“After the first training session, my assistant called me to congratulate me and I asked him why: ‘You weren’t wrong in the draft, this boy is really very good,’ he said.” The then-general manager Rod Thorn, director responsible for the election of Michael Jordan in the position No. 3 in 1984, tells in the series The Last Dance what was the hope they had after being penalized for nine seasons, with just two positive records and income to playoffs. Sure, they thought he would be a very good player, even different, that would help them change that bad reality in Chicago, but they never imagined such a revolution, impact and change in the reality of the franchise, the NBA and world sport.
The Bulls were the least popular team in town. The NFL Bears were the hottest, the MLB Cubs and White Sox were dealt out to baseball fans, and the ice hockey Blackhawks had theirs. Even the Sting, a futsal outfit, attracted more people than the Bulls. In the season prior to the arrival of the 23rd (83/84), the team lost 55 of the 82 matches and finished 21st (of 23) in call, with just 3,100 people per match. Already with MJ, the victories went from 27 to 38, the team returned to the playoffs after four years and the capacity doubled (6000 to be 9th out of 23).
The MJ effect was beginning to show. But, of course, in a short time it would be a fever. For 87/88, the Bulls were among the best teams in the East and the most convincing (2nd in NBA with an average of 9,000 attendees). MJ not only pushed his franchise. Generated a new NBA boom, taking the post of popularity that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had left. MJ invited you to fly, from his commercials. And then he did it on the court, either in matches electrified by his spectacularity or in the mythical triumphs in the remembered dump tournaments (87 and 88).
Michael was the complete package. Power and, at the same time, elegance. Speed but also cadence. Efficacy with aesthetics. Power and magic. Devastating offense and also a great defense (in 1988 he was the Best Defender and the scorer of the tournament). So, with that combo, he started to cross the screen. He didn’t win titles, but he was on the doorstep, with historic performances, like that of the 63 points at Boston Garden when Larry Bird said he was “God dressed as Jordan.” MJ outshone and also generated drama. The Detroit Bad Boys made him a special defense, which included toughness and even punches, and they didn’t let him reach his goal. Until he did. He passed that barrier and was champion, against the Magic Lakers. Nothing less. And there his voracity appeared. Two more rings arrived, just as the NBA, increasingly popular in the USA, was definitively opening up to the world. His retirement and pursuit of the new dream, playing in the major leagues of baseball, gave an even greater epic to his return in 1995. They eliminated him, said he was not the same and he prepared himself even more. In 96, with another great team, he regained the throne and repeated in 97 and 98. He never lost a final and dominated an era.
But, of course, MJ was always much more than an exceptional player. He turned out to be a showman, a charismatic and beautiful player, an assassin on the court from an iron mentality that, at the same time, he fell in love with a halo of romanticism… For his triumphs, but also for his game, his personality and his aesthetics . MJ was a comic book superhero, but in real life. He put on his cape and never disappointed: he always ended up winning, in epic finals or not so much. An aura of invincibility that accompanied him until the years came and his ego made him return, again, but with 38 lollipops. All this completed an irresistible combo for people, for the common viewer and also for brands. Everything he touched turned to gold. And he, over time, became a company in itself. A mega company, with an almost pristine image that led it to be “America’s Most Marketable Person”, according to a study by the company Repucom. And when he retired, he became a super-successful businessman who expanded his empire and made more money than before. Much more, with own brand within an empire (Nike), which today gives you more money than your own products.
His image is as popular now as when he was 23. His name recognition percentage is 98%, even today boosted even by the famous meme that has gone viral with his crying face (Crying Jordan) and today he pockets a lot more dollars than any active player, including LeBron James. What’s more, Jordan is the athlete who has earned the most money in history. Who follows him? Tiger Woods, with 1700. Even Forbes magazine ranked him No. 1001 for world billionaires, after calculating that his fortune today amounts to 2,100 million dollars. In the last 12 months, when many of the billionaires lost money, their net worth climbed to 300 million, thanks to the continued appreciation of the franchise he owns (Charlotte Hornets) and the 145m he bagged for business and sponsorship, mostly due to royalties from his agreement with Nike.
