Messi earned $US130 million, a figure which includes $US55 million of endorsements, during the 12-month period ended May 1, 2022, to sit atop the list of the 10 highest-paid athletes a year after finishing second to Irish MMA fighter Conor McGregor.
Los Angeles Lakers forward James was next on the list after bringing home a combined $US121 million, shattering the $US96.5 million record for an NBA player that he set last year, while Portugal captain Ronaldo earned $US115 million to sit third.
Brazilian soccer player Neymar ($US95 million) and three-time NBA champion Stephen Curry ($US92.8 million) of the Golden State Warriors rounded out the top five.
NBA player Kevin Durant ($US92 million) was sixth while Swiss tennis great Roger Federer, who played five tournaments in 2021 before a knee operation curtailed his season, was third with total earnings of $US90.7 million.
The final three spots on the list went to Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez ($US90 million), seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady ($US83.9 million) and reigning NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo ($US80.9 million).
Forbes said its on-the-field earnings figures include all prize money, salaries and bonuses earned during the 12-month period while off-field earnings are an estimate of sponsorship deals, appearance fees and licensing income.