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Tuesday, April 15
Cashing in on the ultimate cash cow

    "We paid through the nose."
    -- Jonathan Kovler, Chicago Bulls managing partner, Sept. 1984

By Darren Rovell

No one was laughing at Jonathan Kovler's characterization of the seven-year, $6 million contract the Chicago Bulls coughed up to sign the team's No. 1 draft pick more than 18 years ago. But given what we now know of Michael Jordan's subsequent impact on the Bulls, the NBA and the world economy, it's hard not to chuckle today.

Leonsis & Michael Jordan
Ted Leonsis knew how to turn around the Wizards' fortunes. He hired Michael Jordan as the team's president in 1999.
Over his 16-year playing career, Jordan is said to have stimulated billions of dollars in business.

Beneficiaries include individual teams that have enjoyed sold-out arenas virtually each time he stepped onto the court, media partners like CBS, NBC, ABC and TNT (not to mention ESPN this season) that have basked in higher ratings because a nation clamored to see his awe-inspiring moves, the NBA itself which reaped growing rights fees, and corporations that became the gold standard because they used No. 23 to pitch their products.

From the construction companies that were paid a combined $175 million to build the United Center, dubbed by some "The House That Jordan Built," to the bookies and ticket scalpers who have done brisk business during Jordan's heyday with the Bulls and these past two seasons with the Wizards, perhaps there are too many people to count who have made a dollar here or there off His Airness.

Even those who aren't directly associated with professional basketball have cashed in on him. Yes, like actor Kevin Bacon, even six degrees of separation can put money in your pocket. A case in point: Jordan's second retirement after winning leading the Bulls to a sixth title in 1998 led to the departure of Bulls coach Phil Jackson. Jackson was replaced by Iowa State head coach Tim Floyd, who was replaced by Utah State head coach Larry Eustachy, who was replaced by Colorado State head coach Stew Morrill, who was replaced by Portland State head coach Ritchie McKay. In this sequence, every college coach received a pay raise from their previous job.

''I want to thank Michael Jordan because he made the shot that let Phil Jackson retire,'' McKay said during his introduction as Colorado State's coach. (McKay went on to even greater riches at Oregon State and is now at New Mexico.)

While its a long list of those who owe Jordan some sort of thanks after cashing in on his name or image, here are 23 who have made a buck or two off one of the world's most recognizable celebrities:

Michael Jordan celebrates with Jerry Reinsdorf
Michael Jordan led the Bulls to six NBA titles in the 1990s, but it's been all business for owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Jerry Reinsdorf: He bought a controlling stake in the Bulls for $9.2 million midway through Jordan's rookie season. Jordan helped Reinsdorf's team sell out 610 consecutive games over 13 seasons, leading the Bulls to six NBA titles. According to Forbes magazine, the Bulls are now worth $329 million.

David Stern: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson got it started, but Michael Jordan turned the NBA into a multibillion-dollar corporation. Average player salaries have increased from $275,000 in 1983-84, the season before Jordan entered the league, to $4.5 million this season. Likewise, television rights fees have increased from the millions to billions. When CBS Sports' four-year, $173 million deal expired in 1989, NBC purchased four years of rights for $600 million. ESPN and ABC's new deal, which began this season, is worth $2.4 billion over four years. Stern makes a healthy salary as the league's CEO, reportedly earning more than $7 million annually for the past five years.

Richard Esquinas: Former San Diego businessman who claimed to have played more than 100 rounds of golf with Jordan throughout four summers -- from 1989 through 1992 -- said he won golfing bets totaling $900,000. Esquinas, who is now a yoga instructor in Columbus, Ohio, says Jordan eventually paid him $200,000.

Karla and MJ
This photo of Karla Knafel and Michael Jordan was submitted as evidence in civil court.

Karla Knafel: The woman who allegedly had a sexual relationship with Jordan from 1989 to 1991, made $250,000 in hush money from the Bulls star. Jordan filed suit against Knafel last October, claiming she was threatening to take their relationship public if he didn't give her $5 million. In a countersuit, Knafel said Jordan agreed on that figure when it was unclear whether or not he was the father of her unborn child.

Oscar Gracia: One of the largest collectors of Jordan memorabilia has more than 12,000 different items. Gracia sold two Jordan player cards in 1995 for $7,000 and used it as a down payment for his house.

Ray Clay: The announcer of the Bulls from 1990-2002 received a raise -- from $50 to $80 per game -- during his tenure with the Bulls. Thanks to Jordan, Clay also was paid to do voiceovers in movies, TV shows and video games.

Christopher Robin Academy
With Michael Jordan as his marquee client, David Falk, left, became the most powerful sports agent in the business.

David Falk: Having Jordan as a client undoubtedly helped Falk become the most powerful sports agent in the NBA in the '80s and '90s. From 1992 to 1998, Falk's company, F.A.M.E., reportedly negotiated more than $400 million in contracts for his clients. Six years ago, he sold the firm to SFX for $100 million.

Alfonso Burdi: Many of the suits Jordan wears off the court come courtesy of this custom clothier.