His was progressive and it is shocking to see the curve of his total income since he arrived in the NBA. He started earning a million (half was for his salary) in 1984 and added another million each year until he reached 1990 with a profit of 8m. It doubled it for 1991 (16m) and in the following two years it exceeded 100% when it climbed to 36m profit. During his retirement it dropped to 30m, but since his return it escalated to exorbitant levels: 53m in 1996, 78m in 1997 and 69m in 1998. It dropped when he left basketball again: it was around 33 to 40 million between 1999 and 2007. But, from little by little, it recovered the escalation: five million more per year until 2009. Between 2010 (60m) and 2013 (90m) it advanced from to 10. Another explosion had in 2015 until reaching 105m. It went from 120m in 2016, to 135m in 2017, to 140m in 2018 and to 145m in the last year.
It is clear, then, that Jordan did not make much of his fortune playing basketball. In his 15 years as a professional, 13 with the Bulls and two with the Wizards, he earned $ 92,385,000 in wages. It started with a 550,000 contract in 1984, thanks to a 2.8m for four deal. Almost nothing compared to the 44m Zion Williamson – new sensation and brand new athlete from Jordan Brand – will win in the next four in New Orleans. MJ just hit two million a year when he signed an extension in 1988 and earned relatively little until 1996 (3,850,000 in 95/96), his 12th season. There he made the big jump, with 30,140,000. In his last one, exactly the one portrayed by The Last Dance, he bagged 33,140,000. The total sum of 93.4 includes the $ 4 million the Bulls still paid him in 93/94, when he was playing baseball. Why? Because MJ was in the structure of Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Bulls and White Sox, the team where he sought to reach the MLB from the minor leagues. In the Wizards, where he was a minority shareholder, he signed both campaigns for the minimum (1m), although he donated the last one to the victims of the attack of September 11, 2001. All this, of course, without deducting taxes, which usually remove between 43 and 52% depends on the city where you play in the NBA.
But, of course, Jordan was much more than a basketball player. And until an athlete. MJ has been one of the biggest and most successful marketing creations in history. All thanks to an irresistible combo, because MJ was the player who was born with the most talent, but at the same time the one who trained the most to improve, the one who had the best mentality and the one who wanted to win the most. And if you add to all this a beautiful and spectacular game at the same time, in addition to an irresistible charisma, everyone wanted to be like Mike, as the historic commercial of Gatorade in 1991 said. It was logical, then, that brands would start to get closer . The first – and most important – was Nike, which went from being a company with no present in basketball to becoming the largest sportswear empire. MJ was not planning to sign with Nike. He didn’t even consider her. In her college years she had dressed Converse, which at that time was the main one, with stars like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Doctor J, the idol of Michael. The fight seemed with Adidas and, in fact, MJ was inclined to sign with all three strips. But the brand of the pipe hired a certain Sonny Vaccaro, who was decisive in seducing Jordan – and then Kobe and LeBron. Vaccaro first convinced Nike that he should get into basketball and then who he should bet on. The company wanted three draft 84 promises: Olajuwon, Barkley and Stockton. But Vaccaro told him that the money of the three would go to one: Jordan. So it was that he met with David Falk, MJ’s agent, and He offered him not just $ 15 million for five years, triple the salary with Bulls. He also told him about creating a line of sneakers with his name and assured him royalties, 25% for each pair sold. That deal would change Nike’s history. From Jordan. And from the global sports industry.
In March 1985 Nike released its first pair of the mythical model Air Jordan, beautiful red and white shoes. The problem was that it violated the NBA dress code (you could only play with white). But Nike was undeterred: it paid the $ 5,000 fine per game and the model, for its beauty, because it was MJ’s and because they were banned, escalated in sales to reach 100 million in the first year. To think that one of the clauses that could break the contract was that it should reach 4 million sales by the third year. Nike, which had annual sales of $ 150 million, sold 70m in the first two months on that model alone. The business grew as the foam and the shares of the Oregon-based company skyrocketed. In its first four years on the Exchange, Nike had lost 15% of its value. After the 84 contract, it increased in value by an incredible 84,000% over the next 14 years. Today it dominates the sports footwear market in the USA with 64% of market share (surpassing Nike, Adidas and Under Armor), as the high-end of Nike. His sneakers cost an average of $ 139 versus $ 67 for an average pair of Nike. Thus, in the last fiscal year that ended in May 2019, Jordan Brand reached 3,100 million turnover. And, as this new exercise comes, with a quarter above 1000m, it is calculated that in June it will be able to announce its arrival at 4000m. Sure, all this craziness leaves Michael an important reward. Jordan Brand generates more annual income in royalties than LeBron or Curry, active players. It is estimated that between 4 and 5% of what the brand generates goes directly to MJ’s pocket. In 2019, it was 130 million, four times more than what James bagged, the second in terms of footwear contracts.
