For many, one of the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s debut episodes of The Last Dance was how woefully underpaid Scottie Pippen was during the Bulls’ championship years. Basketball Twitter riled up in ways we haven’t seen in months.
That’s because Pippen and former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause agreed to what worked out to be an seven-year deal worth $18 million after the 1991 NBA Finals. That meant Pippen averaged roughly $2.6 million a season despite Pippen arguably ascending to quickly became the second-best player in the league. The greatness fans witnessed on the court during the 90s—when Pippen would make seven All-Star squads and 8-of-his-10 All-NBA defensive teams while leading the Bulls in assists and steals—meant he deserved way more than the meager sum of money he earned. But Chicago management wouldn’t budge and made him play out the pact.
Michael Jordan’s running-mate on six title teams would be named one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in 1996, honored with the other living legends at the 1997 All-Star Game. It didn’t matter. The greatness basketball fans witnessed on the court during the 90s—when Pippen would make seven All-Star squads and 8-of-his-10 All-NBA defensive teams while leading the Bulls in assists and steals—never translated into a fat bank account. During the 1997-98 season, the final season of his extension, Pippen was the 122nd highest-paid player in the NBA and so frustrated with the Bulls that he wanted out.
The reasons why Pippen was so grossly underpaid were laid out in The Last Dance. Growing up poor in Arkansas with multiple family members confined to wheelchairs, Pippen opted to take the security of a long-term deal early so he didn’t have to worry about losing out on dollars later in case of a catastrophic injury. In today’s era, many opt to bet on themselves so they can cash in later. Pippen played it conservative and it cost him millions upon millions of dollars. But don't worry about Pippen's bread, as his wife Larsa shared on socials, he's actually brought in over $100 million during his career. Not bad at all.
In light of the most controversial topic from The Last Dance’s opening episodes, here are the 15 players who made more than Scottie Pippen during the 1991-92 season, the year after Pippen helped the Bulls win a second straight championship (thanks to a stellar performance in the Finals) and when he made his second All-Star squad, was named All-NBA second team, and first-team All-Defense.
Salaries via Hoops Hype.
1. Larry Bird, Celtics — $7.07 million
Bird’s second-to-last year in the NBA, he was still an All-Star at age 34 averaging 19.4 points per game.
2. John “Hot Rod” Williams, Cavaliers — $3.786 million
If you’re not familiar with Wiliams, he was kind of Shane Battier, David Lee type of player. One of the best nicknames in NBA history, Williams only started 12 games out of 80 played for the Cavs in 91-92, but still raked in the dough thanks to an historic deal he signed before the 90-91 season that was for seven years and $26.5 million.
3. Kevin McHale, Celtics — $3.5 million
One of the greatest power forwards in NBA history was in his age 34 season and still filling up the stat sheets, just not like he did in his prime. He would retire after the 92-93 season.
4. Reggie Lewis, Celtics — $3.34 million
The Celtics paid a lot of guys handsomely in 91-92, but Lewis was the present and future of the franchise until his untimely death in the summer of 93 at age 27. Lewis averaged 20.8 points per game in 91-92 and made his only All-Star team.
5. Michael Jordan, Bulls — $3.25 million
Soon enough, MJ was going to make more than all these guys combined.
6. Reggie Miller, Pacers — $3.211 million
One of the premier 3-point shooters in the NBA, Miller hit 38 percent of his threes that season and averaged 20.7 points per game.
7. Charles Barkley, 76ers — $3.2 million
Barkley’s last year with the 76ers before he was traded to Suns and won league MVP honors in his first season in Phoenix.
8. Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets — $3.17 million
The best center in the league averaged a monsterous 21.6 points, 12.1 boards, and 4.2 blocks per game.
9. Patrick Ewing, Knicks — $3.319 million
The Knicks franchise was good for 24.0 points and 11.4 boards a night and, as usual, got bounced by Pippen and the Bulls in the playoffs.
10. Dominique Wilkins, Hawks — $3.1 million
The Human Highlight Film, the only dunker in Jordan’s class, was an All-Star that season averaging 28.1 points per game.
11. Robert Parish, Celtics — $3 million
His agae 38 season, Parish was coming off an All-Star season the previous campaign.
12. Isiah Thomas, Pistons — $2.96 milllion
Averaging 18.5 points and 7.2 assists per game, Thomas was an All-Star and still one of the top point guards in the game.
13. Benout Benjamin, Sonics — $2.87 million
His first season in Seattle. Benjamin averaged 14.0 points and 8.1 boards per game.
14. Chris Mullin, Warriors — $2.84 million
The future Hall of Famer averaged 25.6 points per game and led the league in minutes per game at 41.3.
15. Danny Ferry, Cavaliers — $2.843 million
Only Ferry's second year out of Duke and he was making bank.
16. Scottie Pippen, Bulls — $2.77 million
Pippen’s 91-92 season averages: 17.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 1.9 steals per game. He was an All-Star and about to emerge of a dominant point-forward. He wouldn't earn more than this in a season until the 1998-99 campaign after he was sent to the Rockets in a sign-and-trade deal that netted him a five-year pact worth $82 million. His time to get paid eventually arrived. Just not in Chicago.