstar cyclist Lance Armstrong who earned only $460,000 in prize earnings, but cashed in on nearly $17 million in commercial deals.

That shows there's more than one way to peddle yourself into prosperity.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories