- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2000

Michael Jordan's days of talking to Tweety Bird on the phone are numbered.
Jordan, the president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards, is ending his days as a corporate pitchman. Jordan, for years the sports world's top endorser with an estimated annual take of $40 million, will honor all of his existing contracts, including some that last until 2006. But he has stopped taking on any new deals, and already is reducing the number of TV commercials he shoots for his existing deals.
Jordan intends to free up additional time not only for the Wizards, but other business ventures. He hopes to move beyond endorsements and into an executive and equity holder role. He already is a partner and board member at MVP.com, an on-line sporting goods company, and recently, in an eight-figure deal, joined the board of directors of Illinois technology firm Divine Interventures Inc.
"It's a stage you get past," Jordan said in yesterday's editions of the Chicago Sun-Times. "Now I don't want my name just used. I can get endorsements all day. Endorsements are good for a while they give you a personality, a lot of credibility. And now I have that name. But I want to understand the business itself, see the value in something other than just endorsing."
Jordan's extensive roster of clients include MCI WorldCom Inc., Nike, Gatorade, Hanes and Rayovac. His endorsement work has ranged from serious to ridiculous, and his ability to generate sales helped pave the way for other successful black sports endorsers, including Tiger Woods, Grant Hill, and Shaquille O'Neal.
"He has been a trailblazer the whole way through this," said Bob Williams, a Chicago marketing executive who pairs athletes with companies seeking endorsements. "He was the first black athlete to achieve worldwide success as an endorser and really make Madison Avenue colorblind. He was the first to get his own brand and now he's reinventing himself again and is being the first to stay at the top of their game as an endorser, 'I don't need to do this anymore. I want something more.' "
Jordan has told many of these companies to start planning ad campaigns without him. Gatorade already has done that, using Toronto Raptors star Vince Carter as its lead pitchman, and new ads are being shot with Derek Jeter, Mia Hamm, Peyton Manning and others.
"We've known this was coming for some time," said Andy Horrow, Gatorade spokesman. "There is no next Michael Jordan, no single dominant athlete, so we've moved on, and tried to diversify our approach."
Industry sources said that other companies, such as MCI WorldCom, were not aware of Jordan's intentions before yesterday. But the telephone giant still is under contract with Jordan for six more years, and recently began airing two new commercials with him. Jordan also is one of the company's largest private shareholders.
Ad industry executives say Jordan's motivation to end his endorsements stems not only from a desire to try new business ventures, particularly on the Internet, but also from respect. Jordan has no equal in the sports world, but his stature as a business and basketball executive remains a work in progress.
Both the Wizards and Nike's Brand Jordan, of which he is chief executive, are struggling. And Jordan's TV ads this winter endorsing Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley struggled to make an impact maybe because it shared air space with Jordan's lighthearted MCI ads with the Looney Tunes animated characters.
"He is rapidly cultivating a new image for himself, one as as a owner, an executive, a businessman," Williams said.
Jordan, even without the massive yearly income from the ads, will not be hurting for money. His estimated worth exceeds $350 million, his leadership roles with the Wizards, Brand Jordan, MVP.com and Divine Interventures also will provide additional millions in income. Jordan also runs driving range and restaurant businesses and is an investor in the successful sports Web site SportsLine.com.
Jordan's agent, David Falk, declined to comment.

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