Jordan Brand has expanded worldwide (for example, today it dresses the Argentine national basketball team) and other sports, such as soccer, with a key alliance with Paris St Germain. But, far from resting on his laurels, he goes for more. A few months ago, he closed deals with perhaps the three most important young players of the moment and, at the same time, with a better future: Jason Tatum and, above all, Williamson (75m for 7 years) and Luka Doncic (100 by 5). It also added the Japanese Rui Hachimura to boost the Asian market. But none of this would have been possible without His Majesty, who alone managed to change a brand and transform it into a cultural icon. So be simple. And shocking. “There are no words to describe when the topic is Jordan,” was the blunt phrase chosen by Fortuna magazine in 1998.
Jordan’s silhouette flying towards the hoop became a logo and a global brand. “Everything he touches turns it into gold”, says a maxim in the USA when he talks about Jordan, who has also been associated with three companies for decades, such as the underwear firm Hanes (since 1989), the energy drink Gatorade (in 1991 signed it for $ 13.5 million) and the sports memorabilia company Upper Deck. Others passed along the way, such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s (both in the 90s), Wheaties (signed in 1993), Chevrolet (1984), Five Star fragrances, 2K Sports and Presbyterian Healthcare, among others. Such is Jordan’s selling power (and making money) that, a year ago, business manager Estee Portnoy acknowledged in court, amid legal litigation, that Jordan had earned $ 10.6 million through a settlement. with the perfume company XEL to get a fragrance with his name. “And what did Mister Jordan have to do?” Portnoy asked the jurors. She did not give them time to respond, she did it herself: “Michael did nothing.” In another lawsuit for misuse of his image, MJ rightly admitted that that number was his basis. “I don’t do business for less than $ 10 million,” he said.
Jordan’s main business today is Charlotte Hornets, a franchise in which it holds 80% of the shares after selling 20% last September. Despite the fact that the team has not done anything well in sports and MJ have been the targets of all kinds of criticism (rightly so). Michael’s management in sports decisions has not been good since he took control of the team located in the state that I love so much, North Carolina. But as an entrepreneur, no one can criticize him because, after he was kicked out as a minority owner of the Wizards, he bought the Hornets for 175 million, just in time to see an explosion in franchise values in recent years, especially in the NBA. Today they are worth 1.5 billion.
Jordan is an active businessman with diversified investments. He owns five restaurants with a company called Cornerstone Restaurant Group, 1% of the shares in the Miami Marlins in the MLB, a vehicle dealership in North Carolina and the premium tequilla brand Cincoro, in which he is a partner along with three NBA owners. He has also invested in the headphone brand Muzik, in a Silicon Valley-based independent tech talent marketplace, in funding rounds for Sportradar and in aXiomatic, the parent company of the esports team Liquid, recently valued at 320 million. For that, it has a financial and business team led by Pornoy (business advisor) and the lawyer Curtis Polk, two birds who do not miss a thing, even from the legal point of view. Jordan has won dozens of lawsuits against colleagues who have used his image without permission and has repeatedly used the money pocketed to donate it to children’s NGOs. Weeks ago, he even won a trial that few thought he could move forward. It was in China, in the Supreme Court of that country, and after eight years of litigation. MJ and his lawyers went against the clothing company Qiaodan, which they denounced for plagiarism of his name (his phonetics are very similar to Jordan) and obtaining economic benefits thanks to that. Qiaodan has a logo very similar to MJ’s silhouette and his sneakers are similar to Jordan Brand’s. Reason enough for Jordan to lash out with determination. And, of course, he would win, just like he did on the basketball court. Michael, no doubt, it is an excellent summary of how you can transfer the magic of the field to business to today be more a corporation than a former athlete. At your feet, Your Majesty.
MORE ABOUT THIS TOPIC: