“C’mon, Michael, it’s game time. Get your Hanes on, lace up your Nikes, grab your Wheaties and Gatorade and we’ll pick up a Big Mac on the way to the ballpark.”
— Stan Podolak (actor Wayne Knight), Michael Jordan’s assistant from “Space Jam”
Michael Jordan earned $97,285,000 in salary for his 15 NBA seasons, including the $4 million the Bulls paid him to ride the bus for the Birmingham Barons in 1994.
Even considering this was roughly three decades ago, Jordan’s $6.49 million-a-year rake seems laughably low. Adjusted for inflation, $6.49 million in 1990 is worth $12.72 million today. That’s Larry Nance Jr. territory.
But don’t feel too bad for him.
Unlike Mike Ditka, Jordan didn’t have to pitch an erectile dysfunction drug — 2003 Tribune headline: Ditka discusses his impotency — to get there. He didn’t even have to bear (almost) all for a print underwear ad, as Orioles icon Jim Palmer did. Even Jordan’s 1992 ad for Hanes, featuring underwear that resembled a bikini bottom, was, shall we say, tastefully done.
Jordan has pitched for industry giants Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Wheaties and Chevrolet. He still partners with Nike, Hanes, Gatorade and Upper Deck, according to Forbes.
Let’s take a look at the evolution of Jordan the pitchman, with these 15 memorable commercials:
1. Ultra Star Hair Products (1988)
Summary: Before Jordan made bald sexy, he pretended to sing the praises of “Ultra Star.”
Best supporting actor: The mustachioed guy who tried to go as deep as Barry White.
Grade: B- as an ad. A+ as a “Saturday Night Live” parody.
2. Nike ‘Mars Blackmon’ (1988)
Summary: Spike Lee’s character from “She’s Gotta Have It,” in awe of MJ, hollers: “Money, it’s gotta be the shoes!”
Best supporting actor: Jordan shows some range with his varying versions of “No, Mars.”
Grade: A. Memorable. And a clever tag: “Mr. Jordan’s opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Nike, Inc.”
3. Hanes Fashion Underwear (1990)
Summary: A shirtless Jordan reclines and hugs a basketball while wearing red briefs.
Best supporting actor: A kid who asks: “Got the tickets, Michael?” To what, his own game?
Grade: C+. Jordan delivers this cringeworthy line: “When I’m done slamming, I’m jamming in Hanes fashion underwear.”
4. Coca-Cola ‘Treehouse’ (1990)
Best supporting actor: Mom Deloris Jordan, who does her best Marv Albert impersonation: “Yes!”
Grade: A. Pure Americana.
5. Hanes Fashion Underwear (1992)
Summary: A boyish-looking Jordan gets a smooch from his wife, Juanita, after he endorses red briefs.
Best supporting actor: James Jordan, who asks: “Son, is there a reason why you wear them?”
Grade: A-, depending on your tolerance for sanitized jazz music
6. ‘Better Eat Your’ Wheaties (1992)
Summary: Corn Flakes and Special K won’t get you to the NBA. Wheaties, on the other hand …
Best supporting actor: Whoever slammed the lockers on those inferior cereals.
Grade: B+. Kind of dull but there’s a twist: MJ misses the shot we all expect him to swish. A shocked Jordan remarks: “I better eat my Wheaties.”
7. Gatorade ‘Be Like Mike’ (1992)
Summary: You know. Real Jordan clips are interspersed with those of adorable tykes.
Best supporting actor: The kid who throws down the two-handed slam. Ten-foot rim?
8. McDonald’s ‘The Showdown’ (1993)
Summary: Jordan brings a Big Mac and fries to the gym. Larry Bird salivates. The two play an epic game of “horse.” (Or is it B-I-G-M-A-C?)
Best supporting actor: Larry Legend: “No dunking.”
Grade: A+. Quotable lines like “Off the expressway floor, over the river … nothing but net” and Chicago scenery (John Hancock Center).
9. Nike ‘Hare Jordan’ (1993)
Summary: Bugs Bunny teams with MJ to take out four goonish pickup players.
Best supporting actor: Bugs draws a crowd as his female iteration: “Yoo-hoo!”
Grade: A-. “Hare” and “Air” have some Michael-and-Scottie quality chemistry.
10. Nike ‘But He’s Trying’ (1995)
Summary: Mars Blackmon heads to Birmingham, Ala., and checks in on a struggling Jordan.
Best supporting actor: Tie among Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. and Bill Buckner, all of whom utter: “But he’s trying.”
Grade: A-. Guess it’s the effort that counts.
11. Nike ‘I had this Dream’ (1995)
Summary: Jordan, sporting a goatee, has the weirdest dream — he surrenders NBA glory in favor of minor-league bus rides.
Best supporting actor: The waitress in a Birmingham diner.
Grade: A. Whoever got Jordan to read this dialogue deserves a raise: “I became a weak-hitting Double-A outfielder with a below-average arm.”
12. Nike ‘Failure’ (1997)
Summary: A contemplative Jordan strolls into the gym, mentally preparing for battle.
Best supporting actor: The security guy who gives a high-five?
Grade: A. This ad is all about the message, the power of perseverance: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot — and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why (pause) I succeed.”
13. Gatorade Michael Jordan vs. Himself (2003)
Summary: A young, high-flying Jordan in a Bulls jersey takes on crafty, this-is-40 Jordan in an epic one-on-one.
Best supporting actor: The older MJ: “How you like that rainbow?”
Grade: A+. The smack talk seems real. (“Don’t smile, kid”… “How much you want?”) Did Jordan write the script?
14. Jumpman ‘Maybe it’s my fault’ (2008)
Summary: An exploration of Jordan’s basketball roots help us understand what fueled him.
Best supporting actor: None. This is all MJ, though he doesn’t appear until the end.
Grade: A+. So cinematic, it gives chills. The ad opens with a cool effect — the Jordan statue rising before the Chicago skyline — and ends with the tag “Be Legendary.” In between the ad has terrific dialogue: “Maybe I led you to believe it was easy … That my game was built on flash and not fire.”
15. Hanes ‘Bacon Neck’ (2010)
Summary: Jordan is mingling with a carpet salesman on a flight. The guy rags on a passenger with a raggedy, “bacon-neck” T-shirt collar.
Best supporting actor: He looks like a nice guy but crushes the goofball across the way, saying: “See how bad this guy looks.”
Grade: A-. Jordan’s facial expressions are strong, but what’s with his toothbrush ‘stache?