To this day, Michael Jordan looms as one of the all-time great figures in NBA lore. Being one of the league's best scorers, MVP collectors and overall winners of all time will do that for a guy's legacy. For as great as Jordan was on the court, he also was one of the most successful NBA players off of it in terms of financial success.
His Jordan brand offshoot of Nike shoes and apparel company plus his many endorsement deals from his playing days to now, he set the pathway for what licensing success looks like for the modern athlete. Now the current owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Jordan has another accolade to add to his career as he was recently named the world's highest-paid athlete of all time by Forbes.
The NBA is flush with cash right now thanks to its $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and TNT, as well as its global opportunities. Players are sharing in the riches, with 29 current NBAers in the middle of contracts worth at least $94 million in deals that range from three years in the case of LeBron James to five years for most of the 28 others, according to data from Spotrac. The significance of $94 million: It is more than the career earnings from playing salary of the sport's greatest player, Michael Jordan, who earned $93.8 million with the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards.
Jordan has partnered with dozens of brands since he turned pro in 1984, including Gatorade, Hanes, MCI, Oakley, Upper Deck, Wheaties and more. His biggest backer has always been Nike, which signed Jordan ahead of his rookie year to a five-year deal worth $2.5 million, plus royalties. The Jordan Brand exploded for Nike and is now a $3.1 billion global business with revenue up 13% over last year and $800 million from two years ago. Jordan's estimated cut of the business is $140 million this year.
Forbes' earnings estimates include salaries, bonuses, prize money, endorsements and licensing, as well as fees from books, golf course designs and appearances. Earnings cover from the time the athletes turned pro through June 1, 2017, and include money earned after playing careers were over, as well as earnings by the estate in the case of Arnold Palmer. We do not include investment income, and we back-filled years where we did not publish earnings figures, such as prior to 1990 for Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. We adjusted all figures for inflation.
The 25 highest-paid athletes of all time played a mix of eight sports, with golf, basketball and boxing landing five entries each. The top 25 have earned a cumulative $19.4 billion since turning pro ($15.9 billion without adjusting for inflation).
A former six-time champion with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan isn't the only NBA player on the list. Also included in the mix is Kobe Bryant (who is tied for 7th), Shaquille O'Neal (10th) and Kevin Garnett (tied for 22nd).