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Michael Jordan: The Branding G.O.A.T.

The NBA icon revolutionized footwear, put NIKE on the map and amassed a $2.1 billion net worth.

On Sunday, May 17, ESPN will air the highly anticipated finale of “The Last Dance,” a compelling 10-part docuseries about the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls championship-winning NBA season and the incredible journey leading up to that pivotal year in sports history.

As sports fans across the globe living under quarantine with virtually no sports content to consume await the final two episodes with baited breath, sales of Jordan Brand sneakers have skyrocketed – up 40 percent since the series’ launch. Adding to the excitement, Sotheby’s is holding an auction to sell a rare pair of signed Nike Air Jordan 1s to celebrate “The Last Dance.”

The success of the powerful docuseries, directed by Jason Hehir, reflects the gargantuan international fandom of sports icon, entrepreneur and NBA phenom Michael Jordan.

Jordan, a six-time NBA champion, is not only a sports legend but also a branding juggernaut – landing him on License Global’s coveted 2019 Influentials list, which honored the licensing industry’s paradigm-shifting disruptors.

NIKE’s Jordan brand is a rare example of a brand that has ballooned exponentially into such a massive success that it eclipses the very star it was originally inspired by. And what a shining star he is.  

Dubbed “The World’s Richest Athlete” by Forbes, Jordan is destroying the competition in footwear. NIKE’s Jordan Brand brought in $3.14 billion in revenue in the fiscal year ending May 2019. In 2019, Jordan himself earned an estimated $145 million, according to Forbes, which also estimated last year that the star’s cumulative off-court income since entering the NBA in 1984 was roughly $1.7 billion.

Jordan’s net worth today has reached an estimated $2.1 billion, according to Forbes, thanks to his stake in the Charlotte Hornets, which he took majority control of in 2010. The icon has held deals with McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, General Mills and Chevrolet­ ­– and maintains partnerships with Gatorade, Hanes and Upper Deck.

NIKE’s Jordan Brand has amassed a laundry list of sponsorships and collaborations over the years with a robust roster of NBA stars and properties such as Epic Games for “Fortnite,” soccer club Paris Saint-Germain, rap star Travis Scott, denim heavyweight Levi’s and popstar Justin Timberlake, among countless others.

Air Jordans have resurged in popularity thanks to “The Last Dance,” multiple celebrity partnerships and fresh reimagined versions of retro styles for nostalgic fans. Last September, NIKE released the Air Jordan XXXIV, and basketball fans saw current NBA stars Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum and Rui Hachimura wear the hot new iteration of the Air Jordan on the court.

According to The NPD Group, in 2019, NIKE (including the Jordan Brand) held 86 percent share of the U.S. basketball performance shoe market. That staggering number is undoubtedly attributable to Jordan, who put the brand on the map after semi-reluctantly signing a shoe deal with the then-growing company back in 1984. Jordan’s first choice was the more-popular Adidas brand, but the NBA star took a meeting with NIKE at the behest of his mother, Deloris, which ultimately resulted in perhaps the greatest footwear deal of all time. The subsequent Air Jordan deal set off a whirlwind success for NIKE, earning a reported $100 million in sales in its first year and shattering expectations.

Decades later, NIKE’s licensing and brand partnerships are flourishing more than ever. Jordan himself is also winning as an entrepreneur with diverse revenue streams. He is the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets and founder of an ultra-premium tequila brand, Cincoro, created in partnership with fellow NBA owners Jeanie Buss, Wes Edens and Wyc Grousbeck.

Jordan, his larger-than-life shoe brand and his unrivaled sports legacy continue winning in 2020.

Though the final, historic Chicago Bulls championship threepeat season, dubbed “The Last Dance” by coach Phil Jackson, came to a triumphant end in 1998 – Jordan’s illustrious business empire is enjoying a never-ending waltz.

As the classic ad slogan goes, “It’s gotta be the shoes!”

The final two episodes of “The Last Dance” air Sunday, May 17 on ESPN.

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