Tim Grover: Grover took over as Jordan's personal trainer in 1989. Six years later, he founded Attack Athletics and became NBA trainer to the stars, training players like Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Finley and more than 50 others. "I'm contractually obligated not to talk to the media because of my arrangement with Michael," Grover said.

Phil Knight meets Michael Moore
Nike CEO Phil Knight discusses labor issues with filmmaker Michael Moore in "The Big One."

Phil Knight: When Nike signed Michael Jordan to endorse the company's line of shoes and apparel in 1984, its revenues were approaching $1 billion. Today, thanks in part to Jordan, they are a $10 billion company and Knight's net worth is estimated at $4.2 billion.

Scottie Pippen: As Jordan's sidekick on the Bulls' run to a pair of three-peat championships, Pippen was voted to be among the NBA's 50 greatest players. Since leaving the Bulls after the 1997-98 season, Pippen has averaged 11.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game, but he's made more than $73 million in salary.

Suntory: The Japanese liquor producer and distributor owned the Chicago White Sox's Class AA affiliate, the Birmingham Barons, when Jordan tried out baseball during his first respite from basketball in 1994. Jordan's presence led to a franchise-record 467,867 fans that season -- worth, ironically, roughly $2.3 million in gross ticket sales.

University of North Carolina: The Tar Heels have been a huge beneficiary of Jordan's success. Last year, the school earned a record $3.6 million in licensing royalties, and thanks to Brand Jordan, Nike was the university's largest licensee, generating $885,000 in royalties.

Michael vs. Michael
Trying to milk Jordan's star power once more, Gatorade thought it would be fun to pit Michael vs. Michael on the basketball court.

Gatorade inventors: Dr. Robert Cade, Dr. Alex de Quesada, Dr. Jim Free & Dana Shires own more than 50 percent of the Gatorade trust and have made untold millions in royalties thanks to Gatorade's domination of the sports drink market. Total annual sales have almost tripled to more than $2 billion since Jordan became its first athlete endorser in 1991. "Michael is a good guy," Shires said. "His endorsement over the years certainly didn't hurt us."

Bob Rosenberg: Rosenberg is the only official scorer the Bulls have had since the team joined the NBA in 1966. In Jordan's first year, he found out that Rosenberg had taken it upon himself to make scrapbooks with press clippings for some of the players. From 1984 to 1998, Rosenberg collected articles for Jordan. "He took care of me," Rosenberg said. "But he took care of everyone, including the vendors who earned commissions on selling more programs because he was on the cover."

Tiger Woods: Seeing the returns from their association with Jordan, Nike invested heavily in Woods, giving him a five-year, $40 million contract in 1996. His current contract is worth more than double the original deal.

Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan
Bugs Bunny turns the table and delivers a little trash talking to Michael Jordan in "Space Jam."

Bugs Bunny: In 1996, Jordan teamed up with Bugs and other Warner Brothers characters to make "Space Jam." The movie grossed $230 million at the box office, $230 million in memorabilia sales and $209 million on the home video market. Jordan made more than $15 million on the film. No word on what Bugs made.

Sports Illustrated: Jordan's image has been used to sell more than 5 million magazines on the newsstand. During his career, he has appeared on 52 SI covers. Muhammad Ali is a distant second as top-billed athlete -- 15 covers behind.

The authors: From "The Jordan Rules" to "Playing For Keeps," more than 50 writers, Sam Smith, David Halberstam, Pat Williams and Robert Lipsyte, earned royalties by penning books about His Airness.

Michael and Mariah
Michael Jordan filled up arenas for Wizards games, oftentimes with celebrities like Mariah Carey.

Abe Pollin: MJ's switch to the Wizards has been a boon for majority owner Abe Pollin, who has paid Jordan only $2 million over two seasons. Although the Wizards didn't make the playoffs, Jordan's presence attracted plenty of people to the MCI Center. The Wizards sold out all 82 regular-season home games over the past two seasons and were the only NBA team to average more than 20,000 fans during that streak. That represents a 33 percent increase in attendance and more than $18 million in additional gross ticket revenue.

Max Waisvisz: Ticket brokers and scalpers benefited from Jordan's popularity by charging huge mark-ups for Bulls games in the '90s. "It was like having a Super Bowl 41 times a year," said Waisvisz, part owner of Gold Coast Tickets. With the money earned from the Jordan years, Waisvisz said he and his partners purchased a rooftop overlooking Wrigley Field for $2.5 million in 2001.

Lee Kealon
Business has been good for Jordan lookalike Lee Kealon over the years.

Lee Kealon: A Michael Jordan impersonator who looks and sounds like Jordan and makes $1,000 a day at events being like Mike.

Peter and Penny Glazier: This husband-wife team has been able to stay afloat in the tremendously competitive and cutthroat New York City restaurant business thanks in part to their licensing deal with Jordan. In 1998, MJ lent his name to their restaurant, Michael Jordan's Steak House, in exchange for part ownership of the eatery located in Grand Central Station. Other restaurants with Jordan's name have not fared as well, including the steakhouse in Chicago and Michael Jordan's 23 in Chapel Hill, N.C., which closed on Nov. 20.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for, can be reached at

Rovell is the author of "On the Ball: What You Can Learn From America's Sports Business Leaders."

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