The maximum two-year, $48 million extension that injured, 35 year-old Kobe Bryant signed last November has been a lightning rod for criticism. Just imagine the derision he’d face if Bryant were allowed a salary similar to Michael Jordan’s last one with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan’s record $33 million contract for his final season in Chicago is up for auction, and serves as a stark reminder of how little today’s superstars are paid in comparison to those of the past.
The Chicago Bulls’ original copy of Michael Jordan’s $33 million contract — the most valuable single-season contract in NBA history — has hit the auction block.
The contract is signed by Jordan, himself, and initialed by him on each of its 24 pages. It’s also signed by Jerry Krause, former Bulls general manager, and Irwin Mandel, the man in charge of the Bulls’ finances. It also includes a two-page cover letter from Mandel to the NBA.
…The original estimate for the contract’s value by the company auctioning it, Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, was $30,000, but with a week remaining until the bidding closes next Thursday night, bidding has already topped $28,000.
“It’s hard to compare this to anything we’ve sold,” said Chris Ivy, the company’s director of sports auctions. “It’s Jordan, who is in a class by himself, and, to our knowledge, this is the only Jordan playing contract to ever surface.”
…The most valuable sports contract ever sold was Babe Ruth’s 1918, $5,000 Red Sox contract, which was sold in an auction earlier this month for $1.02 million.
Despite the winning bid surely surpassing this number, it’s still surprising that the appraisal of Jordan’s contract is only $30,000. Not only is MJ the most influential and arguably greatest basketball player of all-time, but the rarity of the item surely adds to its worth, too. Though Jordan might be the NBA’s closest thing to Babe Ruth, the value of basketball memorabilia still pales in comparison to that of its counterpart on the diamond.
Of far greater interest than the auction, however, is the reminder that Jordan earned $33 million for his final season with the Bulls, over nine million dollars more than Bryant will receive from the Lakers this season. Accounting for inflation, MJ’s salary would be approximately $48.3(!) million if it were in effect today, just $15 million less than the cap number 2014-2015.
But the late 1990s were a different time for the league, and Jordan’s retirement after winning his sixth championship in 1997-1998 was due in part to the inevitability of a lockout the following season. Indeed, the 1998-1999 season was reduced to 50 games before the playoffs and its All-Star weekend was cancelled entirely. Jordan’s ballooned 1997-1998 contract and the six-year, $126 million extension that Kevin Garnett signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves during the same season season are considered accelerants to the lockout fire.
Given hints of labor strife just three years removed from the 2011 work stoppage, it’s not hard to see why given MJ’s outsized salary. The cap in 1997-1998 was set at $26.9 million, according to RealGM.com. Jordan’s deal, obviously, surpassed that mark all by itself, setting the precedent for maximum contracts that has been in place ever since the 1999 lockout.
LeBron James has been an outspoken opponent of max-level salaries, openly wondering on several occasions how much he’d receive if he were baseball’s greatest player (MLB doesn’t have a salary cap). That discussion is one among many others that has league pundits predicting another work stoppage when the owners and players have the choice to opt-out of the current CBA after the 2016-2017 season. Considering a presumably burgeoning cap over the next two seasons due to increasing league revenue spurred by a new TV Deal, James, NBA Player’s Association President Chris Paul, and their peers are likely to exercise that option.
And when assessing the players’ gripes should the 2017 lockout come to surface, it’s pertinent for fans to remember the $33 million Jordan earned in 1997-1998. Would anyone argue that he was overpaid? Surely not – MJ was the NBA. And as the league continues to boom, there’s certainly an argument to be made that players the caliber and general worth of Bryant, James, and Kevin Durant deserve to be compensated more closely aligned with Jordan’s record-breaking final deal in Chicago.
What do you think of Jordan’s $33 million deal?
Follow Jack on Twitter at @ArmstrongWinter.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.