Michael Jordan made his first NBA court appearance in 1984. He would go on to play 15 seasons in the NBA while playing for the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards. According to Forbes, he hauled in $94 million and was the league’s highest-paid player in 1997 and 1998.
However, Jordan’s biggest earnings would be off the court. Forbes noted that he earned an estimated $2.4 billion (pre-tax) over his career with brands such as McDonald’s, Gatorade, Hanes, and Nike.
A large chunk of his wealth comes from his paycheck from Nike, which has been his biggest financial and marketing backer. He became the first athlete to become a billionaire – his massive net worth was largely influenced by his deal with Nike, which would later give birth to Air Jordan.
According to Forbes, Nike first offered Jordan a five-year deal with a base pay of $500,000 per year, triple any other NBA sneaker deal. The first Air Jordan sneaker was an instant hit, racking up $126 million in sales in the first 12 months.
As the Jordan brand got bigger, so did his paycheck. In 2020, Jordan reportedly made $130 million from Nike, which Forbes said was four times bigger than what LeBron James earned.
In the fiscal year ending May 2019, Forbes reported that the Jordan brand had amassed $3.1 billion as revenue. Forbes also reported that the brand is easily “worth north of $10 billion, in addition to the billions of dollars in profits it has generated over 35 years, and its halo impact on sales of other Nike-branded products.”
The over 36-year partnership with Nike earned Jordan $1.3 billion, and in 2022, Forbes estimated his net worth to be $1.7 billion.
Jordan has now joined The Forbes 400 following the sale of his stake in the Charlotte Hornets. This has seen his net worth hit around $3 billion, according to Forbes, making him the richest basketball player of all time.
Jordan’s arrival on The Forbes 400 makes it the first time a professional athlete has ranked among America’s wealthiest individuals.
“Michael’s one of the few people that have had success three times,” Ted Leonsis, who is the Washington Wizards, Mystics, and Capitals owner, told Forbes, referring to Jordan’s impact as a player, an owner, as well as the growth of the Air Jordan brand at Nike.
Leonsis, who has partnered with Jordan on multiple investments and sports ownership in the past, added, “A lot of entrepreneurs, they make it once. They have a big win, take their winnings, retire and [we] never hear from them again, or they try something a second time and it doesn’t work. He’s had three mega successes.”