It’s no secret Michael Jordan made way more money off the basketball court than on it, which certainly shouldn’t be a surprise as that’s typically the case with any high-profile athlete in any sport. MJ was obviously on a much higher level than most when it came to endorsements, collecting checks from the likes of Gatorade, McDonald’s, Hanes, Wheaties, Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, and many others since he burst onto the NBA scene with the Chicago Bulls in 1984. But of all the companies he’s endorsed over the years, the one that’s easily made him the most money is Nike, with whom he’s done business since his rookie season.
Nobody, not even Nike or Jordan himself, could have envisioned how successful the Air Jordan shoe could be. But it took off like a rocket when it first hit shelves and the Jordan Brand is as big as it’s ever been more than 35 years later.
However, had Jordan’s former Bulls teammate Craig Hodges gotten his way, Jordan would have left Nike even before winning his first NBA title to start his own shoe company. Hodges actually floated this idea to MJ back in the day when Jordan’s Nike contract was up for renewal, saying it could do wonders for the Black community. His Airness obviously didn’t go for it and Hodges still believes it was the wrong decision.
Michael Jordan helped Nike sell more than $125 million in merchandise his first year
As we’ve known for quite some time now and were reminded of in The Last Dance, Jordan actually wasn’t a Nike guy in his younger days, preferring Adidas instead. And when MJ was drafted into the NBA in 1984, Converse was the most high-profile shoe in the league and was endorsed by the biggest stars in the game at the time, most notably Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
When MJ’s longtime agent, David Falk, suggested that Jordan meet with Nike, MJ didn’t even want to go to the meeting and had to be convinced by his mother to do so. And that obviously turned out to be the right choice as Nike offered him a five-year deal worth $500,000 annually (plus a chance to earn even more in stock options and bonuses), more than triple the amount anyone else in the NBA was getting at the time. In addition, they were the only company willing to make a Michael Jordan signature shoe, which, of course, became known as the Air Jordan.
As Falk explained in The Last Dance, Nike’s goal for that first year was to sell $3 million worth of Air Jordans that first year. Well, that turned out to be just under nine days worth of business as Nike sold $126 million worth of the shoe in its first year. And as Jordan became a bigger and bigger star over the next few years, Nike’s profits got bigger and bigger as well.
But as Jordan’s contract was coming to an end, Hodges saw an opportunity.
Hodges attempted to get Jordan to leave Nike to start his own shoe company
During a highly entertaining and informative 90-minute interview with VladTV, Hodges spoke about the instance in which he approached Jordan about leaving Nike. As he stated it was somewhere between 1988 and 1990, one has to assume it was around the time that MJ’s initial five-year deal was expiring.
Hodges, a longtime social activist who was effectively blackballed by the NBA for being just that, went to MJ as his contract was expiring and pitched him the idea of starting his own shoe company. His idea was to employ those in the Black community instead of exploiting cheap labor in Asia, saying those who were unemployed or selling drugs on the streets would have a job with what he knew could be a successful brand given Jordan’s rising star power.
But Jordan wasn’t sold on the idea, apparently asking Hodges, “Who’s going to know me in 10 years?” As ridiculous as that sounds today, MJ still apparently had no idea what a big star he had become. But Hodges saw the writing on the wall and knew Jordan was only going to get bigger, which he obviously did as he went on to become arguably the most recognizable and famous athlete of all time, perhaps only second to Muhammad Ali, if second at all.
Again, Jordan obviously didn’t go for it and while Hodges still doesn’t agree with the decision, it’s likely MJ doesn’t have a problem with how things went down.
Hodges calls MJ, who’s earned more than a billion dollars with Nike, a ‘Frankenstein monster created by white supremacy racists’
As Hodges sees it, Jordan’s decision to stay with Nike didn’t benefit the Black community and it still seems to bother him quite a bit. As he neared the end of that portion of his interview with VladTV, this is what he said MJ became:
“MJ is a Frankenstein monster created by white supremacy racists who have made that into a model that’s able to be consumed by the world under a Black face.”Craig Hodges on Michael Jordan
As of 2020, Jordan has earned approximately $1.3 billion from Nike since signing that first deal in 1984 and still earns more from the company than any active NBA player, including LeBron James. So, again, he’s probably okay with the decision he made back then.
A couple of years later, Hodges again tried to get Jordan to make a statement, asking both he and Magic Johnson to boycott Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals between the Bulls and Lakers, which took place just about three months after the incident involving Rodney King and the LAPD. Jordan obviously turned down that request as well.