Michael Jordan, who once said he had “zero” interest in owning an NBA franchise, just ascended to billionaire status because of his ownership of the Charlotte Hornets—and he has none other than disgraced former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling partly to thank for the rare distinction.
During the 1996 season, Jordan said he would not consider NBA ownership because he “didn’t want the headache.” His reversal has earned him a fortune and a spot on Forbes just-released 2015 billionaires list.
Some may argue if Jordan is the best player in league history, as it is a matter of opinion. No one can dispute that he’s the best-paid athlete in any sport.
Most of Jordan’s wealth comes from Nike payouts on his worldwide iconic sneaker and athletic apparel brand. The Jordan brand grossed an estimated $2.25 billion in 2013, according to Forbes, earning Jordan some $90 million.
But his most valuable asset is his stake in the Hornets, worth more than $500 million. Here’s where Sterling comes in. His racist comments about Blacks in general and Magic Johnson in particular earned him expulsion from the league.
He was forced to sell his franchise by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Enter eager ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who bought the Clippers for a stunning $2 billion, significantly over its market value, according to analysts. But values of all NBA teams skyrocketed, creating three new billionaires from the league including Jordan, his former boss Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls ($1.3 billion), and Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander ($1.6 billion).
Jordan is the only African-American to own an NBA franchise—and the only Black person among the new 290 members to the Billionaires Club. He purchased the team for $275 million in 2010. The NBA’s enormous new TV deal with ESPN and Turner adds even more value to the franchise.
In the deal, which begins in 2016, the networks will pay the NBA an average of $2.66 billion per year. They paid about $930 million per year under the old deal. That works out to an extra $57 million in revenue per year for MJ’s Hornets.
Jordan bought the team when franchise values were stagnating. They have since exploded into a stratosphere no one could have expected. Jordan would never do it, but he can thank Sterling for his ugly remarks, as they helped Jordan and others in a significant ways.