Being a superstar athlete sure does pay.

Between player contracts, endorsement deals, brand connections, and signature apparel, athletes have plenty of opportunities to bank on their popularity—but not all players reach their potential when it comes to career earnings.

It takes hard work, natural athletic skill, a length playing career, smart management, and sometimes a little bit of luck to become a brand all yourself.

Even more impressive? How some athletes manage to parlay relatively short careers into monumental fortunes over their lifetimes, so they're still getting paydays long after they've stepped away from the spotlight of competition. Sports might be a young man's game, but building empires favors the wizened pros.

Here's a look at the highest-earning athletes of all time, according to Forbes.