Once upon a time, the Bulls and Supersonics engaged in some pretty serious trade discussions involving Scottie Pippen and Shawn Kemp. We detailed the time Pippen was nearly traded for Kemp here, and in our in-depth piece about it, we talked about how George Karl reportedly spoke with Michael Jordan—who was retired from the NBA at the time—about doing the deal and ultimately received his blessing before then-Sonics owner Bob Ackerley got cold feet and decided not to make the trade. According to a Chicago Tribune story that we cited in our piece, Jordan told Karl the Sonics would "be getting the best of" the trade if they went through with it.
Karl has never really discussed that trade or the role that MJ almost played in it at any great length in the past. But in his new book, Furious George—which made headlines last week after several excerpts that included Karl taking shots at Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, and Kenyon Martin were released—Karl confirms that MJ did, in fact, give him his blessing when he was trying to figure out whether or not to trade Kemp for Pippen.
Pro Basketball Talk released another excerpt from Furious George on Wednesday morning, and it features Karl discussing his conversation with MJ about the Kemp-for-Pippen trade as well as what ultimate derailed the trade. Here’s a portion of that excerpt:
When I tried to imagine the Sonics without Shawn I knew I’d miss him, but I got pretty excited picturing Gary and Scottie teaming up on a trap; they’d smother opposing guards. But every trade prompts a debate. I was in favor of this one but I wasn’t sure.
So I called Michael. We talked about minor-league baseball, North Carolina basketball, and golf. Then we talked about the big deal on the table. Should we do this?
"Do it," he said. "Scottie can make your other players better. Kemp can’t."
So, the day before the draft, we said yes. News of the trade immediately leaked out and onto the KJR airwaves. More anger from the callers, a lot more; our fans loved Shawn. Again, Ackerley listened. That afternoon, he called our draft headquarters in the Sonics locker room. It doesn’t feel right, he told Wally. Better wait. I had the unpleasant job of calling Krause, who was not happy.
While we dragged our feet on draft day, Krause got desperate. He called to tell me the Bulls would drop the demand for our number one pick. He offered a big chunk of money in the next call. Then he called back to double it. Literally minutes before the draft started, Ackerley backed us out of the deal. When I delivered the bad news, Krause dropped f-bombs and called me names. We’d keep Kemp, they’d keep Pippen.
We should point out that this might not be exactly how the failed trade played out. In the past, reports have indicated that Karl was just as hesitant to trade Kemp as Ackerley.
But still, it’s pretty crazy to think about what might have happened if the Sonics had pulled the trigger on the trade, especially when you consider the fact that MJ eventually came back to the Bulls in 1995 and helped them beat Kemp and the Sonics in the 1996 NBA Finals. For MJ’s sake, it’s probably a good thing that Karl didn’t take his advice.