It is no secret that NBA players are among the best paid athletes in the world. What with their competitive salaries, performance bonuses and endorsements off the court, the NBA is without a doubt one of the most moneyed leagues in sports entertainment. They are a few, however, who’ve separated themselves from the multitude as far as breaking bank is concerned and through a mixture of sheer brilliance on the court and astute business acumen off it, are quite literally in a league of their own.
Who is the richest NBA player? The richest NBA player is Michael Jordan. He was the first past or present NBA player to become a billionaire, he’s that rich.
Michael Jeffrey Jordan is the athlete who many are of the opinion is arguably solely responsible for turning the sport of basketball into the global phenomenon it is today. A man who without a doubt transcended the sport itself and is until date synonymous with excellence on and off the court. All that and being the frontrunner in the conversation of the greatest player to have ever played the game.
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The Midas Touch
Since entering the league as the 3rd overall pick in the 1984 draft, Jordan’s ability to turn everything he touched to gold was undeniable. The North Carolina native hit the ground running and quickly established himself as a superstar in his rookie season on account of his prowess on both ends of the court.
Unlike in the modern-day NBA where rookie contracts can sometimes guarantee underserving players millions in salaries right out of the gate, players in the 80s had more modest earnings. That’s why it didn’t strike many as a surprise when Jordan earned only $550,000 despite averaging 28.3 points per game on 51.5% shooting, being selected as an All-Star starter, and getting a team which had won less than 90 games in its previous three seasons combined in the Chicago Bulls back into the playoffs in his rookie season.
When it was all said and done, MJ earned a little over $93.7 million throughout the span of his illustrious NBA career, which pales in comparison to his net worth today and is even less than what the six-time NBA champion makes in a year from one of his many endorsements.
Jordan impressive feats on the court didn’t go unnoticed and the five-time NBA MVP’s first endorsement came in the form of a five-year, $2.5 million sneaker deal from then little-known shoe brand Nike. As Jordan’s star popularity grew, so did the popularity of his signature shoes appropriately dubbed “Air Jordan” after the 10-time scoring champion.
After gaining mainstream recognition and critical acclaim from fellow players and fans alike, Nike rewarded Jordan by launching Jordan Brand as its sub-brand in early September 1997. Presently, Nike makes over $3 billion a year in profits from sales of Jordan Brand shoes, with His Airness himself earning over $140 million – a figure substantially more than his total career earnings.
Hopping on the Jordan Train
After establishing himself as one of the most marketable figures in sports history, a number of corporate brands quickly hitched their wagons to Jordan in the hope that some of his money-making magic would rub off on them. They include Gatorade, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Chevrolet, Wheaties, Hanes, Ball Park Franks, Rayovac, MCI, 2K Sports, Five Star Fragrances, and Upper Deck.
Gatorade is the only other company outside Nike that is known to have thrown its entire weight behind MJ early on, signing the six-time NBA Finals MVP to a 10-year, $18 million endorsement deal at the end of his 1989 season. The beverage company thereafter launched campaigns dubbed “Be Like Mike” in the early 90s which catapulted both it and Jordan to the heights of financial success they both experience to date.
Excellence in the Boardroom
After his much publicized second retirement from the NBA in 2003, Jordan once again proved that he is in a class of his own after effortlessly and seamlessly switching his basketball icon hat for that of businessman. The 14-time NBA All-Star, cited countlessly by his peers and coaches as a dedicated student of the game, sought to master playing in the business arena and has quickly established himself as a mogul with a knack of identifying potential money-minting enterprises while they are still in their early stages.
Proof of this is in how Jordan transformed his hometown team, the Charlotte Hornets, from a struggling third-tier basketball franchise to the biggest source of his wealth outside his royalties from Jordan Brand. When Jordan bought a minority stock in the Hornets, then known as the Charlotte Bobcats in 2006, the team was worth cents on the dollar of its current value.
Joining the Billionaire Club
In 2010, Jordan decided to go all in by purchasing a majority stake in the team for $175 million. That gave MJ an ownership of 80% of the team. Over the following years, Jordan quietly increased his stake and by June 2014, the three-time All-Star Game MVP owned 89.5% of the Hornets, making him a billionaire and the first NBA player to achieve that milestone.
After giving the franchise a dose of the Air Jordan treatment for another five years, Mike sold a small piece of his stake in the team for $1.5 billion. By 2020, Forbes estimated Jordan’s net worth at a whooping $2.1 billion, with current estimates putting the nine-time All-Defensive First Team honoree’s fortunes at $2.2 billion.
Perhaps the trait that Jordan was most known for in his playing career was his utter distaste for mediocrity. The two-time Hall of Fame inductee pursed excellence relentlessly and equally expected himself to be surrounded by it. This was so pronounced to the point that it is believed that some of his teammates were traded for failing to meet Jordan’s standards during his tenure with the Chicago Bulls.
MJ appears to have carried this trait into his life as a seasoned businessman and continues to defy expectations on what an NBA player, former or otherwise, can achieve off the court. Jordan has further diversified his portfolio to include investments in the restaurant industry, the up-and-coming fantasy and sports betting company DraftKings and even a golf course named Grove XXIII, which is a testament to one of his favorite pastimes – golf. The three-time steals leader also partnered with NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin in September 2020 to create 23XI Racing. The racing team debuted in the NASCAR Cup Series competition at the Daytona 500 in February this year with driver Bubba Wallace.
Be it on or off the court, winning appears to be second nature to Jordan. This may well be the reason why former perennial rival and now friend, fellow businessman, and all-time Laker great Magic Johnson once said, “There’s Michael Jordan and then there is the rest of us.”