GOBankingRates

Was Michael Jordan Worth the Money? His Airness Compared to Other Greats

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Winslow Townson/AP / Shutterstock.com

If you watch ESPN, then you’re aware there’s a fair number of pundits who seem to earn their living primarily by shouting down anyone willing to challenge the doctrine that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player ever. Yet, despite staunch support from sports network talking heads — as well as a convincing argument from ESPN’s own Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” — the debate over who carries the mantle of the NBA’s G.O.A.T. doesn’t seem any closer to being settled.

While it can be hard to definitively say who really did the most to help their team win, sports is a business, and looking at how much a player earned in salary versus how much they produced on the court can give you a better sense of their true value.

In a new study, GOBankingRates crunched the numbers on how much value the Chicago Bulls got from Jordan and how his value compares to other greats of the game.

The study took each player’s total career earnings and divided it by their key statistics, giving us the dollar amount of what each player earned for every point, rebound and assist they recorded. To account for the drastic inflation of basketball salaries over the last 40 years, the study adjusted these figures based on the growth of the NBA salary cap from 1984. This provided an “era-adjusted” dollar figure for each key statistic. The lower the dollar amount, the higher the value.

Unfortunately, data on NBA salaries from before 1978 is relatively spotty, which meant players from before that era had to be omitted. Alas, comparisons between Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Air Jordan based on their relative salary aren’t forthcoming. However, the 44 remaining players do include a dream team of some of the game’s all-time greats — like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Jordan-nemesis Isiah Thomas.

So, how does Michael Jordan stack up in the pantheon of all-time greats — which includes some of his former teammates — when you factor in what it cost to secure his services? Here’s a closer look.

Last updated: June 8, 2020

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Michael Jordan

  • Salary per point: $2,904
  • Salary per rebound: $14,055
  • Salary per assist: $16,647
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $48,702
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $57,685

Era-adjusted salary per point: $10,063

Related: Best (and Worst) Deals in Sports History

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Who Cost More Than Jordan?

Even with the large contracts, Michael Jordan and his considerable scoring prowess proved to be an incredible value for the Bulls. Here are the 35 all-time greats who provided less value than Air Jordan.

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Dikembe Mutombo

  • Salary per point: $12,249
  • Salary per rebound: $11,624
  • Salary per assist: $115,860
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $25,781
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $256,960

Era-adjusted salary per point: $27,166

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Kevin Garnett

  • Salary per point: $12,823
  • Salary per rebound: $22,801
  • Salary per assist: $61,397
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $41,546
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $111,872

Era-adjusted salary per point: $23,365

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Alonzo Mourning

  • Salary per point: $10,304
  • Salary per rebound: $20,661
  • Salary per assist: $155,873
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $45,517
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $343,401

Era-adjusted salary per point: $22,700

See: The Highest-Paid Athlete of Every Year From 1990 to 2020

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Shaquille O’Neal

  • Salary per point: $10,013
  • Salary per rebound: $21,860
  • Salary per assist: $94,628
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $45,370
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $196,398

Era-adjusted salary per point: $20,783

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Jason Kidd

  • Salary per point: $10,384
  • Salary per rebound: $20,863
  • Salary per assist: $15,055
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $40,155
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $28,977

Era-adjusted salary per point: $19,987

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Chris Paul

  • Salary per point: $13,947
  • Salary per rebound: $57,077
  • Salary per assist: $27,163
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $80,389
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $38,257

Era-adjusted salary per point: $19,643

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Kobe Bryant

  • Salary per point: $9,610
  • Salary per rebound: $45,879
  • Salary per assist: $51,271
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $82,137
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $91,788

Era-adjusted salary per point: $17,205

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Scottie Pippen

  • Salary per point: $5,806
  • Salary per rebound: $14,673
  • Salary per assist: $17,923
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $43,289
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $52,878

Era-adjusted salary per point: $17,128

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Patrick Ewing

  • Salary per point: $4,764
  • Salary per rebound: $10,186
  • Salary per assist: $53,374
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $35,500
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $186,028

Era-adjusted salary per point: $16,605

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Pau Gasol

  • Salary per point: $10,577
  • Salary per rebound: $19,548
  • Salary per assist: $56,303
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $29,720
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $85,602

Era-adjusted salary per point: $16,081

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Tim Duncan

  • Salary per point: $9,134
  • Salary per rebound: $16,038
  • Salary per assist: $57,284
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $28,194
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $100,705

