Michael Jordan is atop so many lists. Whether based on metrics or subjective assessments, if he’s eligible for it, you better believe MJ’s name is up there, and Sportico’s “Top 25 Highest-Paid Athletes of All Time” is the most recent example.
When Michael entered the NBA in 1984, Magic Johnson was the highest-paid NBA player with $2.5 million in salary. Today, players with 10 or more years of experience in the league get veteran minimums worth around the same amount. Guys who have yet to make their NBA debut can earn up to $925,528 per year — Michael Jordan, as a rookie, made $550,000.
Thirteen years and four NBA championships later, Jordan inked a one-year deal worth $33.1 million — more than an average team payroll at the time — representing the highest single-season salary in NBA history up until 2017-18, when LeBron James and Stephen Curry each surpassed it. Today, 31 players are on track to earn north of $30 million.
Boosted mostly by huge TV deals — $75 billion over the next nine years — star salaries have increased dramatically over the last four decades. But despite Michael only earning $90 million from NBA contracts — non-inflation adjusted, that's equivalent to Danny Green — he’s still the highest-paid athlete of all time, despite the fact only 6% of his estimated earnings come from his playing salaries.
The estimate is based on salaries, endorsements and memorabilia earnings since Michael joined the NBA, including his ongoing deals with Nike, Hanes, Upper Deck, Gatorade, and other large and established companies.
According to Forbes, Michael has made over $1 billion from Nike alone since first signing a deal with the sportswear giant in his rookie year. Today, the Jordan Brand is easily worth over $10 billion, dominating the booming “retro” or lifestyle basketball business with a market share of 52%, according to market research firm NPD Group.
Michael Jordan, as well as his brand, show no signs of slowing down. It’s been nearly two decades since his final goodbye to the game, and MJ is still arguably the most popular basketball persona in the world. A run that started almost four decades ago, still with no end in sight, is yet to be replicated, despite the impact and platform today’s NBA superstars have.
And while some of them were able to build images that transcend the game of basketball, no one used it to MJ’s extent. Guys like LeBron James, the late Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Shaquille O’Neal tried and will continue to try for decades to come — the fact each of them also made the list says they’re on the right track. But it seems His Airness will always be the standard.
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