KobeFurther proof that Kobe Bryant‘s marketing image is in a huge upswing, the Lakers’ guard is the fifth highest-earning athlete in the US, according to an article on SportsIllustrated.com.

Bryant, who won the NBA’s Most-Valuable-Player Award this season and led the Lakers to an improbable NBA Finals berth, earned $35.5 million last year, including $16 million in endorsements. Tiger Woods leads the list at over $127 million. The only NBA player in the Top 5 besides Kobe is Lebron James at number three, at nearly $41 million.

Kobe’s marketing image had taken a hit after rape allegations five years ago, then his openly-pubic feud with former-teammate Shaquille O’Neal, and ultimately the Lakers’ struggles on the court. This season has served as vindication for Bryant.

He silenced his critics this yea as he had arguably his best team-oriented season, leading a group most figured would struggle to make the playoffs, to within two wins of an NBA title. He also did it after tearing a tendon in his pinkie that will require surgery before next season.

After last year’s off-season turmoil where he demanded a trade from the Lakers, this summer should be much quieter for the content MVP, who hopes to bring home an Olympic gold medal for the US in Beijing in August.