Michael Jordan Was Offered All of Knicks' Cap Space in '96 Proposal, Ex-CEO Says

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2021

Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan, right, drives on New York Knicks John Starks during the first quarter of NBA playoffs, Monday, May 31, 1993, Chicago, Ill. (AP Photo/Fred Jewell)
Fred Jewell/Associated Press

The New York Knicks did their best to sign Michael Jordan when he was a free agent in the summer of 1996.

Anthony Olivieri of ESPN provided an oral history of the Hall of Famer's free agency, featuring then-president and CEO of Madison Square Garden, Dave Checketts.

Checketts said he wanted to target Allan Houston and Reggie Miller in free agency, but his first call was to agent David Falk about Michael Jordan.

"I just said, 'All of our cap room, all of it, can be yours if Michael will come,'" Checketts said.

That cap room amounted to $9.45 million of the $24.4 million at the time, which would not have even made Jordan the highest-paid player in the league. The Bulls, meanwhile, were the only team able to go over the salary cap thanks to his Bird rights.

"I would have done anything I possibly could have put together that could have passed league muster to get [Jordan]," Checketts said.

While the Bulls had the obvious advantage, there was a slight opening for New York based on the pressure put on Bulls governor Jerry Reinsdorf. If Chicago didn't offer exactly what Jordan was looking for, he would have left for another team.

Still, Falk admitted that the free agency "was really a one-horse race."

Jordan eventually agreed to a one-year, $30.14 million deal that put the Knicks well out of contention.

The Bulls, which had already put together one of the best seasons in NBA history by going 72-10 on the way to a championship, followed it up with two more titles in 1997 and 1998.

The Knicks ended up with Houston and Chris Childs to team with Patrick Ewing, eventually reaching the NBA Finals in 1999 after Jordan's second retirement. The organization hasn't won an NBA title since 1973.