In the 1997-98 season, the NBA salary cap was roughly $27 million dollars. No player on the Bulls made over $5 million that season, except for Michael Jordan, who earned just north of $33 million.
So, how did Jordan's individual salary surpass the entire salary cap in consecutive seasons, dating back to 1996-97? Talent, of course, and timing.
Like now, teams were allowed to exceed the salary cap to sign their own players. Unlike now, there were no max contracts or a luxury tax in the collective bargaining agreement.
Jordan was a free agent after a 1995-96 season in which he made $3.8 million in the last season of a long-term deal. Jordan then signed a one-year contract for $30.1 million in 1996-97, when the salary cap stood at $24.3 million. And Jordan signed a one-year deal for $33.1 million in 1997-98 when the salary cap stood at $26.9 million.
Jordan's $33.1 million deal was worth more than the average team payroll at the time and represented the highest single-season salary in league history all the way until 2017-18, when LeBron James and Stephen Curry each surpassed it.
The Bulls' team payroll of $61.3 million for the 1997-98 season was the league's largest by $7.4 million over the second-place Knicks.
It was also $32.8 million more than the Utah Jazz's team payroll, the Bulls' eventual counterpart in the 1998 NBA Finals.