How these four billionaire athletes made their fortunes

NBA legend Michael Jordan. Picture: NBA
Magic Johnson has become the latest athlete to be declared a billionaire, joining fellow sporting legends Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Lebron James

Magic Johnson has just become the latest athlete to join a very exclusive club. 

Forbes estimates Johnson to be worth no less than US$1.2 billion, making him the fourth sportsperson to be declared a billionaire. 

NBA colleagues Michael Jordan and Lebron James, as well as golfing great Tiger Woods, are the other names on the elite list. 

Johnson is one of the most iconic names in the history of basketball, having enjoyed a star-studded career as a point guard with the LA Lakers. He led the team to five NBA championships and is frequently dubbed as one of the greatest players of all time.

Since retiring from the NBA in 1996, the three-time MVP has become a proficient businessman, making sound investments in numerous big-name businesses. 

Here, Business Chief takes a look at how Johnson and his three fellow billionaire athletes made their money.

Magic Johnson contests an air ball with Larry Bird. Picture: NBA Archives

Magic Johnson 

Now in his mid-60s, Johnson is estimated to have made a relatively meagre US$40 million during his illustrious NBA career.

Off the court, however, the Lakers legend has continued to amass a more sizable fortune. 

Forbes reports that Johnson has made a significant proportion of his cash from having a 60% stake in life insurance company, EquiTrust, which has achieved US$26.1bn in assets under management.

Over the years, he has also invested in some of the most recognisable brands in the world, including Starbucks, Burger King and Best Buy

What’s more, Johnson still has financial connections to sport in his adopted hometown of LA, with stakes in the LA Dodgers, LAFC and WNBA team the Los Angeles Sparks

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Michael Jordan 

The GOAT in the eyes of many, Michael Jordan was the first athlete in the NBA and perhaps world sport to attract such a constant stream of multi-million-dollar endorsements.

Chevrolet, Gatorade, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are just some of the heavyweight brands to pump their cash into advertising campaigns featuring Jordan. 

That’s without even mentioning Nike, which saw off competition from a host of sportswear rivals to secure a long-lasting partnership with the Bulls’ all-time leading scorer. Without Air Jordans, who knows whether Nike would have become the global superpower it is today. 

Post-retirement, Jordan has made a series of shrewd investments, including in the Charlotte Hornets, eventually selling his majority stake this year for around US$3bn. 

Tiger Woods is widely perceived to be the greatest golfer of all time

Tiger Woods

Widely perceived to be the greatest golfer ever to play the game, Tiger Woods was easily the world’s most marketable athlete during his era of dominance in the late-1990s and early-2000s. 

Immediately after turning pro, Woods signed lucrative deals with Nike and Titleist, and was also endorsed by Accenture, American Express and General Motors.

Around a decade later he became the face of Gillette alongside fellow sports stars Roger Federer and Thierry Henry, before signing a deal with Gatorade to have a drink named after him. 

At the peak of his power, Woods is said to have earned around US$100 million per year from endorsements alone. 

Lebron James in action for the LA Lakers. Picture: NBA

Lebron James

Lebron James made history in 2022 by becoming the first active NBA player to be declared a billionaire. 

Compared to his fellow athlete billionaires, James has made a fairly significant proportion of his fortune on the court – more than US$400m. Assuming his current contract with the LA Lakers is extended, this is due to surpass US$530m in 2025. 

However, investments and endorsements still account for the majority of his earnings. Nike, Pepsi and Walmart are just some of the companies to have made James tens of millions of dollars.

These days, the Laker has a 1% stake in Fenway Sports Group, which owns a number of sports teams including Liverpool FC and Boston Red Sox

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