Zion Williamson's salary and first NBA contract, explained

Zion Williamson is set for a major payday after the New Orleans Pelicans selected him with the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft on Thursday, but his real earning potential lies in opportunities off the court.

Williamson will enter this first NBA season as the most-hyped basketball prospect since LeBron James. The 19-year-old forward was dominant as a freshman at Duke University, earning national player of the year honors in a campaign that featured countless highlight-reel dunks and a deep run into the NCAA tournament.

As the first pick in the 2019 draft, Williamson would be entitled to a guaranteed two-year contract worth an estimated $19.98 million, according to calculations by Spotrac. The deal will also include two team options for a third and fourth season, which would push Williamson’s earnings to nearly $45 million through the end of the 2022-23 NBA season. 

The NBA pays rookies based on a sliding scale tied to their draft position and the league’s salary cap. For the 2019-2020 season, the first overall pick is set for a base salary of $8.12 million, according to Real GM, which tracks the sale. However, rookies can sign for as much as 120 percent or as little as 80 percent of the base value after negotiations.

Salaries can increase significantly if teams exercise their third and fourth-year options.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
NKE NIKE INC. 94.64 +0.60 +0.64%

Williamson is expected to earn an even bigger check for his sneaker deal. Sonny Vaccaro, an industry legend who has worked for Nike, Adidas and Reebok, said Williamson could land an unprecedented deal worth $100 million with whichever brand wins the bidding war for his services. By comparison, James signed with Nike in a deal worth $87 million ahead of his NBA debut.


The 2019-20 NBA season begins this fall.

This story has been updated.