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The Last Dance: The story behind Scottie Pippen’s contract squabble with Bulls

The last Dance, Bulls, Scottie Pippen, Jerry Krause, Jerry Reinsdorf

One of the biggest takeaways from the debut of “The Last Dance” centered around Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen.

The narrative of the second episode delved into how the seven-time All-Star was the most undervalued player on the team. It also gave a look at how Scottie’s desire to be paid appropriately became one of the biggest reasons behind the demise of the dynasty.

One of the most tense moments during the second episode of the “The Last Dance” involved Pippen berating then general manager Jerry Krause in a team bus. Their relationship had gone sour, and this was primarily because Krause was holding out on paying the 6-foot-8 small forward the money he was asking for.

In a move to spite the organization, Pippen even opted to delay the surgery on his injured ankle early in the summer. That decision cost him and the Bulls the first two months of the 1997-98 campaign, and while it did not bode well with management, Pippen no longer cared at that point.

In order to get a better understanding of how Pippen’s relationship got into such a precarious state due to his contract, we will need to start from the very beginning.

In 1987 — three years after the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan in 1984 — Chicago plucked a then 22-year-old Pippen from the draft pool via the Seattle SuperSonics, who had selected him fifth overall. While he was a high lottery pick, not many expected him to be as great as he eventually became (some even believed that the Windy City franchise reached on him).

Soon after joining the Bulls, Pippen signed a six-year deal worth $5 million, which at that time was actually a pretty good deal money-wise. Here’s an excerpt from a 1987 Chicago Tribune article detailing how, on paper, the contract looked like a very lucrative deal for Pippen in the long run.

But what sets Pippen`s deal apart from just about every other NBA contract is the way his deferred money is structured.

Sources report that Pippen`s deferred money will be earning interest for him through an investment, and that after six years, his contract will be worth more than the five-year, $5.1 million deal Armon Gilliam signed with Phoenix as the Suns` No. 1 pick. Players who have deferred money usually don`t receive the interest on it.

By Pippen’s third season, he was already an All-Star. This prompted the Bulls front office to begin negotiating a new deal for their rising star. Come 1991, on the fourth year of Pippen’s initial contract, Chicago offered him a huge $18 million deal for an additional five years.

That made him one of the highest paid players at that time, but what’s interesting about the deal is its length.

In an in-depth look at Pippen’s deals with the Bulls, an article produced by Early Bird Rights explained exactly why the deal he signed would actually cause him trouble in the long run.

Coming off the fourth year of a six-year contract, he signed a lucrative renegotiation-and-extension with the franchise that kicked in a larger salary in 1991 but stayed relatively flat over the life of the contract. It wasn’t necessarily the annual dollar figures that had Pippen so underpaid, it was the length – in exchange for renegotiating the final two years of his original six-year pact, he signed on for an additional five years, taking him through the end of that fateful 1997-98 season.

So as you can see, Scottie Pippen actually played a significant role in what made him one of, if not the most underpaid player in the league come the 1997-98 campaign. He could have probably negotiated a better deal in 1991, one that would have paid him less money on the onset but would not span the length of seven more years.

Had he done so, perhaps he could have signed a new deal in 1995 or 1996 that would have earned him a lot more money than he did during his last season with Chicago (a depressing $2.78 million which ranked 122nd in the league).

In the succeeding episodes of “The Last Dance,” we should be able to see how Pippen’s irreparable relationship with Krause and the front office led to his departure from Chicago after the team’s sixth championship in 1997-98.

Pippen did earn himself a humongous $70 million deal with the Houston Rockets that summer though, and perhaps in an attempt to patch things up, the Bulls also paid him another $10 million at the age of 38 to end his career in Chicago. In the end, it wasn’t all bad for the greatest No. 2 guy in league history.

“The Last Dance” returns next Sunday, April 26, for Episodes 3 and 4.