Era-adjusted salary per point: $16,058

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Tracy McGrady

  • Salary per point: $8,837
  • Salary per rebound: $30,786
  • Salary per assist: $39,035
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $55,572
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $70,463

Era-adjusted salary per point: $15,951

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Dennis Rodman

  • Salary per point: $4,239
  • Salary per rebound: $2,370
  • Salary per assist: $17,707
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $8,872
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $66,283

Era-adjusted salary per point: $15,869

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Kawhi Leonard

  • Salary per point: $12,137
  • Salary per rebound: $35,136
  • Salary per assist: $84,790
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $45,706
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $110,298

Era-adjusted salary per point: $15,788

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Steve Nash

  • Salary per point: $8,320
  • Salary per rebound: $39,719
  • Salary per assist: $13,997
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $72,541
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $25,563

Era-adjusted salary per point: $15,195

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David Robinson

  • Salary per point: $5,325
  • Salary per rebound: $10,547
  • Salary per assist: $45,354
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $29,927
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $128,695

Era-adjusted salary per point: $15,110

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Hakeem Olajuwon

  • Salary per point: $4,126
  • Salary per rebound: $8,087
  • Salary per assist: $36,355
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $29,354
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $131,968

Era-adjusted salary per point: $14,977

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Stephen Curry

  • Salary per point: $10,260
  • Salary per rebound: $53,345
  • Salary per assist: $36,456
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $71,804
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $49,071

Era-adjusted salary per point: $13,811

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Russell Westbrook

  • Salary per point: $10,111
  • Salary per rebound: $33,206
  • Salary per assist: $28,267
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $45,227
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $38,499

Era-adjusted salary per point: $13,772

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Ray Allen

  • Salary per point: $7,444
  • Salary per rebound: $34,599
  • Salary per assist: $41,826
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $63,190
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $76,390

Era-adjusted salary per point: $13,595

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Kevin Durant

  • Salary per point: $9,825
  • Salary per rebound: $37,614
  • Salary per assist: $64,654
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $51,804
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $89,044

Era-adjusted salary per point: $13,531

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LeBron James

  • Salary per point: $9,006
  • Salary per rebound: $32,822
  • Salary per assist: $33,016
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $47,478
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $47,758

Era-adjusted salary per point: $13,027

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Tony Parker

  • Salary per point: $8,517
  • Salary per rebound: $48,835
  • Salary per assist: $23,571
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $74,248
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $35,836

Era-adjusted salary per point: $12,948

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Manu Ginobili

  • Salary per point: $8,316
  • Salary per rebound: $31,587
  • Salary per assist: $29,187
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $48,942
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $45,224

Era-adjusted salary per point: $12,885

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Dirk Nowitzki

  • Salary per point: $7,974
  • Salary per rebound: $21,903
  • Salary per assist: $68,925
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $34,764
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $109,395

Era-adjusted salary per point: $12,655

Dwyane Wade

  • Salary per point: $8,478
  • Salary per rebound: $39,811
  • Salary per assist: $34,448
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $59,241
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $51,260

Era-adjusted salary per point: $12,615

Also See: The 50 Highest-Paid NFL Players Who Aren’t Quarterbacks

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Paul Pierce

  • Salary per point: $7,392
  • Salary per rebound: $25,924
  • Salary per assist: $41,447
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $43,459
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $69,480

Era-adjusted salary per point: $12,392

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Anthony Davis

  • Salary per point: $9,709
  • Salary per rebound: $22,426
  • Salary per assist: $105,388
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $28,414
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $133,525

Era-adjusted salary per point: $12,301

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James Harden

  • Salary per point: $8,951
  • Salary per rebound: $42,270
  • Salary per assist: $35,718
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $56,897
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $48,077

Era-adjusted salary per point: $12,048

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Allen Iverson

  • Salary per point: $6,351
  • Salary per rebound: $45,601
  • Salary per assist: $27,520
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $85,746
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $51,747

Era-adjusted salary per point: $11,943

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John Stockton

  • Salary per point: $3,445
  • Salary per rebound: $16,762
  • Salary per assist: $4,296
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $58,084
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $14,887

Era-adjusted salary per point: $11,937

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Magic Johnson

  • Salary per point: $2,222
  • Salary per rebound: $5,998
  • Salary per assist: $3,880
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $32,022
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $20,711

Era-adjusted salary per point: $11,862

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Reggie Miller

  • Salary per point: $4,135
  • Salary per rebound: $24,993
  • Salary per assist: $25,241
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $71,340
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $72,046

Era-adjusted salary per point: $11,802

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Gary Payton

  • Salary per point: $4,799
  • Salary per rebound: $19,867
  • Salary per assist: $11,675
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $47,826
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $28,105

Era-adjusted salary per point: $11,552

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Damian Lillard

  • Salary per point: $8,371
  • Salary per rebound: $48,092
  • Salary per assist: $31,055
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $60,933
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $39,346

Era-adjusted salary per point: $10,607

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Vince Carter

  • Salary per point: $6,687
  • Salary per rebound: $26,044
  • Salary per assist: $36,497
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $40,261
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $56,420

Era-adjusted salary per point: $10,338

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Who Cost Less Than Jordan?

