The Truth About NBA Dancers Pay: How Much Do They Really Make and Why?

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As I sat in the nosebleeds, I realized there are so many things I am incapable of, but cheerleading tops that list. How much do these NBA cheerleaders make?

Legs and pom-poms flew threw the air in a kind of acrobatic middle finger to gravity, but I was thinking about the numbers. I learned that cheerleaders for NBA teams could flip their way to base salaries from $15,000 to $35,000. But their actual annual pay is a little more complicated than that, so I’ve choreographed an article covering everything.

Is Cheer A Full-Time Job?

Anyone can see that cheer demands a potent blend of skill and disciplined fitness. Maintaining that can’t be easy. The crowds love the coordination and agility, and it’s a real morale booster for everyone in the stadium.

NBA teams are quick to point out that cheer is not a full-time job, but the extra practices, events, and meetings add up. Most cheerleaders have another full or part-time job to support themselves or are enrolled in universities. In the eyes of many within the sport, the salary for NBA cheerleaders isn’t enough.

Washington Wizards Cheerleaders

What Qualifications Do Cheerleaders Have?

In the same way that a graphic designer needs an amazing portfolio rather than extensive qualifications, a cheerleader’s main asset is their ability to perform.

Cheerleaders usually have prior experience at high schools or universities, though sometimes they are self-taught. The hiring process is clinical and thorough; hopeful cheerleaders must pass a series of interviews and several routine tests, possibly in front of the entire squad.

Can you imagine applying to work somewhere and then having to display your absolute best dancing in front of the entire team? It’s skill, not qualifications, that will secure a spot dancing on NBA basketball courts.

There’s also the PR side of cheerleading, and you’ll have to be a well-rounded, confident person, not afraid of interacting with fans in various contexts. The interview is rigorous; they’ll want to determine whether you will properly represent the team.

So What Is An NBA Cheerleader’s Salary?

Top NBA teams shell out a lot more than some of the lower-ranked teams in the division, and theirs more to a cheerleader’s salary than meets the eye.

Since its NBA emergence in 1979, salaries have left athletes hoping for improvements

These days cheerleaders can hope to rake in $15,000 annually at the lowest end, with a maximum of around $35,000, but money doesn’t stop flowing there. Cheer salaries used to be even lower, but over the past decades, they’ve been spurred upwards by lawsuits and activism within cheerleading.

The pre-game acrobats are also paid for each game they attend, but the numbers are lightly guarded secrets. It’s rumored that the lowest match fee is just $50, and the highest sits at a whopping $650 or more.

Which Team Pays The Highest?

The cheer world is monetized, televised, and heavily promoted. There’s a massive variation in the popularity of NBA teams, which creates room for a range of salaries.

Let’s say you flip like an Olympic gymnast and have the coordination of Bruce Lee’s spinning kick. You might be able to grab yourself a position on one of the NBA’s elite cheerleading squads.

You’ll want to get in touch with the NY Knicks, located in one of the most affluent cities in the world. The salary matches the surroundings. Dancers for the Knicks collect $200-$650 every time they step onto the court, and they have the highest bonuses in the league at $2000.

Why Are Some Match Fees Lower Than Others?

Top teams pay top dollar, especially when they make the playoffs, which benefits the entire organization. Bonuses are thrown around like pom-poms, and I’m glad that cheerleaders can catch some of them.

Cheerleaders collect a juicy bonus if their team makes it into the playoffs, with even more bonuses available in playoff finals. The extra bonuses start around $700 at the lower end and peak at a fantastic $2000 for teams like the New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks. With seven games in each playoff round, you can see how that bonus stacks up quickly.

Cheerleading TeamSalary per MatchBonusesAnnual Salary
New York Knicks$650$2,000$35,000
Los Angeles Lakers$600$1,500$30,000
Boston Celtics$600$1,500$30,000
Atlanta Hawks$650$2,000$35,000
Cleveland Cavaliers$400$1,000$28,000
Toronto Raptors$500$1,000$28,000
Washington Wizards$400$1,500$28,000
Milwaukee Bucks$350$1,000$22,000
Miami Heat$500$1,500$28,000
Indiana Pacers$400$1,000$28,000
Los Angeles Clippers$350$950$22,000
Minnesota Timberwolves$200$700$15,000
Chicago Bulls$200$700$15,000
Golden State Warriors$550$1,000$30,000
Memphis Grizzlies$350$800$22,000
Oklahoma City Thunder$250$800$18,000
Orlando Magic$200$700$15,000
Philadelphia 76ers$200$700$15,000
Phoenix Suns$200$700$15,000

Are Cheerleaders Paid For Practice?

