NBA Cheerleader Salary

How Much Do NBA Cheerleaders Make?  Professional Basketball Dancer Salaries

When you think of professional basketball games, you envision the team, roaring fans, and beautiful cheerleaders. Cheerleaders are a staple in big games as they provide entertainment for the audience while uplifting team morale. From their beautiful apparel to their perfectly choreographed dances, cheerleaders seem to live a glamorous life.

Every job on the planet has its upsides and downsides; when it comes to professional cheerleading, there are a few challenges faced daily. NBA players are some of the most highly paid athletes globally, but this does not reflect on their cheerleaders. In this article, we unravel the pockets of cheerleaders and what it takes to survive in the game: It may not all be pretty, but every cloud has a silver lining.

Brief History 

Cheerleading is an activity etched in American culture. It started as a male-dominated activity reserved for Ivy League Schools. It was in World War II when women took over the activity as the men were busy engaging in war. The women introduced acrobatics and gymnastics to spice things up, and eventually, it metamorphosed into what we know now.

The 1970s marked the beginning of professional cheerleading when Texx Schramm, then the Dallas Cowboys owner, saw an opportunity. He thought using cheerleaders who were sensual would boost game ticket sales. When this move worked, other professional sports cheerleading into their games.

How Much They Make

ESPN, a reliable sports network, reported in 2017 that cheerleaders earned $75-$150 for each game they worked. That is comparatively low considering how hard cheerleaders work in order to land a spot in the team. A basketball game does not take a lot of time, so even though the cheerleaders are in front of the audience for a short time, they should get considerably more compensation.

Cheerleading depends on contracts; hence, they lack extra benefits like health insurance. However, things are changing in the industry as more teams are compensating their cheerleaders better. 

Erica Wilkins sued the Dallas Cowboys in 2018 over lost wages. They settled the case, and the Dallas Cowboys started paying their cheerleaders between $200 and @400 per game. This lawsuit snowballed into other teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Jets, among others who subsequently faced legal action over cheerleader compensation.

Currently, some of the best-paid cheerleaders in the NBA earn between $400 and $650. This is a good start for better compensation for these hardworking individuals. The New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, and the LA Lakers are some of the best-paying cheerleading teams as of 2020.


There is a lot of work that goes into cheerleading, from years of dance to maintaining one’s appearance. The amount of time taken to curate perfect routines does not give a cheerleader enough time to engage in other money-making activities. They solely rely on cheerleading.

Previous data shows that cheerleaders received around $30 for each practice session. However, with teams compensating their cheerleaders better, we can assume that that rate is higher. Consistent lobbying from cheerleaders for better pay is paying off; even though it may not happen overnight, it is a good start.

Special Occasions

Cheerleaders are an extension of their team; thus, sometimes, they are required to make special appearances. This is typically prevalent in cities where basketball is the main attraction. Most of the teams compensate their cheerleaders for these special occasions. 

Some teams do not compensate for local events, but they will pay for international appearances. Data estimates show that cheerleaders get paid $50-$100 per special event.

Game days

Both the cheerleading and the basketball team spend months practicing for a few hours or days of game time. Previously cheerleaders earned a maximum of $150 per game, but now the rate has almost quadrupled in some cases. Admittedly, some teams still pay around $200 for each game, but those teams may not be dominating in the NBA rankings. Teams at the top of their game compensate between $400 and $650.

Added Benefits

While cheerleaders have issues with the amount they earn, there are a few perks for them. Cheerleaders get access to free gyms, game tickets, spa treatments, free parking, and travel, all expenses paid. These perks will differ from team to team, but as time goes by and more lawsuits spring up, time will force the NBA to set standards regarding benefits that every cheerleader should access.

Scandals Concerning Cheerleader Salaries

It seems that the only way basketball teams can improve cheerleader compensation is when someone drags them to court. There have been many lawsuits filed against basketball teams that forced them into doing better. 

For example, Lauren Herington filed a case against the Milwaukee Bucks for failing to meet the Fair Labor Standards Act requirements. She calculated her wages and discovered she was earning less than minimum wage. In 2017, after three years of fighting out in court, Lauren Herington settled the case and got a sizeable compensation.

There are many more cheerleaders like Lauren who have sued NBA teams; some won and some lost. The Buffalo Bills decided they would rather dismiss their cheerleading team than compensate them better. A recent win was in 2019 when Erica Wilkins and the Dallas Cowboys settled the case that she filed the previous year and got the whole cheerleading squad a raise.

Requirements to be a Cheerleader

You cannot wake up one morning and, out of the blue, decide to a cheerleader. Cheerleading takes years of practice and dedication. Apart from having a pretty face and a fit body, cheerleaders must have gone to dancing school. Taking different dance classes like contemporary, hip hop, Zumba, and belly dancing, just to mention a few, help you build the agility required.

Every quad has its preferred dance style, and in most cases, they will provide a prepared routine for you to replay during auditions. These prep routines help cheerleaders understand the team’s vibe and the intensity in passion needed to keep up. 

Auditions can be brutal because so many skilled people want a spot in the squad. With the right dance moves, attitude, passion, and determination, many cheerleaders passed with flying colors.

Benefits of Cheerleading 

It is true that the cheerleading world has its dark side that cheerleaders like Erica Wilkins and Lauren Herington exposed to the media. Even with this knowledge, thousands of individuals still show up to audition for professional cheerleading. Why is this?

  • They Just Love It

Some cheerleaders know that cheerleading is their life’s dream because they simply love it. They love going for practice, the glitz, and glamor, facing the excited audience and the team camaraderie. The bond created over spending many hours together forms a special bond that can turn into lifelong friends.

  • The Fame

While the audience comes to see the game, they can’t help but notice cheerleaders with a magnetic presence. There are many cheerleaders with personal fan bases born out of cheering fiercely for their basketball team. These cheerleaders have branched out into other money-making avenues like acting or modeling.

  • The perks

Even though their pay is not that great, cheerleaders receive some perks, as we stated above. They are traveling for free, getting access to state-of-the-art gyms and spas, free parking, bonuses, free meals, etc.


Professional cheerleading has a long way to go in terms of wages, but they are making good strides. With more people speaking out and fighting for their rights, future cheerleaders will have better days. It is not the highest-paying job currently, but the glitz and glamour make up for it. In a few more years, cheerleaders will comfortably support their lifestyles while smiling their way into our hearts.

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