It's been 16 years since Michael Jordan played his last professional basketball game, but he still out-earns every current NBA player when it comes to sneaker income — and the ranking isn't even close: In 2019, Jordan earned $130 million from his Nike deal, Forbes reports.
That's four times more than No. 2 ranked LeBron James, who made $32 million from his sneaker deal. The No. 3 earner, Kevin Durant, made $26 million in 2019.
Today, it's hard to imagine Jordan sporting anything other than Nike, but he didn't always want to wear the now iconic Swoosh. In 1984, the year he was drafted third overall by the Chicago Bulls, Jordan had his eye on Adidas.
In the 80s, Nike was known as a track shoe. The most popular shoe in the NBA at the time was Converse, which represented superstars like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Since it already had a roster of big names, the company wouldn't be able to prioritize a rookie like Jordan. "They told me, We cannot envision you being put ahead of them," Jordan recalls in "The Last Dance," a 10-part documentary series that follows him and the Bulls' pursuit of a sixth championship in 1998.
While Jordan liked Adidas, his agent, David Falk, wanted him to go with Nike. "Adidas was really dysfunctional by that time," says Falk, who represented Jordan from 1984 to 2003. "And they had just told me, We'd love to have Jordan. We just can't make a shoe work at this point in time.
"I wanted Michael to go with Nike because they were the upstart."
Jordan, who was 21 at the time, was stubborn. "I couldn't even get him to get on the damn plane and go visit the [Nike] campus," recalls Falk. "So I called his parents."
As Jordan remembers it, his mom "made me get on that plan and go listen." Nike offered a deal the rookie couldn't turn down.
"Back then, the best guys might have gotten like $100,000 or so," says Nike executive Howard White in the documentary. "He got probably $250,000. It was like, You will pay him what? A young rookie that's done nothing? You must be out of your mind."
As part of the deal, Jordan also got his own shoe line: Air Jordan.
It didn't take long for the brand to take off. "Nike's expectation when we signed the deal was, at the end of year four, they hoped to sell $3 million worth of Air Jordans," says Falk. "In year one, we sold $126 million."