PR spin or not, Scottie Pippen’s name is on the statement.
“I would like to personally thank the Bulls organization for helping me through this period of free agency,” Pippen said in January 1999 in a statement released by his agents, Jimmy Sexton and Kyle Rote. “I wish them the best because that is what Chicago deserves.”
Pippen represented the emotional epicenter of Episode 2 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” which premiered Sunday. Much of the focus centered on Pippen’s unhappiness with his contract, which made him the 122nd highest-paid player in the league for the 1997-98 season and further fueled his animosity towards general manager Jerry Krause.
Pippen even delayed his foot surgery until just before the season started, a decision that Michael Jordan criticized in the film and coach Phil Jackson tried to smooth over during a difficult 1997-98 season.
Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is quoted in the film, as he was when Pippen signed his deal, saying that he advised his All-Star against signing the extension. Pippen, who endured a difficult upbringing with a father disabled by a stroke and a brother paralyzed, chose long-term security to sign it. His annual salary, which at one time ranked eighth-highest in the league, quickly became low when the salary cap experienced unprecedented growth during the 1990s.
But what is getting lost in the telling is the reason for Pippen’s public-relations quote on his way out of Chicago. And he said that because when the NBA lockout ended, the Bulls structured his sign-and-trade transaction to the Rockets in a way that made Pippen upwards of $25 million more.
“I would like to thank the Chicago Bulls, the great people of the city of Chicago and all my teammates for 11 wonderful seasons,” Pippen said in the statement.
The Bulls received Roy Rogers — who is, coincidentally, currently an assistant coach — and a higher second-round pick from the Rockets. Rogers’ small deal of $862,500 was paid by the Rockets.
The most the Rockets would’ve been able to pay Pippen under collective bargaining agreement rights at the time was $45 million over four years. Instead, Pippen, with incentives the Bulls were allowed to write into the deal before the sign-and-trade, made roughly $77 million over five years. The extra year the Bulls were able to sign Pippen to is what makes the extra value the Bulls gave him with the sign-and-trade transaction hard to accurately peg. But this contract represented his last big-money deal, so even if he had signed with the Rockets outright for four years, he likely wouldn't have made as much as he did in the fifth year of the deal that the Bulls structured.
Pippen’s ex-wife, Larsa, took to Twitter to put the discourse around his contract in perspective:
When Pippen finished that deal, he no longer commanded big money on the free-agent market. In fact, in one of John Paxson’s first moves as Krause’s successor, he signed Pippen to a two-year, $10 million deal to return to the Bulls as a veteran mentor at age 38.
Pippen played just 23 games before retiring. That's right, 23 games. Cue the Michael Jordan symbolism.