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Bulls Owner Reinsdorf Once Told Michael Jordan He'd Regret Giving $30M Contract

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistApril 19, 2020

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Michael Jordan speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Over his first 11 seasons with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan never made more than $4 million in a single season.

In his final two with the franchise, Jordan made more than $30 million. Each season.

As The Last Dance prepares to debut Sunday night, it's worth revisiting the famous story of how that was negotiated—more specifically, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf famously telling Jordan he'd regret giving him that contract.

Author Roland Lazenby quoted a Bulls employee in his book, Mindgames: Phil Jackson's Long Strange Journey:

"Michael is bitter at Jerry because when Jerry agreed to pay him the $30 million, Jerry told Michael that he would regret it. Michael stood in the training room one day the next fall and told all his teammates, 'You know what really pissed me off? Jerry said, 'You know what, Michael? I'm gonna regret this.'

"Michael said, 'What the f--k? You could say, 'You deserve this. You're the greatest player ever, you're an asset to the city of Chicago and the organization. And I'm happy to pay you $30 million.'"

At the time, there were no individual max contracts. Jordan's $30 million salary in 1996-97 was more than double any other player. He would make $33 million the following season, again nearly doubling the salary of his next closest counterpart.

Despite the exorbitant pay, Jordan felt betrayed by Reinsdorf's dismissive comments.

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"It demeaned what was happening. It took away from the meaning of things," Jordan said. "The gratitude seemed less because of that statement. I felt it was inappropriate to say that."

A team employee said the situation created "tremendous bitterness" between the two. Reinsdorf and Jordan had a solid employee-employer relationship until that point, with the owner even paying Jordan his Bulls salary during his brief baseball retirement.

Lazenby wrote in his book that Reinsdorf felt Jordan "faked" their friendship after agent David Falk gave him the $30 million demand. Jordan, for his part, said he never instructed Falk to give the Bulls a "price" but instead to listen and "never negotiate."

As The Last Dance will show, Jordan's relationship with Reinsdorf was far from the only falling out in Chicago. Bulls general manager Jerry Krause famously told Phil Jackson the 1997-98 season would be his last with the team, even if it went 82-0. Couple that with other tensions, particularly in regard to salaries, and it's a borderline miracle the 1997-98 Bulls did not implode.

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