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Why Michael Jordan Once Wanted Scottie Pippen to Get a Bigger Salary

Michael Jordan once wistfully offered to help his then good friend Scottie Pippen at a time when the Bulls small forward was in a bad NBA contract in Chicago during the franchise’s championship dynasty.

Jordan
CHARLOTTE, NC – FEBRUARY 16: Michael Jordan speaks at the All Star Breakfast held by the National Basketball Retired Players Association at the Renaissance Charlotte Suites Hotel on February 16, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

Pippen, a seven-time All-Star and six-time NBA championship winner, signed a contract with the Bulls that eventually came to leave him with a salary that was notably lower than other players of his caliber during that era. His superstar teammate Jordan could identify with Pippen’s plight.

Pippen Underpaid

Jordan retired from the Bulls in October 1993, before the 1993-94 season. However, he returned to the Bulls in March 1995, late in the 1994-95 season. By the following fall he was entering the final season of contract that paid him $3.85 million that season. Jordan’s salary that season was the highest on the team, just ahead of second-best-paid player European import Toni Kukoc, who was paid $3.56 million in his third year in the league.

During that same season Pippen’s salary was $2.925 million, and he was widely known to be unhappy being paid less than Kukoc.

Jordan sympathized with Pippen’s situation, placing criticism on the Bulls’ management for not adequately compensating Pippen for his contributions to the team’s success.

“I wish there was some way legally that I could give him some of the money that he totally deserves as a player,” Jordan told Chicago sports reporter Cheryl Raye-Stout in an interview from October 1995. “He’s totally underpaid. For years, I was underpaid, but I played it out, and I think he’s going to play it out too. At the end of three years, I hope they reward him with a just and fair contract.”

An explanation for Pippen’s underpayments is rooted in the fact that he signed a seven-year, $18 million contract with the Bulls in 1991. Despite his pivotal role as the small forward for the Bulls and being an integral part of their dynasty, this contract bound him to be undervalued and under-compensated regardless of his contributions.

Following what was perceived as his concluding season with the Bulls in 1997-98, Pippen was traded to the Houston Rockets. His NBA career culminated with a return to the Bulls for his final two seasons, where he earned $5.4 million in 2003-04 and $4.9 million in 2004-05.

When the Bulls traded Pippen to the Rockets in 1999 in a sign-and-trade deal, where he signed a lucrative five-year, $67.2 million contract, earning $11 million in his only season with Houston in 1998-99 before being traded to the Portland Trail Blazers the following year.

Pippen played in the Portland Trail Blazers from 1999 to 2003. The Blazers paid Pippen earning $14.8 million in 1999-00, $13.8 million in 2000-01, $18.1 million in 2001-02, and he reached a pinnacle salary of $19.7 million in his final season with Portland in 2002-03.

Pippen eventually earned more than $109 million in career salary, which is about $20 million more than Jordan’s $89.7 million.

Jordan’s career NBA earnings ultimately would be held back by an eight-year, $25 million contract he sign with the Bulls in 1988. While it was a large deal at the time, the NBA’s skyrocketing salaries and Jordan’s unmatched marketability made it a bargain in hindsight. It wasn’t until 1996 that Jordan was able to cash in on his value to the Bulls, securing a new deal from general manager Jerry Krause that paid him more $30 million per season.

Friends No More

The pair’s friendship shifted with the debut of ESPN’s docuseries, “The Last Dance,” in 2020.

Co-produced by Jordan’s production company, the 10-part series delved into the Chicago Bulls’ championship 1997-1998 season. While it showcased the team’s triumphs, the spotlight heavily focused on Jordan’s personal journey — a narrative that left Pippen feeling overlooked. Pippen later disclosed in his memoir, “Unguarded,” that he felt the documentary excessively celebrated Jordan while neglecting to give adequate recognition to him and their accomplished teammates. 

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