Michael Jordan Is Now Worth $3 Billion And Joins The Forbes 400

Since his NBA debut in 1984, Michael Jordan has been known for his incredible skills on the court and his ability to earn big money off of it. Throughout his 15-year career, he made a total of $94 million in salary, with peak earnings in 1997 and 1998 when he was the highest-paid player in the league. However, it was his off-court ventures that truly set him apart from other athletes. Jordan amassed an estimated $2.4 billion in earnings (pre-tax) through lucrative endorsement deals with major brands such as McDonald's, Gatorade, Hanes, and most notably, Nike, where he continues to earn a staggering $260 million in annual royalties.

But Jordan's biggest financial victory came in August when he sold his majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets for a jaw-dropping $3 billion valuation. Even if he had sold at Forbes' most recent valuation of $1.7 billion in 2022, it would have still been a significant accomplishment for the 60-year-old basketball legend. This transaction not only made the Hornets the 27th most valuable franchise in the NBA but also represented the second-highest sale price in league history. Notably, this sale price is nearly 17 times the value of the team when Jordan became its principal owner in 2010.

With an estimated net worth of $3 billion, Michael Jordan has now made his way onto The Forbes 400, becoming the first professional athlete to be ranked among America's wealthiest individuals. This achievement solidifies his status as one of the most successful and financially influential athletes of all time.  

“Michael's one of the few people that have had success three times,” says Ted Leonsis, the Washington Wizards, Mystics and Capitals owner, who has partnered with Jordan on multiple investments and sports ownership in the past. “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,” referring to Jordan’s impact as a player, and an owner, as well as the growth of the Air Jordan brand at Nike.

The prospect of a professional athlete becoming a billionaire is still highly irregular; only three individuals have ever done it. Jordan was the first to achieve that milestone in 2014, and LeBron James and Tiger Woods have since followed, doing so while their careers are still active. With sports salaries skyrocketing and off-the-field opportunities growing, more are surely to follow, evidenced by the fact that seven athletes, by Forbes’ count, have already notched $1 billion in career earnings before taxes, spending, and agents’ fees.

Still, joining the three-comma club requires a perfect storm of favorable circumstances. Or as Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, puts it, "[athletes] need to get really lucky." But that seems hardly the case for Jordan, who had success as soon as he entered the NBA.

When the first Air Jordan sneaker was released during the tail end of his rookie season in 1985, Nike reportedly expected to sell $3 million worth of merchandise. Two months later, the brand had $70 million in sales and $100 million by the end of the year, according to a 2023 study from Temple University. Jordan had signed on for five years initially, earning $500,000 annually plus royalties. In its latest annual report, Nike reported $6.6 billion in annual wholesale revenue for the Jordan Brand, up 28.6% from the year prior.

Aside from Nike, many other companies sought to capitalize on Michael Jordan's talent and charisma. Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm Sportscorp, highlights that Jordan was already a brand before the concept of individuals being brands became widely discussed. It wasn't simply Michael Jordan endorsing Gatorade, but rather Gatorade leveraging his image to promote their product and convey the message, "Drink Gatorade to be more like Michael."

After his second retirement from the NBA in 1998, Jordan began to shift away from his celebrity endorsement role. He made unsuccessful attempts to purchase the New Orleans Pelicans (then known as the Hornets) and the Milwaukee Bucks, according to ESPN. Eventually, he joined an ownership group led by Ted Leonsis, acquiring a stake in the NHL's Washington Capitals and 44% of the Washington Wizards. Jordan assumed the role of president of basketball operations under the majority ownership of Abe Pollin.

Leonsis describes Jordan as a curious and inquisitive individual, eager to learn and ask questions. Jordan absorbed knowledge about the business of sports from Leonsis, who shared insights on selling sponsorships, advertisements, and leveraging star players to drive ticket sales, suites, and sponsorships. Over time, Jordan's understanding of the industry proved more successful than Leonsis initially anticipated.

When Jordan returned to the court for two more seasons, he had to divest his ownership stake. However, upon retiring for the third and final time in 2003, he wasted no time in acquiring another team. Jordan purchased a minority stake in the Charlotte Bobcats (later rebranded as the Hornets) in 2006. Four years later, he became the NBA's first player-turned-majority-owner in a deal primarily financed by debt. This purchase valued the franchise at $175 million, a significant decrease from the $300 million paid by Robert L. Johnson, the founder of BET, for the expansion team in 2003.

Despite Jordan's intense competitiveness, success on the court did not translate to the Hornets (formerly Bobcats), as they have struggled in the playoffs, with early eliminations in recent years. Nevertheless, Jordan found success in the rapidly appreciating sports franchise market. In 2019, he sold a 20% stake to Gabe Plotkin, founder of Melvin Capital, and Daniel Sundheim, founder of D1 Capital Partners, at a valuation of $1.5 billion. Eventually, the team sold for double that price when Jordan relinquished majority control to Plotkin and another hedge fund founder, Rick Schnall, just two months ago. Among NBA teams, only the Phoenix Suns have sold for a higher price when Mat Ishbia, the CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, purchased the franchise at a valuation of $4 billion earlier this year.

Ted Leonsis remarks that Jordan's successful deal benefits everyone involved in the sports industry. It sets a bar for team valuations, allowing owners in larger markets with higher revenue to gauge their team's worth. If Jordan had conducted a fire sale deal, it would have had a negative impact on the market perception of team valuations.

While Jordan remains connected to basketball through his retained minority stake in the Hornets, he continues to explore other business ventures. Over the years, he has engaged in various businesses, including car dealerships, restaurants, a premium tequila brand, and more recently, equity investments. He has invested in companies such as CLEAR, Mythical Games, Dapper Labs, DraftKings, and Sportradar, the latter two coming through his connection with Ted Leonsis.

Looking ahead, Ted Leonsis predicts that NASCAR will play a more significant role in Jordan's business endeavors. In 2020, Jordan co-founded the Cup Series team 23XI Racing alongside Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin. Leonsis believes that Jordan's competitiveness and desire to win will lead to success in this new venture, just as it has in his previous endeavors.  

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