When I saw an article in Forbes last week that detailed how Michael Jordan made $60 million over the past year, primarily from endorsements, I had to laugh. I was on my couch at the time, wearing Jordan basketball shorts. A pair of Air Jordan retros sat next to me where I had kicked them off, a framed poster of a Jordan ad campaign hung on my wall and an empty bottle of Gatorade sat on my coffee table.
My apartment itself is a testament to Michael Jordan’s earning power, which becomes more amazing when you consider how relevant his personal brand remains long after his playing career has ended.
Jordan’s high-water mark came at exactly the right time. The ad world had grown exponentially – in no small part due to Jordan himself – but the information age had not yet hit its full stride. I’ve long wondered how much less public malign LeBron James would have had to deal with had he played in an era without Twitter, the Internet and a fully evolved ESPN to chronicle stray examples of avarice or entitlement.
Conversely, Jordan didn’t have to deal with YouTube clips portraying him losing six figures in a casino or on a golf course. There was no TMZ to sensationalize missteps in his personal life, no breathless tweets about him ripping into teammates in practice. If you paid close attention – and/or read The Jordan Rules – it was all there. But it wasn’t splashed all over the Internet, so the Jordan mystique was grandfathered into this new era and left pristine.
The main reason Jordan is the second-highest earning athlete in America even today is undoubtedly his connection to Nike and Wieden+Kennedy, whose ad wizardry – in Jordan’s own words – “[turned] me into a dream.” Congenial and handsome, Jordan supplemented his on-court brilliance with an innate sense of the smooth demeanor that played best in Middle America living rooms.
Jordan’s 71 percent market share in basketball sneakers seems way too high, but a cursory glance at the line for J.Cole’s record signing last Tuesday showed me no fewer than a dozen Air Jordans in my immediate line of sight, worn by both genders, every nationality and age group. The retros sell themselves via word of mouth and buzz, improbably resonating with young people after all these years while luring nostalgic longtime patrons back into the fold, or keeping them there.
With a vast selection of Jordans regarded as classics, one gets the feeling that if this trend was going to run its course, it surely would have by now. It’s a continuing cash cow for Nike and an enduring source of income for Michael Jordan.
The interesting part about Jordan’s modern-day financial success is that for someone who was once quite hands-on – he originally balked at having his first sneaker released in red and black since those are “the devil’s colors” – it doesn’t seem like he has to do a whole lot anymore, since the groundwork was so capably laid years ago.
For Hanes, he occasionally makes those ads where he sits on a plane. (In coach!) I can’t remember any recent Gatorade commercials with Mike, but The Jingle still pops into my head at times. (I can’t be the only one who misses drinking out of glass bottles, right?) His image goes on the front of a video game that he probably doesn’t play, and he does a commercial with – somewhat incongruously – Drake.