Top-earning athletes of the Beijing Olympics
While the USA's disappointing third-place finish at the 2004 Athens games might have the players more keyed up to win this time around, NBA players are also in Beijing to promote their league and sell sneakers. Nike and Adidas aren't building thousands of retail stores across China for nothing.
So much for the Olympic Village.
Once, a relatively anonymous Olympic athlete could parlay success in the games into a nice payday from a Wheaties Box or a car commercial. That's still the case for some, but the caste system now in place thanks to the inclusion of professionals means that some hit the games carrying rock star status, already wealthy.
"None of our teams since 1992 have stayed in the village," says USA Basketball spokesman Craig Miller.
More from Forbes.com:
NBA most valuable player Bryant rakes in some $17 million US through his deals with Nike, Sony and Coca-Cola's Vitamin Water, in addition to his seven-year, $136.4 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron James, who made the Cleveland Cavaliers a must-see attraction for hoop fans has an annual income of $38 million, counting State Farm and Coca-Cola among his big endorsements, along with Nike.
Bryant and James are No. 1 and 2 on the Forbes.com list of the highest-paid athletes attending the 2008 Olympic games.
They're hardly alone. With the NBA going more global than ever, the list of highest-earning hoopsters isn't limited to the U.S. team. Germany's Dirk Nowitzki, Spain's Pau Gasol and the great local hero, China's Yao Ming, all pull in more than $14 million annually.
It's not just the big earners who are changing the games. More individual sports federations are exerting more influence, putting their athletes up in hotels, according to Miller. That includes women basketball players, along with several runners, swimmers and triathletes.
Generally it's the big earners, though, that get the five-star accommodations.
Elite tennis players that agree to participate in the games are loath to stay in the Olympic Village too. Switzerland's Roger Federer, a veteran of the 2000 and 2004 games ranks fourth on our list of golden Olympians. He's complained of the hassles of putting up with fans.
According to China Daily, retired star Boris Becker advised Federer to stay in the Village this year, asserting that the experience helped Becker's competitiveness in Barcelona in 1992. Time will tell whether Federer, who was upset early in Athens four years ago, heeds Becker's advice.
On the female side, wealthy Russian star Maria Sharapova (No. 7) has already told reporters she'll skip the Olympic Village due to the noise and the difficulty of getting proper rest between matches.
Of course, for the creative, there's a chance to use the Village as a profit center. China Daily reports that the country's Beijing Equity Exchange will accept bids for millions of Olympic items, like furniture and sports equipment, after the games conclude. Among them: the specialized bed that the seven-foot-six Yao sleeps on during the competition.
Yao may have little to no say about staying with the Olympic commoners during the games. But Kobe and LeBron won't be joining him.