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Ranking the 50 highest-earning athletes in the U.S.

By Jonah Freedman,

Five years ago, Sports Illustrated first set out to find the 50 top-earning American athletes (taking into account on- and off-the-field income). We discovered a few basic facts, and as the Fortunate 50 turns five, some things have remained dead-on consistent:

No one can touch Tiger Woods, the runaway No. 1 for the fifth year in a row. Tiger's near $128 million haul is more than double his closest pursuer, Phil Mickelson at $62.4 million. As usual, hoops dominates the 50: More than half this year's list is made up of NBA players. There are 10 baseball players, seven football players, three NASCAR drivers, three golfers and one boxer -- and yet zero women.

Meanwhile, our International 20 list has seen a huge bump in average paycheck, thanks to the weak American dollar: 12 of the athletes earn their bread in foreign currencies from leagues outside the U.S. In the futures department, we tab the likes of Danica Patrick, Chris Paul and Joba Chamberlain to someday soon make the 50 in our Future Fortunates photo gallery.

As always, we limited our estimates to salary, winnings, bonuses, endorsements and appearances. Candidates for the 50 had to be American citizens. For an in-depth analysis of who's on the fifth annual Fortunate 50 and why, click here.

Tiger Woods
Pro Golf
Last Year's Rank: 1

With close to $800 million in total earnings on and off the course over his 13-year career, Tiger should become the first billion-dollar athlete in the next two years -- and he's still only 32.

Phil Mickelson
Pro Golf
Last Year's Rank: 3

Lefty's numbers jump thanks to an extra $2 million in FedEx Cup points in '07 and lucrative appearance fees for his first participation on the Asian Tour in Singapore and Shanghai.

LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA)
Last Year's Rank: 6

King James has earned $167 million during his five seasons in the NBA, and has his eyes on serious entrepreneurship: He counts billionaire Warren Buffett as a role model and friend.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Last Year's Rank: 22

It's been a monster year for Pretty Boy, who made $20 million in purse and pay-per-view shares for his fight with Ricky Hatton and another $20 million for his foray into professional wrestling.

Kobe Bryant
Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)
Last Year's Rank: 5

How's that for a change of tune? He once criticized his teammates; last month Bryant bought each of them $9,000 Swiss watches as a thank you for helping him win his first MVP award.

Shaquille O'Neal
Phoenix Suns (NBA)
Last Year's Rank: 4

Shaq finally unloaded his 2.5-acre Miami estate last fall after having it on the market for more than two years. The buyer? Miami-native (and No. 7) A-Rod, for a reported $27 million.

Alex Rodriguez
New York Yankees (MLB)
Last Year's Rank: 11

Assuming A-Rod plays out his new mammoth 10-year, $275 million deal, he'll have earned $445 million in base salary alone over the course of what would be a 24-year career.

Kevin Garnett
Boston Celtics (NBA)
Last Year's Rank: 7

KG is the highest-paid of the Celtics' Big Three; at a total of $56.1 million in salary this season, the trio makes up 74 percent of the Eastern Conference champs' entire payroll in '07-08.

Peyton Manning
Indianapolis Colts (NFL)
Last Year's Rank: 12

Hide the Lombardi Trophy. Football's leading endorser is still king of NFL pitchmen, but little bro Eli -- with whom he now regularly shares screen time in TV ads -- is creeping up fast.

Derek Jeter
New York Yankees (MLB)
Last Year's Rank: 8

The Yankee captain cut a deal with the tax man in February that allowed him to avoid paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes on his $13 million Trump World Tower condo.

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Sources: salaries, winnings and bonus figures from players' associations, tour records, agents and news reports. Endorsement estimates from Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, other sports-marketing executives and analysts, and agents. Salaries based on current or most recently completed seasons (exception: 2008 for NFL). For winnings-based sports (auto racing, golf, tennis), 2007 calendar year amounts used.
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