Even after the progress within the sport over the past decade, the hourly pay for practice remains disappointingly low. Some teams pay minimum wage for the practice hours, which isn’t enough in such a physically demanding sport.

Teams have revealed that they pay their cheer roster hourly for time spent practicing, with a chance for a practice bonus on specific NBA squads. Dedicated dancers can be paid the state’s legal minimum wage or slightly higher, but usually not more than $16 per practice hour.

Some teams’ bonuses for committed cheerleaders can be up to $50 or more, depending on which stage of the season the team is in.

Extra Requirements of Being A Cheerleader

Balance is present during practice and routines, but work-life balance is out of reach for most cheerleaders.

Many of us have signed contracts only to discover the true story later. Cheerleaders are usually contractually obligated to attend events like fundraisers or charity functions, but that doesn’t mean they are always compensated. Numerous legal cases have been filed against NBA and NFL teams for wage theft and out-of-pocket expenses the dancers have to cover.

The requirements don’t stop there; most teams have written or unspoken rules regarding physical appearance. Some teams even test the fat percentage of the cheerleaders and mandate specific standards. For example, they must agree to keep their appearance consistent, down to the last details.

Where do you stand on this? Is cheerleading akin to modeling, and should the athletes maintain whatever standards the teams decree?

Sexism Within Cheerleading

Humanity has a lot of undesirable qualities, which we slowly try to expulse to become a better society. In professional cheerleading, women face countless roadblocks, hindrances, and burdens. 

As the NBA brought cheerleaders onto the court for the first time, the 70s were wrapping up, and it wasn’t a great American era for feminism and female equality. Cheerleaders were paraded in revealing outfits to appeal to the fans.

As the wheels of feminism started to turn and gain traction, cheerleading was overlooked. Disastrous things have been revealed throughout the NBA and the NFL over the decades. Take this handbook from the Oakland Raiders cheer squad. Even hiding your belly button could result in fines

Salary has consistently been abysmal and has never offered dancers more than an opportunity to make minimum wage. Each lawsuit or revelation within the sport will hopefully improve it.

What Kind Of Perks Are There For Cheerleaders?

Cheerleaders usually aren’t offered typical full-time benefits like health and life insurance, and they’ve got to cover those costs themselves. It’s just another thing that the industry has to change.

On the brighter side of the pom-pom, a few benefits are offered to cheer squads. You can expect your travel expenses to be paid, and some cheerleaders report that the basketball league they represent covers their haircuts, tanning, and other treatments.

Appearance isn’t everything, but it’s almost everything! There would be well-choreographed riots if free parking weren’t included, so of course, NBA teams cover that expense too.

Does The NBA Pay Cheerleaders More Than The NFL?

The salaries are kept away from the public’s prying eyes, but we have enough research to get our answers. So do you think the NBA or the NFL pays more?

Owners and shareholders would probably rather this information weren’t available, but fortunately for us, the internet has a photographic memory. NFL cheerleaders make far less than NBA cheerleaders, at around $150 per game day.

The NBA also has more home games than the NFL, so more money must be made. The leagues differ in countless ways. Here’s a great video from a dancer who stepped into the NBA and later the NFL; her insider perspective is worth listening to.

The game’s starting!

It was quite sobering to look closely at NBA cheerleading. Anyone can see that cheer demands a potent blend of skill and disciplined fitness; maintaining that can’t be easy. 

I have more respect than ever for male and female athletes who choose to drop their free time and pick up the pom-poms. NBA cheerleading appears in front of the fans extremely briefly; it’s impossible to know about the layers of preparation behind the short performance. 

Now that you’ve read this article, I hope you found an increased appreciation for this art form. Maybe the next time you catch a squad’s routine before an NBA playoff game, you’ll enjoy it more, knowing what it took to get them there.

Justin D. Johnson
Justin D. Johnson
Justin is a PhD student at Stanford University and has been a basketball youth coach for over ten years. He is passionate about sports, cinema, astronomy, and sharing knowledge.