Michael Jordan Held a $30 Million Trump Card for Nearly 20 Years Until Kobe Bryant Stole it

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Michael Jordan raises both arms in the air after winning a game with the Chicago Bulls as Kobe Bryant jogs onto the court during a 2013 game with the Lakers.

Michael Jordan rarely lost a battle on the court during his days with the Chicago Bulls. And thanks to his legendary basketball skills — along with some smart business savvy — the six-time NBA champion became incredibly wealthy.

For nearly 20 years, Jordan held a $30 million trump card over the rest of the league. But by establishing a reputation as one of the greatest NBA players of all time, Kobe Bryant put himself in a position to steal that card away from the undisputed GOAT of the basketball world.

Michael Jordan wasn’t always the highest-paid NBA player

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Despite becoming the most recognizable star in NBA history, Michael Jordan actually didn’t get paid like the top player in the sport. At least not until much later in his career.

In fact, the former University of North Carolina shooting guard didn’t crack the $1 million salary mark until his fifth year in the league. In 1988–89, Jordan captured his third consecutive scoring title while earning only $2 million.

Two years later, he won his first of six championship rings. Chicago only paid Jordan $2.5 million that season.

His endorsement deals and business moves more than made up for his fairly underwhelming NBA contracts. In particular, Jordan’s relationship with Nike has played a significant role in his financial success.

But after putting his body and mind on the line for more than a decade at a discount price, His Airness finally got paid at a level that matched his value.

His Airness held a $30 million trump card for nearly 20 years before losing it to Kobe Bryant

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Prior to the 1996–97 season, Michael Jordan’s highest salary checked in at just $4 million. That number skyrocketed almost tenfold in a year that once again ended with the Bulls winning the NBA Finals.

Jordan made $30.1 million in his age-33 campaign. In addition to securing his penultimate championship ring, he also took home his second-to-last scoring title.

The following year, he earned a whopping $33.1 million. And, of course, Chicago won another title by beating the Utah Jazz … again.

Even though Jordan retired for good after the 2002-03 season, he still held a $30 million trump card for much, much longer. Because after becoming the first player in NBA history to make $30 million per season back in 1996–97, it took nearly two decades for another player to achieve that financial feat.

And to little surprise, Kobe Bryant managed to become the first player after Jordan to secure a $30 million salary.

In 2013–14, the LA Lakers legend made roughly $30.5 million. Unfortunately for Bryant, his comeback journey from a devastating Achilles injury ended with a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee.

The Lakers legend more than tripled Jordan’s career earnings before he finally retired

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Kobe Bryant retired after the 2015–16 season. Although the 18-time All-Star finished one championship ring shy of matching Michael Jordan’s total, he more than tripled the GOAT’s career earnings.

During his 20-year NBA career, Bryant earned just north of $323 million. Like Jordan, his salary didn’t always match up to his contributions on the court.

When the Lakers won three straight titles, the Hall of Famer made an average of just $10.1 million per season.

However, Bryant’s bank account received a significant boost in the summer of 2004. In July, he signed a seven-year, $136.4 million contract to remain in LA.

And by making a combined $48.5 million in his final two years in the NBA, Bryant put even more distance between himself and Jordan in terms of career earnings.

The current owner of the Charlotte Hornets “only” made $93,772,500 from his NBA contracts. But based on his $2 billion estimated net worth, Michael Jordan has obviously managed to come out just fine in the end.

All contract data courtesy of Spotrac. All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.