Skip to main content

Whether you think he’s the GOAT or not, there’s no arguing with Michael Jordan’s on-court ability. During his time in the Association, His Airness put on a show. He stuffed the box score, took home a boatload of individual honors, and, perhaps most importantly, brought six NBA championships back to Chicago. Based on that reality, you’d probably think the Bulls handed him a blank check, right?

Not exactly.

Thanks to the timing of his contracts, Jordan didn’t command massive salaries until the end of his time in the Windy City. In fact, his total NBA earnings were so (comparatively) small that MJ more than doubled his total in 2022 alone.

Sound unbelievable? Let’s look at the numbers.

Michael Jordan earned roughly $94 million in the NBA despite his star status

These days, a big-time NBA star can command upwards of $40 million per season. A few select contracts even push past the $50-million plateau. During most of Michael Jordan’s career, however, things were a bit different.

As recorded by Spotrac, most of MJ’s time with the Bulls was covered by two contracts. The first, Mike’s rookie deal, paid him $6.3 million across five years. While you’re probably thinking that he was due for a massive raise after that agreement expired, there wasn’t much of a financial leap. Jordan’s next contract was an eight-year, $25.7 million pact; if you don’t want to do the math, that averages out to a shade over $3.2 million per season.

Although that deal was reasonable when both parties signed on the dotted line, it quickly looked outdated. In November 1989, the NBA landed a new TV deal. That pushed salaries higher, and guys like MJ were stuck on the wrong side of history.

And while His Airness eventually reached that upper echelon, there wasn’t much time to take advantage. He inked two one-year contracts, one for $30.1 million and another for $33.1 million, before leaving Chicago entirely.

When you include some (relative) pocket change from his spell with the Wizards, Jordan earned just over $93.7 million in salary during his time in the Association. While that’s far from pocket change, it’s far lower than you’d expect, given his star status.

The Jordan brand, however, is still making Mike incredibly wealthy

Michael Jordan at a 2015 event celebrating the Jordan Brand.
The Jordan Brand is still making Michael Jordan a wealthy man. | Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

If you were getting a metaphorical tiny violin out to play for Michael Jordan’s finances, you can put it away. Even if we set aside his endorsement deals and NBA ownership, the living legend is still bringing in plenty of annual income thanks to his eponymous brand.

On January 30, 2023, Front Office Sports reported that the Jordan brand brought in $5.1 billion during the 2022 fiscal year. While all of that money doesn’t end up in MJ’s wallet, he still pockets a good amount of cash. He reportedly takes home 5% of the brand’s earnings, which would equate to an estimated $256 million last year.

Again, if you don’t want to do the math, that’s nearly triple his NBA earnings in a single year.

Although Jordan is in a league of his own — your average player isn’t going to be able to command 5% of a major label’s earnings — those eye-popping numbers are a good reminder about the opportunities that exist beyond the court. While those extracurricular efforts may rub some fans the wrong way — “Why does every athlete have to be a brand?” — the bottom line speaks for itself. If you could turn your own identity into multiple millions of dollars, wouldn’t you take that chance?

His Airness, as he is in so many other ways, set the template for others to follow.


Michael Jordan Can Take Criticism If He’s Not Blindsided, According to Stephen A. Smith