One might assume that Jordan’s legendary ability to put the ball through the hoop would mean he also gave his team the most for their money. You would be wrong, though.

There are, in fact, eight different players whose era-adjusted earnings per point scored is even lower than that of his Airness — including two players who more than doubled Jordan’s per-dollar production.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo

  • Salary per point: $7,771
  • Salary per rebound: $17,525
  • Salary per assist: $36,039
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $21,439
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $44,088

Era-adjusted salary per point: $9,506

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Karl Malone

  • Salary per point: $2,856
  • Salary per rebound: $7,047
  • Salary per assist: $20,100
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $22,466
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $64,076

Era-adjusted salary per point: $9,106

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Larry Bird

  • Salary per point: $1,187
  • Salary per rebound: $2,883
  • Salary per assist: $4,543
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $19,843
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $31,268

Era-adjusted salary per point: $8,172

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Charles Barkley

  • Salary per point: $1,854
  • Salary per rebound: $3,511
  • Salary per assist: $10,450
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $14,354
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $42,725

Era-adjusted salary per point: $7,580

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Clyde Drexler

  • Salary per point: $1,427
  • Salary per rebound: $4,743
  • Salary per assist: $5,171
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $22,106
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $24,098

Era-adjusted salary per point: $6,650

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Isiah Thomas

  • Salary per point: $1,006
  • Salary per rebound: $5,443
  • Salary per assist: $2,089
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $33,150
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $12,724

Era-adjusted salary per point: $6,126

Read: The 27 Weirdest Ways Athletes Have Spent Their Money

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James Worthy

  • Salary per point: $809
  • Salary per rebound: $2,804
  • Salary per assist: $4,729
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $17,075
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $28,804

Era-adjusted salary per point: $4,926

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Dominique Wilkins

  • Salary per point: $923
  • Salary per rebound: $3,432
  • Salary per assist: $9,192
  • Era-adjusted salary per rebound: $14,988
  • Era-adjusted salary per assist: $40,137

Era-adjusted salary per point: $4,029

More From GOBankingRates

Methodology: In order to find out how Michael Jordan’s value compared to other greats, GOBankingRates looked at ESPN’s Ranking of the top 74 NBA players of all time, published in May 2020, and found data for all players whose careers started in 1979 or later (as salary/earnings data was unavailable before that time). With that qualification in mind, GOBankingRates used Spotrac and Basketball-Reference data to find the following factors for each player: (1) total career earnings; (2) total regular-season games played; (3) total regular-season points scored; (4) total regular-season rebounds; (5) total regular-season assists; (6) total playoff games played; (7) total playoff points scored; (8) total playoff rebounds; and (9) total playoff assists. GOBankingRates took factor No. 1 and divided it by each succeeding factor to give: (10) amount earned per regular-season win; (11) amount earned per regular-season point scored; (12) amount earned per regular-season rebound; (13) amount earned per regular-season assist; (14) amount earned per playoff game played; (14) amount earned per playoff point scored; (15) amount earned per playoff rebound; and (16) amount earned per playoff assist. Factors No. 10-16 were not cumulative but calculated individually. GOBankingRates also included (17) miscellaneous achievements for each player across the following categories as supplementary information: inducted into the Hall of Fame, NBA championships won, regular MVPs won, Finals MVPs won, All-NBA Teams made and All-Star teams made. All data was collected and is up to date as of May 28, 2020.

To find the era-adjusted values, GOBankingRates found the average salary cap (in inflation-adjusted 2020 dollars) taken from across the full span of each player’s career. There are six players listed who began their career prior to the introduction of the salary cap in 1984, with the earliest being Magic Johnson in 1979. For those players, the average was simply taken from 1984 to their final season. After determining the average salary cap over the course of each player’s career, GOBankingRates divided the current salary cap by the average salary cap to find each player’s era-adjustment factor. The era-adjusted dollar values were found by multiplying each value by this adjustment factor.