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The 50 highest-earning American athletes

By Jonah Freedman,

Is the slumping economy finally affecting America's premier athletes? For the sixth consecutive year, Sports Illustrated has compiled a list of the 50 top-earning American athletes in salary, winnings, endorsements and appearance fees. And for the first time, the average earnings of those on the list fell -- down $1.5 million per athlete to $23.6 million.

That falloff is mostly due to lower earnings for No. 1 Tiger Woods and No. 2 Phil Mickelson, both of whom saw their on-course income shrink while also losing key endorsement deals. This year's list features 22 basketball players (a record nine who earned more than $20 million), 14 major leaguers, nine football players, three golfers and two NASCAR drivers.

Meanwhile, the average income of the athletes on our International 20 list of the top-earning non-American sportsmen hit an all-time high $29.5 million (up slightly from 2008), thanks to big gains by those in soccer and Formula 1 racing.

As we do every year, our findings consisted solely of salary, winnings, bonuses, endorsements and appearance fees. We consulted players' associations, tour records, agents and news reports. Our endorsement estimates came from Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, other sports-marketing executives and analysts, and agents. Salary figures were based on current or most recently completed seasons (the upcoming '09 season for the NFL). For winnings-based sports (auto racing, golf, tennis), we used the '08 calendar year. Candidates for the U.S. 50 had to be American citizens and currently active in their sports. For an in-depth analysis of who made the 2009 Fortunate 50 and why, click here.

Tiger Woods
Pro Golf
Last Year's Rank: 1

Tiger sacrificed millions in appearance fees during his year off to recover from knee surgery, but replaced his lucrative Buick deal -- voided by mutual consent -- with a new one from AT&T.

Phil Mickelson
Pro Golf
Last Year's Rank: 2

Like Tiger, Phil no longer counts on a car-maker in his endorsement portfolio. (Ford chose not to re-sign him.) He still has lucrative deals with Rolex, Callaway, Exxon, Barclay's and KPMG.

LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA)
Last Year's Rank: 3

LeBron has one more season left under his deal before he can opt out. If Cleveland doesn't show it's Finals-worthy by next spring, expect the Knicks to come in with a huge offer.

Alex Rodriguez
New York Yankees (MLB)
Last Year's Rank: 6 (tie)

We're in the middle of A-Rod's peak earning power in his middle-loaded, 10-year megadeal: He'll make another $33 million in 2010 and then gradually decrease to a "normal" $20 million by '17.

Shaquille O'Neal
Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA)
Last Year's Rank: 6 (tie)

The Big Bargaining Chip? Regardless of his trade to Cleveland, Shaq is in the final year of the five-year, $100 million deal he signed while with Miami. It's the largest expiring deal in the NBA.

Kevin Garnett
Boston Celtics (NBA)
Last Year's Rank: 8

After earning a team-high in salary this past season, KG shoots down to $16.4 million in '09-10 as his three-year extension kicks in, making him the lowest earner of Boston's Big Three.

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

While Kobe's league-high $23 million salary next season is certainly befitting of an NBA Finals MVP, it'll also eat up more than a third of the Lakers' cap room to rebuild under the luxury tax.

Allen Iverson
Detroit Pistons (NBA)
Last Year's Rank: 12

AI just finished the final year of the six-year, $76 million extension he signed in '03 with the Sixers. Larry Brown would be open to signing him in Charlotte -- no doubt at a big discount.

Derek Jeter
New York Yankees (MLB)
Last Year's Rank: 10

Yankee captain now has a place to get the kids involved in his Turn 2 Foundation in shape: He opened his second co-branded 24-Hour Fitness gym in Manhattan, and a third is scheduled.

Peyton Manning
Indianapolis Colts (NFL)
Last Year's Rank: 9

NFL's top endorser has distributed $500,000 in grants in '09 through his PayBack Foundation to charities in Indianapolis, near his alma mater (Tennessee) and his hometown, New Orleans.

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