Most people consider Michael Jordan the NBA GOAT. Is he the greatest basketball player of all time? That’s debatable, especially if you’re a LeBron James fan. However, what is not up for debate is his business prowess, and how MJ built his empire off the court.
When Jordan started his basketball career, the prodigious signs were already there. He was the College Player of the Year in his sophomore and junior years. Additionally, he also led the U.S. National team that won gold in the 1984 Olympics. Impressed by his talents, Chicago Bulls drafted him in the same year.
In his debut season of 1984-85, he was named Rookie of the Year. He missed the next couple of seasons due to a broken foot. In his comeback years 1988 to 1996, he was named NBA’s Most Valuable Player, winning an additional title of Defensive Player of the Year in 1988.
In 1993, after leading the Chicago Bulls to their third consecutive championship, Jordan retired for a while. That lasted two years, and he returned to the courts in 1995. In the 1995-96 season, the Bulls made a 72-10 regular season record under his leadership, a record score that was eventually broken by Golden Warriors in 2015-16.
From 1996 to 1998 the Bulls won three consecutive championships. Paired with his impressive leadership, he was also named NBA Final MVP for those three years. Jordan retired once again after the 1997-98 season for the second time, and this one wasn’t temporary.
Interestingly, his off-court endeavors made him more money than his sporting career. Even after 20 years of his retirement, he remains one of the few athletes to have joined the billionaires club. Despite the current NBA salaries being double what they were in Jordan’s time, MJ managed to build an equally, if not more successful career as an entrepreneur.
But how did he do that? Let’s find out how his key deals and other investments made him one of the richest athletes in the world.
The Nike Deal
Air Jordans today are like gold in a shoe form. But when Michael Jordan signed the deal with Nike in his rookie year, things were much different. At the time, Adidas and Converse were much bigger names in the market. And both knew what they were seeing in MJ was special and wanted to sign Jordan. To everyone’s surprise, despite the smaller brand presence than Adidas and Converse, Nike’s $2.5 million offer was much larger.
Interestingly, Michael Jordan always had a soft spot for Adidas. He was eyeing a deal with them even before the brand approached him. To make the stars align, he asked them one last time if they could match Nike’s deal, but that plan didn’t go through.
(Source – Pinterest)
On the other hand, what Nike put on the table was more than just money. In their deal, Nike agreed to give MJ his own line of shoes, called Air Jordan. It was agreed that he would get $2.5 million for five years and 5% royalties on the profit of every shoe sold by Nike.
The Nike deal took the world by storm. Michael Jordan was now the face of Nike and led their global basketball presence. In 1997, Nike turned the Michael Jordan shoe line into a separate brand. In 5 years, the Jordan brand earned Nike a whopping $19.6 million. On the other side of the field, Adidas was slipping. The brand lost several opportunities and profits due to its stubborn approach.
The popularity of Air Jordan was spreading like wildfire. However, the NBA deemed Air Jordans ‘too colorful’ for their taste. To any young gun who wears these shoes, NBA was ready to penalize them with $5000 per game. The fine didn’t bother Nike, because the brand was gaining much more than $5000 from the free publicity through the shoes.
Today, the Air Jordan brand brings in around 3.6 million in revenue each year. On the other hand, Michael Jordan’s Net worth is somewhere in the ballpark of 2 billion dollars.
Michael Jordan purchased his hometown team Charlotte Bobcats for $275 million in 2010. This made him the NBA’s only black player to own a majority of franchise stakes. After moving to New Orleans, the Bobcats were renamed the Hornets and again the Pelicans. When MJ made the purchase, their performance wasn’t up to expectations. No high-profile player had played for Bobcats for over a decade, and they barely made it to the playoffs.
However, Michael had great plans for the team to extract maximum performance. Thanks to his acquisition, the franchise has become globally popular since 2010. While the Hornets didn’t reach the heights MJ had hoped for, everyone involved, including the owners and investors have gotten remarkable investment returns.
In June 2023, news of Michael Jordan selling his majority stakes for a $3 billion valuation started making rounds. According to sources, he will remain connected to the franchise and keep a minority stake, ending his 13 years of historic majority stake ownership.
In late 2020, Michael Jordan together with NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin formed a NASCAR Cup Series Team worth $150 million. Bubba Wallace was their first driver.
The team started competing in the 2021 season and was named 23XI Racing. In October 2021, Bubba Wallace won the first race for the team. In the 2022 season, the team scored two wins, with drivers Bubba Wallace and Kurt Busch both winning a race.
In 1996, Jordan played his own character in the movie Space Jam. The film was a box office success, earning $230 million globally. On top of that, the movie earned 1 billion dollars via merchandise sales.
In addition to films, multiple documentaries have covered Jordan’s career with the Chicago Bulls. In 2000, an IMAX documentary called Michael Jordan to the Max was released. Then around 20 years after that, ESPN covered the same era in its documentary The Last Dance in 2020, providing a candid view of his on-court and off-court happenings.
Other Endorsements and Ventures
Michael Jordan is one of the most well known athletes in the world. This also makes him one of the most easily marketable athletes. Leveraging his popularity, he has represented brands like Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Gatorade, McDonald’s, and Hanes, among others.
According to Wikipedia, Jordan’s annual earnings from endorsements are estimated to be over $40 million since 2008. When MJ made his first NBA comeback, it increased the market capitalization of his client firms’ worth by more than $1 billion.
All of Jordan’s endorsements, from Nike to others, were arranged by his agent David Falk. Jordan describes him as the best at what he does. Even the idea of the mighty Air Jordans was conceptualized by David.
(Source – Pinterest)
Michael Jordan’s association with baseball isn’t new. After quite an abrupt retirement from the NBA in 1993-94, Jordan played minor league baseball during his retirement. His next big baseball connection happened when he became the partial owner of the Miami Marlins. The deal got through, with Jordan’s part being 1.2 billion dollars.
As one of the richest athletes and basketball players, MJ’s philanthropic work is equally massive. Here are some of his contributions:
1. Friends of the Children
In 2018, to support the national expansion of the organization, Jordan made a multimillion-dollar donation to Friends of the Children for their work in Charlotte and Chicago.
2. Arena Workers
Mj was among the many NBA owners who pledged to pay arena workers for missed games due to the pandemic. Additionally, the club has donated to relief efforts in the Carolinas.
3. Hurricane Relief
To support those affected by hurricanes in the Bahamas and Carolinas, Jordan has donated millions of dollars to charity for their relief.
4. Make-A-Wish Ambassador
Jordan has been a make-a-wish ambassador since 2008, donating more than $5 million to the organization. During the 30 years of his association with the organization, he has granted hundreds of wishes.
5. Donating Entire Salary
When the unfortunate terrorist attack of 9/11 happened, Michael Jordan donated his entire salary from the 2001-2002 NBA season to those affected by the tragedy.
A Lasting Legacy
(Source – Kelly Kline Getty Images)
Michael Jordan’s legacy is one of the greatest in NBA history. However, it isn’t necessarily what made him one of the richest. Sure it helped, but the real reason for amassing wealth after retirement is his business IQ and the way he applied it in his ventures.
Jordan has this almost magical power, where whatever project he attaches himself to brings success, be it sports or business. When Michael was still an active player, the viewership numbers would skyrocket. The 1998 Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz is the most-watched NBA final of all time. He was also involved in the four highest-rated NBA finals of all time.
MJ achieved everything outside the court by creating a personal brand. As a basketball hall of fame, his influence wasn’t limited to the NBA. He helped brands like Nike become a global sneaker phenomenon. Moreover, as one of the richest athletes, he also contributed with his valuable philanthropic work for the well-being of society.