While Michael Jordan is an incredible athlete, talent alone didn’t carry him to the top. His Airness also possesses a famous will to win; whether he’s on the court, at the card table, or on the golf course, second place is just the first loser. Some of his wins, however, have paid off better than others.
It’s no secret that Michael Jordan’s competitiveness often manifested in gambling. While no one, not even MJ, can win every time, one $180 million risk into a massive payday.
Michael Jordan’s famous will to win
Growing up, Michael Jordan honed his famous competitive streak playing against his older brother Larry. That will to win would become one of the defining traits of his basketball career.
Jordan encountered an early roadblock, however, as he famously failed to make his high school’s varsity basketball team on the first attempt; after a year dominating the JV squad and a growth spurt, though, he made the cut the following fall. He went on to become a McDonald’s All-American before heading to the University of North Carolina. Unsurprisingly, His Airness hit the game-winning shot in the national championship game as a freshman.
Jordan’s winning way, of course, would continue in the NBA. While it took him a few seasons to get past the Detroit Pistons and their ‘Jordan rules,’ His Airness would become an unstoppable force. In addition to scoring over 30,000 points, won six championships, and six MVP awards, he completely changed the game of basketball.
Away from the game, however, Jordan wasn’t any less serious. Practices turned into must-win affairs full of trash talk; rounds of golf, iPad games, and simple puzzles became high-stakes competitions. Then, there was gambling.
Michael Jordan’s competitiveness extended to gambling
While Michael Jordan’s competitive spirit helped make him an NBA legend, he didn’t take things any easier off the court. In fact, his gambling exploits have become the stuff of legend.
Jordan plenty of time playing golf and cards, but his gambling habits weren’t limited to conventional means. If there was money to be won, His Airness was always up to the challenge; that included betting on everything from luggage carousels to Jumbotron races. Stories of Jordan’s gambling became so well known that some fans still believe his first retirement was actually a secret suspension.
Gambling, more than anything else, was another way for Jordan to prove his dominance. If there was a competition to win, he was going to go after it.
“Yes, the most cutthroat athlete of his generation loves to gamble, and even more than that, he loves to win,” Bill Simmons once wrote for ESPN. “Should you be surprised? The qualities that once made MJ transcendent on the court—his legendary hypercompetitiveness, superhuman stamina, larger-than-life swagger, and unwavering confidence—make the gambling crossover an obvious choice.”
Turning a profit on a $180 million gamble
While Michael Jordan is no stranger to the casino, his biggest payday didn’t come in a poker room or at the craps table. It came from the NBA.
In 2006, Jordan became a minority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats; four years later, he paid $180 million to take control of the franchise. While that might seem like quite a gamble—the Bobcats were struggling on the court and in debt at the time—His Airness’ bold move paid off.
According to Forbes, the Hornets are now worth roughly $1.5 billion. Jordan still owns 80 percent of the franchise; based on that valuation, the remaining stake, which he sold in 2019, would be worth around $300 million, meaning he’s already turned a profit on his initial investment.
These days, Jordan’s net worth sits at approximately $2.1 billion, thanks in large part to the Charlotte Hornets. His gamble of taking on the floundering franchise might have been a big risk, but it brought even bigger rewards.