Skip to main content

Michael Jordan not only revolutionized the game of basketball but also the sports marketing industry. His financial success off the court enabled him to purchase a $61.5 million jet and still give away millions to charity. But long before he became the first billionaire athlete, he had to prove his worth. So when Jordan and Nike teamed up, the gigantic company surprisingly set its expectations shockingly low. That simply set Michael Jordan up to prove Nike wrong with an insane level of shoe-sale success in his first year.

Michael Jordan nearly passed up Nike for Adidas

Can you believe that Michael Jordan almost took his talents to Adidas? Luckily for Air Jordan fans, that never happened thanks to his mother. The backstory behind Jordan’s journey to Nike became a hot topic after the fifth episode of The Last Dance aired. As a 21-year-old who had yet to become a global icon, he wanted to sign with Adidas. Luckily, agent David Falk didn’t let his client put pen to paper.

By not offering him a signature shoe, Adidas blew a massive money-making opportunity. However, that simply opened the door for Nike to swoop in. And thanks to a strong push from his mother, Deloris, Michael Jordan got the deal he wanted. Nike agreed to produce a signature shoe line. Decades later, Air Jordan still stands out as one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

His Airness blew away Nike’s sales expectations

Michael Jordan and Nike have become filthy rich because of their partnership, but let’s just say nobody expected the relationship to be so fruitful. At least, not from Nike’s point of view. A prolific college star, Jordan hadn’t even gotten his feet wet in the NBA when he signed on the dotted line. Still, it’s shocking to hear Nike’s sales projections years later.

In episode five of The Last Dance, Jordan’s longtime agent revealed that Nike had hoped to sell $3 million worth of Air Jordans in four years. For athletes of the time, that would have been an unprecedented payday. But in typical MJ fashion, he made everyone look downright silly for setting the bar so low.

According to Falk, Air Jordan sales totaled $126 million in the first year alone. That figure blew away Nike’s tiny $3 million goal by 4,100 percent. Considering he got cut from his high-school basketball team and fell to the third pick in the 1984 NBA draft, Michael Jordan certainly had experience in proving people wrong. But the immediate success of the Air Jordan line certainly had to be his sweetest revenge.

Jordan has become a rich man thanks in large part to his Nike deal

Ultimately, the Air Jordan brand has made Michael Jordan a wealthy man. Since joining forces with the sports apparel giant, Jordan has earned $1.3 billion. That’s a staggering sum that surely Nike couldn’t have imagined possible when the 21-year-old version of Jordan came on board.

Despite last suiting up for the Washington Wizards almost two decades ago, Jordan still dominates the sports apparel world. In 2019, he hauled in about $130 million. LeBron James may get compared to Jordan for his on-court prowess, but not even The Chosen One comes close to His Airness in Nike sales. Jordan’s financial success has allowed him to become one of the rare athletes who bought a pro sports team.

Even after gambling away inordinate sums of money, nothing has stopped the Bulls legend from capitalizing on his fame. Jordan’s not only the GOAT on the court, but he’s also the gold standard off it when it comes to building a brand. And as Nike learned, Michael Jordan will stop at nothing to surpass everyone’s expectations.