Scottie doesn’t know?
The first two episodes of the 10-part ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” dropped on Sunday night, and it had all corners of the sports world buzzing. The first episode laid the groundwork for the series, discussing some of the ins and outs of Jordan and those ’90s Bulls dynasty teams.
The second episode, though, painted a picture of how badly those ’90s Bulls teams relied on Scottie Pippen. While there was never any doubt before the series aired that Pippen is the greatest No. 2 man to lace ’em up, there apparently was plenty of doubt as to whether Pippen played contract negotiations the right way. In fact, his contract on Monday became a major point of debate.
As “The Last Dance” detailed, in the early ’90s, Pippen signed a seven-year deal worth $18 million, and this much is a fact: The deal sorely undervalued his on-court talent and importance to those ’90s Bulls teams, so much so that even owner Jerry Reinsdorf claimed to tell Pippen not to take it.
Even through that, there are two opposing schools of thought in regards to Pippen’s contract: those who believe the Bulls undervalued — and screwed — Pippen and those who think Pippen made his own bed. In fact, both sides have their truths and their flaws, and here’s why:
‘The Bulls did Scottie wrong’
This standpoint is true to a certain extent. Teams should always be open to paying players their fair value.
This standpoint is also willfully ignoring one major concept: Sports are a business. Teams will always find a way to keep their players at as little a cost as possible. This is true of Pippen and the Bulls.
Pippen was in the league for only three seasons at that point, but his value to the Bulls through the roof. By Jordan’s own admission in Episode 2 of “The Last Dance,” Pippen helped unlock the true potential of the Bulls, so it was apparent his impact was far greater than what the dollar amount in the contract Pippen signed indicated.
But the truth is, not just in basketball but across all major sports, it’s few and far between where franchises are willing to acknowledge a player’s true value; so it shouldn’t be surprising the Bulls only offered Pippen that $18 million. Did the Bulls do Pippen wrong? Sure, they did. But it’s not unlike anything any other major sports team has done in history.
But that also directly correlates to the second part of the argument:
‘Scottie knew what he was doing’
A fair amount of Episode 2 of “The Last Dance” focuses on Pippen’s contract — one that was worth $18 million over seven years — and detailed Pippen’s poor childhood, during which he had to aid two wheelchair-bound family members. Pippen was a self-made man who worked his way up from equipment manager to scholarship athlete to first-round pick by the Seattle Supersonics.
MORE: NBA players awed by premiere of ‘The Last Dance’
While there is no denying that Pippen was absolutely worth more than the $18 million he signed for, even with the NBA’s salary regulations at the time, he was still a grown man making his own decision. Even against urgings from Bulls owner Reinsdorf and agent Jimmy Sexton, Pippen had his mind made up. He noted that he had people in his corner he had to take care of, so can you really fault him?
Again: Pippen was a grown man — not an idiot or a child. You can certainly understand where Pippen was coming from; when you rise from a relative unknown to someone offering you $18 million, having to take care of the people who took care of you, certain priorities take place.
Pippen knew exactly what he was doing. It’s not as though he screwed himself in the deal, after all. And it wasn’t as much about the money as it was the years.
Pippen explained that he was concerned with his health and that he might not be able to cash in on his success if he would have sustained an injury. Well, Pippen stayed largely healthy over the duration of his Bulls tenure and was the key factor in their championship runs. Had he signed a shorter deal for the money, he would have put himself in a better position earlier on to get paid.
Though, that wasn’t much of a factor, because he cashed in big time after leaving the Bulls, anyway. He made $11 million with the Rockets in 1998-99, nearly four times more than his annual salary the year prior ($2.78 million). That average ballooned to $16.6 million during a four-year stint with the Trail Blazers. He made roughly $4.9 and $5.8 million with the Bulls in 2003-04 and 2004-05, respectively. So it’s safe to say Pippen worked through things just fine at the end of the day.
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