With the launch of the much anticipated ten-part documentary series The Last Dance, which follows Michael Jordan’s final Bulls season his “Airness” has been hitting headlines across the globe as he once did in the prime of his career. Watching the series got us thinking about what it really means to be in the business of Micheal ‘Air’ Jordan, so with the help of our friends at Forbes we broke down the business of Jordan.
While most billionaires lost money over the past 12 months, Jordan’s net worth rose $300 million thanks to a higher value for the Charlotte Hornets, the NBA franchise he owns roughly 70% of, and $145 million in earnings, largely from Nike. His Hornets stake is worth $940 million net of debt. Jordan ranked No. 1,001 last month in Forbes’ annual tally of the world’s billionaires with an estimated $2.1 billion fortune. Jordan joined the three-comma club in 2014.
Tiger Woods is the next-richest athlete at $800 million.
In total, Jordan earned $94 million before taxes during 13 seasons with the Chicago Bulls and two years with the Washington Wizards, plus the $4 million the Bulls paid him when he sat out the 1993-94 NBA season to play minor league baseball.
To put that salary into perspective, Jordan’s first contract in 1984 paid $2.8 million over four years. That’s about $7 million after adjusting for inflation, or $1.75 million a year. The top draft pick in 2019, Zion Williamson, will make $44 million in his first four years. It was not until his 12th season, with four NBA titles and an equal number of MVP Awards to his name, that Jordan was awarded the league’s top salary of $30.1 million. He did again the following year with $33.1 million before retiring in 1998. It would be 16 more years before another NBA player (Kobe Bryant) made $30 million, thanks to a cap on individual salaries implemented in 1999.
Jordan returned as an active player in 2001 with the Wizards, where he was a part-owner and president of basketball operations, donating his $1 million annual playing salary to relief efforts for the victims of the September 11 attacks.
The NBA made Jordan famous, but it was his sponsors that made him rich. Over nearly four decades, he’s earned $1.7 billion (pre-tax) off the court from brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Wheaties, Chevrolet and others, and he still pitches Nike, Hanes, Gatorade and Upper Deck.
Nike has always been Jordan’s biggest backer. His initial five-year Nike deal signed in 1984 was worth $500,000 annually (about $1.2 million in today’s dollars), plus royalties. His take last year (included in the tally above) was $130 million by Forbes’ count, four times as much as that of LeBron James, who has the NBA’s second-biggest shoe deal.
Nike built the Jordan Brand into a massive standalone business with $3.1 billion in wholesale revenue in the fiscal year ending May 2019, up 10% from the prior year. Even with the coronavirus impact, sales in the current fiscal year will likely be greater, according to recent reports from Nike. The company said the brand had its first billion-dollar quarter in late 2019 and highlighted Jordan as a driver of growth in the latest quarterly results.
Nike released the Air Jordan XXXIV basketball shoe in September, and current NBA players Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum and Rui Hachimura wear it on the court. Nike’s share of the U.S. basketball performance shoe market—which includes the Jordan Brand—was 86% in 2019, according to market research firm NPD. It has a 96% share of the broader lifestyle basketball category.
Jordan expected to return to his role as an executive and owner of the Washington Wizards basketball team when he retired for good in 2003 but was forced out by then-Wizards owner Abe Pollin. Three years later he was back, buying a minority stake in the Charlotte Bobcats, whom have since been renamed the Hornets. He took majority control of the team in 2010 in a deal valued at $175 million that was largely funded with debt. He eventually raised his stake to 90%.
His investment was just in time for an explosion in team values triggered by three major events: a new collective bargaining agreement that cut players’ share of revenue to 50% in 2011, from 57%; the Ballmer bump, which came after former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer paid $2 billion in 2014 for the Los Angeles Clippers, more than three times the previous record NBA price; and a new NBA TV deal with ESPN and TNT that tripled the value of the previous pact.
Jordan cashed in some of his Hornets equity in September when he agreed to sell roughly 20% in the team at a $1.5 billion valuation to New York-based hedge fund managers Gabe Plotkin and Daniel Sundheim.
While the Hornets are by far Jordan’s biggest investment, he’s individually participated in funding rounds for Sportradar, a Switzerland-based sports data provider; headphone brand Muzik; Gigster, a San Francisco-based marketplace for freelance tech talent; and aXiomatic.Jordan joined fellow NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson in 2018 as an investor in aXiomatic, which is the parent company of esports squad Team Liquid, recently valued at $320 million.
Jordan and three fellow NBA owners—the Los Angeles Lakers’ Jeanie Buss, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Wes Edens and the Boston Celtics’ Wyc Grousbeck—launched a super-premium tequila brand, Cincoro, last year. The most expensive bottle in the line, Extra Añejeo, retails for $1,600.
Michael joined the investor group that bought MLB’s Miami Marlins for $1.2 billion in 2017. Derek Jeter, a longtime Jordan pal, is the club’s CEO and owns 4% of the team while Jordan owns less than 1%. It marks a return to baseball for Jordan, who spent a year playing minor league baseball with the Chicago White Sox organisation in 1994. (He rejoined the Bulls the following year with a memorable two-word press release: “I’m back.”)
Jordan also owns a car dealership and is a partner in Cornerstone Restaurant Group, which runs five Jordan-branded restaurants.