Here’s How Scottie Pippen Could Have Nearly Doubled His NBA Earnings
The second part of The last dance documentary presented a lot of Scottie Pippen. According to most accounts, Pippen was one of the biggest strikers to ever play in the NBA. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame twice (for his individual career and as a member of the Dream Team), his number was withdrawn by the Bulls, seven times star and six times champion.
The documentary also covered how Pippen signed a contract that looks almost criminal in hindsight. In 1991 the Bulls gave Pippen a contract for $ 18 million over seven years – less than $ 3 million a year. It’s an incredibly low price to pay for one of the top 50 players in the NBA.
In the documentary, Pippen explained how his big family grew up in Arkansas without much. The security of a contract gave Pippen peace of mind, so he signed the long-term deal instead of betting on himself. When he largely outperformed the original deal, the Bulls refused to give him a raise. This led to the departure of Pippen, who was part of the end of the Bulls dynasty.
Now Pippen was still doing well. In 17 seasons, he made $ 109,192,430. But it was largely thanks to a contract he had won before his 33-year season – the Rockets signed Pippen for a $ 67.2 million, five-year contract.
Pippen only played one season in Houston before joining the Trailblazers. Pippen eventually returned to Chicago, earning $ 10 million for a year. And he only played 23 games that season!
Imagine if he hadn’t signed this long-term agreement and instead signed a few small contracts. Here’s how it could have happened.
It’s summer 1991. Pippen, 26, has just finished his best season. He averaged 17.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.4 interceptions and had 52% of the shots. At the time, there was no maximum salary for a player; these were only introduced in 1999. However, Bird Rights was already one thing, which meant that teams could exceed the salary cap to sign their own players again.
In this scenario, the Bulls sign Pippen for that $ 18 million, but for only three seasons. That would place him at an average of $ 6 million, which would be among the highest in the league, but he was a valuable part of the team, which has won three championships and brought in a ton of revenue for the franchise.
Now it’s 1994, and Michael Jordan is retired. Pippen becomes the Bulls’ star player and signs a two-year, $ 30 million contract. He is the second-highest-paid player in 94-95, then the third highest paid in 95-96 because Jordan returns with another big, brilliant deal.
That leaves us in 1996. Pippen has already made $ 48 million over five seasons, but he sees what Jordan has done financially, and he is intrigued by it. Jordan, coming out of another championship, signs a one-year contract worth more than $ 30 million. It’s more than double what the next player does – until Pippen asks for something similar. He doesn’t have to earn as much as Jordan. $ 25 million will suffice.
The Bulls win another championship and all is well for the 1997-1998 season. In other words, until the Bulls general manager Jerry Krause tells Phil Jackson it’s his last year of coaching, whatever happens. Jordan, who has publicly stated that he will not be playing for another coach, is increasing his salary requirements. Like Jordan, Pippen gets a raise of $ 3 million, which gives him $ 28 million for his last season in Chicago. Instead of being the 122nd highest paid player in the NBA, Pippen retains second place.
In this scenario, the Bulls still win six titles in eight years and advocate for the greatest dynasty of all time. The biggest difference: Pippen is paid correctly, making $ 101 million over seven seasons. This still seems weak compared to today’s massive contracts, but would be more in line with what the best players were doing at the time, especially towards the end of the dynasty.
Of course, as we noted above, if Pippen were to receive increases, Jordan would also have to be paid more. And maybe if their asking prices were too high, the Bulls might not have been able to build a meticulous dynasty.
Nevertheless, it is fascinating to wonder what could have been if Pippen had bet on himself.