Timeline of Michael Jordan's Endorsement Contracts, Rise to Billionaire Status

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2020

Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan drinks some Gatorade during a news conference in Chicago, Aug. 8, 1991.  Gatorade, owned by the Quaker Oats Co., announced that it has signed a long-term contract with Jordan to represent the company in advertising, promotions and public appearances.  (AP Photo/Mark Elias)
Mark Elias/Associated Press

"If I could be like Mike."

The famous jingle in the Gatorade commercial featuring Michael Jordan during the 1990s referred to fans wanting to soar through the air and play basketball like the Chicago Bulls legend, but it may as well have referred to his ability to make money through endorsement deals.

Jordan hasn't played in the NBA since the 2002-03 season, but he is still near the top of the sports world when it comes to making money outside the lines.

On April 19, Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes reported Jordan's Q Score of celebrity awareness level was second of all athletes in the United States and behind only Tiger Woods. And that was before ESPN's documentary, The Last Dance, captivated sports-hungry audiences and reminded fans of the mythology that is Air Jordan.

While there is a debate about who the GOAT of the NBA is between Jordan and LeBron James, the former still towers over the King when it comes to shoe deals.

In April 2019, Badenhausen reported Jordan made approximately $130 million annually through his Nike and Jordan Brand shoe deal. By comparison, James, who was second on the list, made $32 million, or around four times less.

Jordan has come a long way from the five-year deal worth $500,000 annually he signed with Nike in 1984.

It is no surprise, then, that he was included on Forbes' list of billionaires in March with a net worth of $2.1 billion. Badenhausen noted that net worth went up $300 million in just the last year because of $145 million in endorsement earnings and increased value in the Charlotte Hornets.

The journey to billionaire status started before he was known as His Airness, the NBA's GOAT and the face of one of the most recognizable sports brands in the world. Here is a timeline of the early stages of some of his biggest endorsement contracts that helped pave the way for him to become essentially a one-person brand:

  • Chevrolet, 1984: Jordan's first endorsement deal, well before he became an international phenomenon, was with Chevrolet in 1984 when he was a rookie.
  • Nike, 1984: Darren Rovell, then of ESPN, wrote in 2013 that Jordan wanted to sign with Adidas but the company would not match Nike's offer of $500,000 annually for five years. Rovell noted Nike added a clause that said Jordan must either win Rookie of the Year, become an All-Star, average 20 points per game or sell $4 million worth of shoes in his third year to keep the final two years of his deal.
  • General Mills Wheaties, 1988: Wheaties' website says no athlete has appeared on more covers of its cereal boxes than Jordan's 18 times. According to an Associated Press report from 1988, he became the seventh celebrity athlete ever to grace the cover of one of the famous boxes.
  • Hanes, 1989: Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune noted Jordan and the underwear company started their partnership in 1989 and celebrated their 30th anniversary together last year by including packs of trading cards featuring his ads in packages of underwear.
  • Coca-Cola/Gatorade Switch, 1991: Jordan represented Coca-Cola during the early portion of his career in the 1980s, but Rovell noted Quaker Oats-owned Gatorade (the company was later purchased by PepsiCo) paid him $13.5 million over a 10-year deal to be Gatorade's only endorser in 1991.
  • Upper Deck, 1992: In 2015, Badenhausen reported Upper Deck signed Jordan to a long-term extension "to be the sole producer of authenticated collectibles, trading cards and memorabilia featuring Jordan's image and autograph." The relationship started in 1992.
  • McDonald's, 1993: McDonald's released one of the most famous commercials featuring basketball players of all time. Jordan and Larry Bird competed in an amusing game of HORSE that featured progressively more difficult shots and ended with the pair shooting from the top of the John Hancock Center in Chicago. It aired during Super Bowl XXVII.

Jordan, of course, had to prove himself on the court to earn such distinction in the marketing world off it.

As The Last Dance has documented, the University of North Carolina product put together one of the most impressive resumes in basketball history. It features six championships, six NBA Finals MVP Awards, five league MVP Awards, 10 scoring titles, 11 All-NBA selections, nine All-Defensive selections, a Rookie of the Year Award, a Defensive Player of the Year Award and 14 All-Star appearances.

It wasn't just the list of accomplishments that stood out but the magical moments etched in NBA lore forever.

Whether it was hitting a double-pump shot over Craig Ehlo to win a playoff series and emphatically pumping his fist, switching the ball from his right hand to his left in the air and laying it in during the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, unleashing a shrug after hitting six three-pointers in the first half of an NBA Finals game against the Portland Trail Blazers or drilling his final shot as a Bull to defeat the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals, the moments are legendary.

That's not even including the flu game, free-throw-line dunk in the Slam Dunk Contest, scoring a record 63 points in a playoff game against the mighty Boston Celtics, hitting the winning jumper in the 1982 NCAA title game as a freshman or announcing his return from baseball with the simple words "I'm back."

He is basketball royalty for a reason, and he has been paid accordingly as an endorser.