Today’s NBA players earn far more than those of any other era. The average player salary comes out to a cool $7.7 million, meaning even low-end talent can earn a large amount of money throughout their careers. Superstars, meanwhile, take home considerably more, with Stephen Curry topping out the 2019-20 salary rankings at $40.2 million.
Star players have another huge advantage when it comes to earned income: shoe deals. Those lucky enough to get their own signature line may end up making as much from shoe deals as from NBA contracts. LeBron James has one of the most lucrative shoe lines today. Yet James still can’t hold a candle to Michael Jordan. Here we take a closer look at the two men’s shoe earnings.
LeBron James’ shoe deal with Nike
By most standards, James has ascended to the highest peak in terms of shoe deals for NBA players. Way back in his rookie year of 2003, James received what was then the single largest rookie shoe deal in the history of the league, worth somewhere around $12 million per year. Then, in 2015, James inked an even more substantial deal with Nike.
That 2015 deal wasn’t a regular sort of contract. Instead, it bound James to a lifetime endorsement with the athletic company. Although the specific terms are still unclear, reports suggested that the deal could end up netting James more than $1 billion by the time he turns 64. Evidently Nike is banking on the enduring appeal of one of the sport’s greatest players.
James’ total earnings in 2019 came to a whopping $89 million. Over one-third of that total — $32 million, to be specific — stemmed from James’ shoe deal with Nike, according to Forbes.
The astronomical value of Michael Jordan’s brand
James’ shoe earnings are easily the most among active players. Kevin Durant’s shoe earnings come in a distant second, at $25 million per year. Yet James’ total isn’t even a quarter that of the top earner, Michael Jordan. In 2019, Jordan’s ongoing endorsement deal with Nike brought the GOAT a staggering $130 million in profits.
The total revenue of Nike’s Jordan Brand came to $3.14 billion during the fiscal year that ended in May 2019. The most impressive thing about that number is that it actually reflects a 10% increase from the previous year. In other words, despite having hung up his own playing shoes over 16 years ago, Jordan’s footwear line is more popular than ever.
Accounting for the difference between Jordan and James
So how can we account for the fact that Jordan’s shoes have remained so much more lucrative than those of a current player? The answer is complicated, of course, with a bevy of different factors coming into play. To begin with, Jordan’s brand — and particularly his “Jumpman” logo — has reached a level of recognizability that most companies can only dream of.
Of course, Jordan’s cachet alone isn’t enough to drive enormous sales. You also have to factor in the extremely savvy product design and marketing on Nike’s end. Instead of simply sitting back and reaping the profits of previously popular Jordan designs, the company has continued to develop and innovate the brand, widening its reach among consumers.
Someday it might be possible for James to achieve a similar level of success. Then again, it’s hard to imagine any of James’ shoes ever reaching the same iconic level as something like the Air Jordan 1, an original pair of which recently sold for a record $560,000. Fortunately, fans can buy a current Air Jordan 1 replica from Nike for significantly less than that.