While some might assume making it to the big leagues is a fast track to generational wealth, that typically hasn’t been the case for Nevada Wolf Pack stars. Of the dozens and dozens of Wolf Pack alums to make it to the NFL, MLB, NBA or other pro careers, only 16 have earned at least $10 million (Kevin Kouzmanoff, Patty Sheehan and Charles Mann all came close to reaching the eight-figure club). So who are the 16 Nevada products to hit the eight-figure club in their careers? See below (career earning figures from Spotrac.com unless otherwise noted).
16. Charlie Wi ($10,079,659 in career earnings): Wi was born in Seoul, South Korea and moved to Los Angeles at age 10. He spent one season at Nevada before transferring to Cal, turning pro in 1995. Wi has started 262 PGA Tour events, never winning a tournament but placing runner-up five times. The career earnings listed above only include his PGA Tour purses, but he’s won seven events on the Asian Tour and one on the European Tour, which is probably worth a couple more million.
15. Luke Babbitt ($10,632,514 in career earnings): Babbitt was the No. 16 pick of the 2010 NBA draft, and while he never had a big payday, he played in the league for eight seasons and earned a little more than $1 million per season. He maxed out at $1,892,280 during the third year of his rookie contract with Portland before heading to Russia. He was signed away from Russia by the Pelicans in 2013-14 and went on to make another $5 million after his rookie contract expired.
14. Rishard Matthews ($14,738,261 in career earnings): Matthews was a seventh-round draft pick in 2012 but ended up having a lengthy NFL career, playing seven seasons with three teams. After four years in Miami, Matthews signed a three-year deal with Tennessee in 2016, maxing out with a $5.5 million salary in 2017. His career lasted only one year after that (the Titans had a team option on Matthews with a base salary of $7.75 million in 2019, but that was declined).
13. Harvey Dahl ($15,945,882 in career earnings): An undrafted free agent out of Nevada, Dahl played in NFL Europe in 2006 before ever playing in an NFL game. But that hard path worked out as Dahl became a starter with the Falcons in 2008 after uneventful stints in Dallas and San Francisco. An offensive guard, he started for six seasons with Atlanta and St. Louis and earned $14.8 million during that stretch, making a good chunk of money despite retiring at age 32.
12. Michael Allen ($16,738,574 in career earnings): One of three golfers on this list, Allen never won a PGA Tour event but still racked up $6,316,157 in earnings from 1987-2012. Where he’s really added to his bank account is the Champions Tour where Allen has won eight events and had 25 top-three finishes while earning $10,422,417 in additional money. Allen made at least $1 million in earnings on the Champions Tour seven straight years from 2010-16.
11. Virgil Green ($19,131,758 in career earnings): Green broke into the NFL in 2011 as a seventh-round draft pick and stuck in the league for a decade (he isn’t officially retired but isn’t signed entering this year). Primarily a blocking tight end, Green spent seven seasons in Denver and three with the Chargers, maxing out at $3.4 million in 2018, his first year in San Diego (now Los Angeles). Green had a string of six straight seasons with a salary of at least $2.4 million from 2015-20.
10. Brock Marion (estimated $20,542,000 in career earnings): Marion predates the Spotrac era, but he was the NFL’s highest-paid free safety at one point. Marion played in the league from 1993-2004 when few players were getting huge contracts (Troy Aikman was the NFL’s highest-paid player in 1994 when he had a base salary of $1.75 million). After a good run in Dallas, Marion cashed in twice in Miami, once with a three-year, $8.25 million deal and again with a two-year $4.627 million deal.
9. Brandon Marshall ($22,832,033 in career earnings): After being waived a number of times by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Marshall signed with the Broncos’ practice squad in 2013 and eventually got the bag. Marshall upgraded from practice squad to starting lineup in 2014 and signed a four-year, $32 million contract in 2016. While he wasn’t able to cash all of that money before being waived after the 2018 season, Marshall’s resiliency from his time in Jacksonville paid off.
8. Kirk Triplett ($22,832,577 in career earnings): Making it on the PGA Tour is brutally tough, but those who do get their tour card can earn a fortune. Triplett was a grinder on the PGA Tour who racked up $14,096,657 before moving to the Champions Tour where he’s earned another $8,735,920. Triplett’s largest single-tournament payday came in the 2000 Nissan Open when he netted $558,000. Triplett has had eight seasons in which he earned at least $1 million in prize money.
7. Chad Qualls ($26,430,498 in career earnings): The first of two baseball players on this list, Qualls was a highly reliable relief pitcher in the big leagues from 2004-17, and while he never had any record-breaking salaries — he maxed out at $3.25 million during his final season in Colorado in 2017 — Qualls still piled up a nice chunk of change, averaging a touch under $2 million per season during his 14 years in the majors.
6. Nate Burleson ($33,289,000 in career earnings): Part of Burleson’s career also came pre-Spotrac, but OverTheCap.com puts his career earnings slightly above $33 million. Burleson signed a seven-year, $49 million deal with Seattle and a five-year, $25 million deal with the Lions (that’s a combined $74 million, which shows you the guaranteed salary portion of NFL contracts is the most important part). Burleson has had a successful and lucrative post-NFL career that continues to add to the pot.
5. Ramon Sessions ($35,152,193 in career earnings): One of three NBA players on this list, Sessions turned pro after his junior season at Nevada and was the 56th pick of the 2007 NBA draft. He easily could have washed out of the league quickly but stuck around for 11 seasons and banked more than $35 million despite starting only 146 of his 691 NBA games. Sessions topped out at $6 million in 2016-17 and notably donated $1 million to the Wolf Pack for a basketball practice facility in 2016.
4. Lyle Overbay ($36,347,000 in career earnings): The Wolf Pack baseball program’s all-time leading earner, Overbay unsurprisingly also had the best pro career of any Nevada baseball alum. He was an 18th-round pick in 1999 and played in the big leagues from 2001-14. The majority of his career earnings came via a four-year $24 million contract signed with Toronto in 2007. He peaked at an $7 million annual salary, hitting that mark in 2009 and 2010.
3. Colin Kaepernick ($43,479,216 in career earnings): Before the 2014 season, Kaepernick signed a then-NFL record $126 million contract (much of it non-guaranteed). He didn’t get much of that money before being blacklisted from the NFL. Kaepernick still cashed more than $40 million and has made a lot of money in endorsements (we’re only counting on-field salaries in this list). Kaepernick’s career earnings could have been much higher if not for his protest during the 2016 season.
2. Joel Bitonio ($48,049,895 in career earnings): In 2017, Bitonio became one of the NFL’s highest-paid offensive guards when he signed a six-year contract worth up to $51.2 million with $23.7 million in guarantees. He’s cashed much of that salary by earning AP All-Pro honors three straight seasons from 2018-20. Bitonio, recently ranked one of the NFL’s top-100 players, is a free agent in 2023 when he’ll be 32 years old and should get another sizable deal given his current high level of play.
1. JaVale McGee ($69,692,164 in career earnings): McGee has had one of the most remarkable careers of any Nevada alum. An early-entry into the NBA in 2008, he was the No. 18 pick of the draft but was almost laughed out of the league before signing a four-year, $44 million deal with Denver in 2012. Things didn’t work out there, but he rebounded to win three NBA titles and an Olympic gold medal in the last half-decade. McGee most recently signed a one-year, $5 million deal with Phoenix in what will be his 14th season in the NBA. Bitonio might run down McGee at some point, but today the crown of most career earnings among Wolf Pack alums sits with The Big Lemonhead.
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMurray.