How did Scottie Pippen become the most underpaid player in the NBA?

Dec. 18, 2010; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls former player Scottie Pippen signs autographs prior to a game against the Los Angeles Clippers at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Scottie Pippen, one of the best players in the NBA, would be caught in one of the most undervalued deals made in the academy. Even though Scottie is known as Michael Jordan’s ultimate partner, the Bulls contract signed in 1991 did not do justice to his role on the team. Scottie assisted Michael Jordan with a 30.1 point average and the Bulls through many of their victories. Yet, he was in an iron-clad contract worth ten times less than his value is. How did one of the world’s greatest ballplayers land such an unfortunate deal?

With a ranking of 2nd on the Bulls in scoring, rebounds, minutes played, and first in assists and steals, it is no surprise that people did not like hearing about Scottie’s 6th place in salary on the team. Overall, this contract put him at 122nd highest paid in the league. Considering Pippens’ record with the Bulls, he deserved a contract worth winning six championships.

Contract terms

CHICAGO, IL  - FEBRUARY 18: Scottie Pippen #33 of the Chicago Bulls smiles against the Denver Nuggets  on February 18, 1997 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1997 NBAE (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

The terms of his rookie contract were simpleóan 18 million dollar deal for seven years which would stretch over eight years. If Scottie played his cards right, this deal could have been nine or even ten times more than what he received. According to the new docu-series released by ESPN, “the Last Dance,” which covers Michael Jordan, also includes many other star players’ stories.

In the series, Pippen gets an episode dedicated to his work on the team. It includes a clear indication of the challenges he must face after signing a contract with The Bulls. Worried about not being able to negotiate further, he quickly took the offer in 1991. The backlash of which carries on for many years.

When no rules exist to bind management when making contracts, any deal can pass. Management is not confined to set regulations. The type of leverage this would give the Bulls management left Scottie up for an easy sale. There was no maximum contract length or maximum salary cap. The original contract was for a shorter 5-year term. However, this agreement did not eradicate the previous two seasons listed in his rookie contract. The five-year contract somehow stretched over seven years. How did this happen?

Management had a 1.6 million salary cap for Toni Kukoc, a European draft pick. Toni declined the offer, leaving the Bulls management with a sense of urgency to use the salary amount before it expires. NBA salary caps reset every year, which makes any funds from the previous year unusable.

The salary cap reset, pushing the Bulls to recruit and draft another pick quickly. Kukoc and Scottie go on to play together and have an unpleasant relationship. The two players have history even in today’s world.

Scottie recently touches on a play made by Coach Phil Jackson back when the Bulls were up against the New York Knicks in 1994. He agrees to Phil being a racist on the Dan Patrick show. Take into consideration that back in the 90’s racism was a prominent issue. Scottie explains how he grows up having to deal with being a person of color and its effects on him throughout his childhood and upbringing.

Phil Jackson, Head Coach for the Chicago Bulls talks with his players #33 Scottie Pippen and #13 Luc Longley during Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference Semi Final Playoff basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets on 10th May 1998 at the Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. The Bulls won the game 94 - 80 and the series 4 - 1. (Photo by Craig Jones/Allsport/Getty Images)
Craig Jones/Allsport/Getty Images)

Even more so in basketball, saying it was uncalled for that Toni Kukoc, with a 15.7 point average that season, got the last shot when it should have been given to Pippen, with a 21.4 point average at the time. It could have been Scotties time to shine during Jordan’s absence as he always played in his shadow. Getting a buzzer shot is a big deal. Scottie believes the light could have finally been on him if Coach Phil rightfully gave Pippen his deserving chance. When the opportunity to display exceptional skills is taken away, one does not need to spend much time thinking about why Scottie would be up-hauled.

“I thought it was a pretty low blow. I felt like it was an opportunity to give [Kukoc] a rise. It was a racial move to give him a rise.”

Scottie Pippen

Above is simply one of the many incidents which took place between the Bulls and Scottie. There are many times throughout Pippen’s career where he tries to voice his issues with the Bulls. In another interview conducted by GQ, Scottie calls out Charles Barkley. Even though Charles is known as a legendary player and has a game point average of 22.1, Scottie did not hold back.

“You can sit here and argue that Charles Barkley was a great player. But he gets diminished; why? Because he never won. He never was on a winning team. So when he sits up on that stage with Shaq and Kenny, they can diminish him at any moment. “

Scottie Pippen on GQ
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Retired professional basketball player Scottie Pippen attends the 2014 GQ Men Of The Year party at Chateau Marmont on December 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for GQ)
Jason Merritt/Getty Images for GQ

Scottie believes basketball is a team sport. It takes a great team to make a player exceptional. Regardless of Charles Barkley being a hall of Famer, Pippen says none of that matters without a team that performs well together. Pippen even goes as far as to say that he has not won a ring yet. Even with Charles’s played for the dream team in the 1992, 1996, and 2010 Olympics and is a two-time gold medalist, he has still never won a ring. Keeping a player isolated from a team can make the whole point of the sport meaningless. Scottie faces something similar during his time as a Bull. When put into context, his salary was far off from what his teammates were making.

Interestingly, the finals game between The Bulls and Lakers happened to be the same day as the deadline. Taking the series with a 108-101, Pippen ended up scoring even more than Jordan. These numbers in themselves highlight just how skilled Scottie is at what he does. The Bulls took note of this, driving them even further into getting Scottie Pippen to sign this contract.

When millions of dollars are at stake during a drafting deal, management will always try to front-load as much as possible. The Bulls insisted Pippen should sign the contract as soon as he can. Pressure like this allows managers to have the upper hand in making negotiations. With the short amount of time given to Scottie to take the deal, quick decisions were forming.

During this time, the 1.6 million dollars reserved for Kukoc added to Scottie’s salary for the 1990-1991 series. In the end, this means that Scottie would not receive that additional amount in the future seven seasons he would be playing. The value of his deal went down further from $18 million to somewhere close to 16.4 million. However, the exact estimate is still unknown. The way the salary system worked at the time was free of proper and formal structure. No fixed salary is needed for two parties to confirm and sign a deal. In addition to this, by spending the 1.6 million dollars, they did not have to worry about cap space when pursuing Kokic again in future seasons.

The deal seals shortly after discussion. Owner of the Bulls, Jerry Reinsdorf, and general manager Krause did not renegotiate the deal from that moment forward. No matter how many times Scottie addressed his concerns, management would not budge.

The league’s value skyrockets

Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls celebrates 14 June after winning game six of the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, UT. The Bulls won the game 87-86 to win their sixth NBA Championship.   AFP PHOTO/Robert SULLIVAN (Photo by ROBERT SULLIVAN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Jerry Reinsdorf was highly against Scottie’s move to take the deal. However, Scottie Pippen signed, locking him in for an eight-year battle in which the deal’s value would drastically drop. Despite Scottie’s greatness and all the love he showed to the Chicago Bulls organization, he caught himself in one of the most underrated contracts of all time. The league was taking off during his time playing with the Bulls. The games put on by him and Michael Jordan was bringing in lots of media attention. Win after win, The Bulls continued to draw in fans. The duo made power plays on the court together. Their hunger for playing the game is what took the Bulls dynasty to the next level. With this, the league’s value took off.

When a team performs exceptionally well, the value of its players and the team itself goes up. Revenues increase, salaries increase, yet Scottie’s terms stayed permanent and unchanging. The Chicago Bulls organization treated Pippen out of pocket due to Scottie’s positive impact on the Chicago Bulls and their championships. While Michael Jordan was making a lot more every season, Scottie had to push through games knowing he was making much less.

In 1993, Micheal retired for two seasons. During this time, Scottie steps up as a defensive leader. Although Scottie did not win the championship these two seasons, his plays carried the team. Even with Michael’s absence, Scottie still manages to be on the NBA’s All-defensive team in 1994 and 1995 alongside other great players like

  • Gary Payton
  • Hakeem Olajuwon
  • Charles Oakley
  • David Robinson
  • Dennis Rodman
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 01: Former NBA player Scottie Pippen speaks during a press conference as part of Heat Fest at Citibanamex Center on September 01, 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Carlos Tischler/Getty Images)
Carlos Tischler/Getty Images

However, throughout all eight seasons, Scottie never made more than 4 million dollars. The first season in 1990-91, Scottie’s earnings sit at $765,000. In the second season, he makes $2,770,000, then $3,425,000 during the third season, and $3,425,000 for the fourth season. By the fifth season, Michael comes back to play for the remaining 1995-1998 seasons and wins three more rings with Scottie. During the last two seasons, Michael made $30,140,000 (1996/97 season) and $33,140,000 (1997/98 season). During the same two seasons, Scottie makes $2,250,000 (1996/97 season) and $2,775,000 (1997/98 season).

The significant pay disparity would bring anyone’s mouth to the floor. Scottie Pippen played a valuable role in the Chicago Bulls organizations’ value rising. Regardless of his impact on the Bulls, Pippen’s contract did not change to reflect his worth. Michael Jordan even went as far as to say,

“I would never be able to find a tandem, another partner in the game of basketball like Scottie Pippen. He is a pleasure to play with.”

Michael Jordan
CHICAGO - 1997: Michael Jordan #23, Scottie Pippen #33 and Dennis Rodman #91 of the Chicago Bulls catch their breath during a 1997 NBA game at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1997 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

It is not Michael who got affected by Scottie’s contract. If anything, both players helped each other. Michael won all of his six rings on the court with Scottie Pippen. As did Scottie, who won all six of his rings in the company of Michael Jordan. With every ring Michael acquired on the team, the league’s value would go up. While Micheal could leverage his contract and sign for an even bigger salary with numbers that matched his value, Scottie was stuck with his former deal. Even though the two played in a similar fearless manner.

How is it that one great player negotiated himself into great earnings while the other suffered in silence? Well, the reasons for Scottie agreeing to such an undervalued deal were simple.

Growing Up

Scottie, known to be a fierce and lethal defensive player, came from a small town in Hamburg, Arkansas. In an isolated town like Hamburg, financial topics tend never to be a primary focus. Of course, unless they are about more poverty-focused struggles. Places like this operate in a “take the day as it comes” attitude, leaving little room for one to escape financially free. To further add to the struggles of poverty, Scottie came home from school one day to find his father suffering from a stroke. The traumatic situation left his dad paralyzed and stuck in a wheelchair. Due to this, it is unlikely that Scottie could rely on a fatherly figure to teach him how to negotiate or handle business. Basketball became Scottie’s savior. It allowed him an opportunity to get out of the house and do something with his talent.

Pippen grew up in a family of 12 children, and chaos is ordinarily constant. And any kid with siblings knows that they will always be subject to competition, especially when one has 11 of them. With nothing much to do, Scottie played basketball most of his days. In the documentary “The last dance,” Scottie mentions that he and his siblings liked to take their boredom to the courts. Dreaming of being an NBA player one day, he put his skills to work. These skills are significant in tandem with how he plays on the court. Fast, swift, and agile, it is a surprise how skilled someone can be subject to such an underpaid deal.

UCA’s Scottie Pippen; fifth draft pick

BALTIMORE, MD - CIRCA 1980's: Scottie Pippen #33 of the Chicago Bulls  bringing the ball up court against the Washington Bullets during a late circa 1980's NBA basketball game at the Baltimore Coliseum in Baltimore, Maryland. Pippen played for the Bulls from 1987-98 and 2003-04. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Eventually, Scottie Pippen starts playing for the University of Central Arkansas. Finally receiving a scholarship as a 6’1, 155 lbs boy at the time, Scottie was about to take off. From this moment forward, his lethal defense starts receiving the recognition it deserves. People were observing his demeanor and ability to attack the board swiftly and with power; In addition to his defensive game and playmaking abilities. The people who draft for the NBA knew that this man had potential. He was exploding with NBA superstar traits.

In the 1987 NBA Draft, Scottie became part of the Seattle SuperSonics. This short-term position made the Bulls even more agile in acquiring him. Scottie’s vision from the young age of 18 has always been to play for the Bulls. This dream comes true shortly after the drafting. Krause pulls off a trade, and Pippen starts making his debut in the league.

The environment in which Scottie grew up bred him for every skill needed to be one of the best ballplayers. This type of childhood makes it very easy for a player like Scottie to understand struggles and challenges. However, his circumstances become beneficial to him as these minor obstacles transferred to his drive to be defensive on the court. However, this pressure to provide for his family is what got in the way of his negotiating skills. When taking the deal, Scottie ensured he would be able to take care of those he loved. In the process of thinking on those terms, he lost the chance to bargain a great deal.

Scottie’s Absence

ATLANTA - 1987:  Scottie Pippen #33 of the Chicago Bulls takes a break against the Atlanta Hawks during an NBA game circa 1987 at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia.    NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1987 NBAE (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

In October of 1997, Scottie admits himself into the hospital for surgery. A ruptured tendon is typically not an injury that requires immediate surgery, but Scottie did not want to ruin his summer with rehab. This power-play is commonly used in NBA when a player is trying to voice their concerns or issues with management. Even though he had a ruptured tendon, surgery did not change anything. And Scottie did not play the season of 97′.

MJ starts the season knowing Scottie would not be around. The Bulls could feel Scottie’s absence when he was not playing. Even more so as the team had a slow start, losing a fair number of games. Scottie eventually comes back and wins the next three championships with Michael Jordan.

On July 14th, 1998, Scottie ended his career with the Chicago Bulls in a good place. The final score at a close 87-86, winning the team their sixth championship. Pippen did not know he would be leaving the Bulls the way he did. The ending was messy for him and the team. Scottie leaves after the finals knowing he did his duties well. His love for the game and the Bulls shined through.

Eventually, Scottie goes on to sign a four-year- 66 million dollar contract with the Portland Trailblazers in 1999. This deal is four times more than what Scottie earns throughout his 11 years with the Bulls. What is ironic Is that his last game in the league was against the SuperSonics.

The reality of the situation hit Scottie hard. It affected his playing and the team. Had Scottie taken this deal today, he could have easily bid for hundreds of millions of dollars. This would have been especially easy for him to do during the last two seasons. The shame of a missed opportunity is never usually taken well. Any player with game stats like Scotties deserves to get paid.

This six-time champion made $109,957,430 throughout his career as an NBA basketball player. He is an underpaid player, but his love for the game will always be cherished and valued by fans and teammates worldwide.

Where is Scottie Pippen now?

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 01:  Scottie Pippen meets fans at American Express "Paints The Town Platinum" At The Chicago Bulls Game At The United Center In Chicago on April 1, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for American Express)
Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for American Express

Today, Scottie Pippen boasts a 20 million dollar net worth. You can find him in his custom-built Meditteranean-styled retreat in Los Angeles called “Chicago Place.” He is currently investing his time and money into typical athlete curations like his new bourbon “Digits.” This liquor will be releasing relatively soon. The alcohol will be extravagant and aromatic; and known for its caramelized apple, browns sugar, and spice hints. He is even venturing into selling this in mass orders to hotels and restaurants across America. Even with this new venture, Scottie has been getting his hands on many business opportunities. He knows how to approach his numbers a lot smarter now, except when he bought a 4.3 million dollar plane that could not fly.

Scottie is also releasing a new book later this year called “Unguarded.” This book will give Scottie’s take on his dynasty with the Bulls, where he dishes on the team and management. Based on the current reviews, the book is going to be highly anticipated by many basketball fanatics. Its narrative will cover the former six-time NBA champion’s perspective on what happened while he played. Scottie, soft-spoken and humble, will finally have a chance to expand on his journey through life. He explains how he should have been subject to more respect from both the media and management. He also dives into what exactly happens the night of the New York Knicks game with Kukoc and Coach Phil, where he pulls himself out of the game with only 1.8 seconds remaining. Scottie also sneaks in a comment on how he cringes when being labeled as “Jordan’s sidekick.”

Obviously, this is far from the truth, as his role on the team was much more significant than a simple assistant to Michael Jordan’s plays. Jordan is not the only man who ran the court during the six seasons the two players won championships, but rather Scottie’s reigning legacy. Not to mention, the book may take a completely different appeal… which opens up a possibility in which Scottie is the true yet unheard leader of the Bulls.

This shows how two players with such similar caliber can be subject to such different salaries; simply due to a deal gone wrong. 

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