Happy Birthday, Michael Jordan
By Burt Carey
Today (Feb. 17), Michael Jordan turns 53. While it’s been 13 years since fans last saw him play professional basketball, his retirement years have been arguably the best retirement of a professional athlete ever.
He ranks among the greatest NBA players of all time. Some say he’s simply the greatest. By all rights MJ could have taken his career — his six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls, his five NBA MVP awards, the six times he was named NBA Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, 13 All-Star nominations, the three times he was named All-Star Game MVP, and induction into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2009 — and he could have disappeared.
But that wouldn’t have been the Michael Jordan we came to know, respect and love.
The Michael Jordan we know became the principal owner of the Charlotte Hornets, a franchise whose $175 million worth in 2010 has exploded to more than $725 million in 2016. This is the Michael Jordan whose worldwide appeal fuels the sale of six out of every 10 pairs of Nike basketball shoes.
Now well into his second decade as a retired professional athlete, Jordan will make more money this year (as he did in 2014 and 2015) from endorsements than the $94 million he made during 15 seasons playing in the NBA. As he blows out the candles on his birthday cake today, he does so with the knowledge that his net worth exceeds $1 billion.
According to Forbes, he most likely entered the billionaire club in 2014. Simply put: No professional athlete has parlayed a sports career into a personal and business brand the way Jordan has done it. His endorsement deal with Nike, a relationship that began with an unheard-of five-year, $7 million contract during his rookie year in 1984, has grown into a $2.2 billion sales empire that nets the legendary star about $100 million per year.
Jordan will forever be No. 23, the agile 6’6” shooting guard and sometimes small forward, whose jersey has been retired by the Bulls organization. We remember what he did on the basketball court: making twisting, turning immortal moves to the basket, leaping to dunk from the free throw line, sinking three-pointers and scoring 32,292 points over his career (fourth best in NBA history). And to a generation of kids now entering high school who lace up their Air Jordans but who never saw him play, it’s his business acumen, the Michael Jordan brand, they know.
Despite his fame and the fact that 98 percent of consumers around the globe recognize his name, Jordan is also known for philanthropy. He’s active in charity work for such organizations as the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America, the UNCF/College Fund, Make-a-Wish Foundation, Kids Wish Network, Special Olympics, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Opportunity Village, the Children’s Literacy Initiative, the Jack Robinson Foundation and others. He donated his $1 million salary from the Washington Wizards to the families of 9/11 victims and recovery efforts. And after winning a copyright lawsuit in 2015, he donated all of the money, $8.9 million, to 23 different Chicago charities.
Happy birthday, MJ.