On July 12, 1996, Michael Jordan signed aone-year/$30M contract with the Chicago Bulls – making him not only the highest-paid player in NBA history, but the highest-paid athlete in American team sports history. As he was wont to do, Jordan one-upped himself the next year by inking a 1-year/$33M contract for his final season in a Bulls uniform. When adjusted for inflation, that $33M contract was the equivalent of signing a $49M contract today. Jordan’s final two contracts with the Bulls were so substantial that it wasn’t until 2009, when Alex Rodriguez made $33M with the New York Yankees, that another athlete even approached the $30M/season plateau, and it wasn’t until 2013, whenKobe Bryant made $30M with the Los Angeles Lakers, that another NBA player did the same.
How did Michael Jordan negotiate such a disproportionately large contract back in 1996? Well, there were three unique circumstances that all came to fruition that summer. The first reason is obvious, and the second and third reasons go hand-in-hand.
First off, he was Michael freaking Jordan – fresh off of winning his fourth MVP award, leading the Bulls to a then-record 72-10 regular season and capping the historic season off with an NBA championship. Second, there were far less stringent collective bargaining agreement rules, and therefore, the NBA was willing to potentially allow a team to make Jordan a two-part offer – a salary as a player that would count against the team’s salary cap and a salary as a spokesperson of the team’s ownership entity the team that would not count against the cap. Third, the New York Knicks had $12M in cap space and were prepared to offer as much as $15M to Jordan to be the spokesperson of ITT-Sheraton. Legend has it Jordan’s agent, David Falk, called Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and gave him an ultimatum: beat the Knicks’ $25M-$27M offer, or Jordan leaves. By the end of the day, the Bulls had offered Jordan a $30M deal, and the rest was history.
The irony of Jordan’s massive deals with the Bulls was that it led to a hard cap on NBA players’ earnings ever since the lockout in the summer of 1998. However, thanks to a nine-year/$24B TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports that went into effect in the summer of 2016, this season, Steph Curry and LeBron James finally had salaries that eclipsed that of Michael Jordan’s in 1997-98. By 2021-2022, no less than five players will earn over $40M per season. It’s safe to say that the NBA is in a good place moving forward. Which brings us to today’s quiz of the day. How many of the current top earners on every NBA team can you name in five minutes?
CLUE: TEAM / SALARY / PRIMARY POSITION
Note: Figures via Sportrac. $ amount is the average annual salary of the contract.
QUIZ: Name the highest-paid player on every NBA team
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