• Cameron Tabatabaie

Michael Jordan: Building an Empire

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

When Michael Jordan retired from the game of basketball in 2003, he had earned about $93 million as an NBA player. And yet today, Jordan is worth nearly $2 billion - making him the wealthiest professional athlete in the world.

Adjusted for inflation, Jordan’s career earnings - the vast majority of which came during his final two seasons with the Bulls - totaling roughly $147 million in 2020. To put that in context, Dwight Howard earned north of $234 million in his first fifteen years in the Association.

So how has his Airness amassed such incredible wealth? And what’s next for Jordan’s business empire.

As an agent of brand equity; he is without peer”

What Jordan did to revolutionize the game of basketball is remarkable. He helped take the NBA to new heights during his fifteen years as a pro. And every step of the way, Jordan used his platform to help his star shine even brighter.

Jordan was an advertising icon. As corporate America became more and more competitive in the 80s and 90s, having a spokesperson who could cut through the noise was of critical importance. MJ happily stepped in.

Wheaties. Coke. Gatorade. Chevrolet. McDonalds. Oakley. Wilson. Hanes. And on and on. Jordan could sell just about anything - you might even have your own favorite Jordan commercial all these years later.

Here’s what the writer Steve Wulf said of Jordan back in 1999:

“The man’s grandeur on the court—the dunks, the jump shots, the steals, the midair acrobatics—has tended to obscure another historic achievement: Michael Jordan has become the greatest corporate pitchman of all time. As a twentieth-century sports hero, he has plausible competition from Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali; as an agent of brand equity; he is without peer.”

Jordan’s six NBA championships were almost ancillary to his invasion of America’s collective admiration. Even today he is among the most visible voices in public life. When he returned to the court in 1997, it’s estimated he raised a collective billion dollars in value for his partners.

Today Jordan continues to earn millions of dollars each year in endorsement partnerships and commercials. But that pales in comparison to his other sources of income.

“It’s gotta be the shoes”

Michael Jordan signed a deal with Nike during his rookie season. Nike was struggling, and looking to rebound from declining running sneaker sales. In 1984, Peter Moore, Bruce Kilgore, Tinker Hatfield, and Jordan released the original Air Jordan 1’s. They retailed for $65.

Before the following season began, the NBA famously banned the sneakers for being multi-colored. This only added to the buzz, as did Jordan’s immense first year as a pro campaign.

By 1986, the Air Jordan 2 was released, this time selling for $100. That year, Nike sold north of $100 million in Jordan shoes and apparel. A decade later, Jordan would be so popular that Nike would spin Air Jordan off into its own brand and venture.

The Jordan brand in so many ways changed street apparel and sneaker culture. By specifically inflating prices and limiting supply, the shoes possess a certain mystique, rarity, and esteem. Nowadays all the major sneaker company’s have multiple star players with signature shoes, including brands you’ve never even heard of.

Jordan, meanwhile, has branched out to include its own signature athletes. Chris Paul, Zion Williamson, Asia Durr, Kia Nurse, and many other professional ballers all sport the Air Jordan logo.

Michael Jordan himself remained part of the leadership team for the business and is still today an active member of the advisory board. In 2015, Jordan himself earned north of $100 million in income from the business. Four years later, the Jordan company reported its first billion dollar quarter.

“The ceiling is the roof”

Jordan legacy and personal wealth continue to grow. In the past decade alone his net value jumped nearly $1.5 billion.

In 2010, Michael Jordan made a bid to become the majority owner of the then-Bobcats in his native Charlotte. In March of that year, the NBA Board of Governors approved MJ Basketball Holdings’ $175 million offer to buy the Bobcats. Michael Jordan became the first former-player turned owner in league history and the only black majority owner.

Jordan has since sold a small portion of his stake in the team, but remains a the principal owner of the club. Like other NBA organizations, the now-Hornets have seen huge value increases over the decade. MJ’s team is worth roughly $1.5 billion.

Along with his stake in the Hornets, Jordan also has invested in the Miami Marlins alongside Derek Jeter, several car dealerships, restaurants, and golf courses.

There’s little doubt Jordan’s wealth will only continue to grow. ESPN’s “The Last Dance” will serve to reinsert MJ, his products, and his endorsements back into the spotlight. At the same time, he’s shown some willingness to spend more time in the public eye, sometimes in ways we haven’t seen before.