The Chicago Bulls could have really lost Michael Jordan during the 1996 free agency. As Jordan himself admitted, he was 30 minutes away from signing with the New York Knicks. The reason? The Bulls were still thinking about MJ's contract demand.
At that time, Jordan was clearly the best player in the NBA. He had just led the Bulls to a fourth NBA title and won a fourth MVP award. As such, Jordan also wanted to be paid accordingly. His demand? A two-year $36 million contract with the Bulls would make him the highest-paid player in the league.
"I don't know what worth is in this game," Bulls Coach Phil Jacksonsaid when asked if MJ was worth what he demanded. ". . . But I do know this: if anybody gets paid money in this league, Michael Jordan deserves it. With the kind of salaries I've heard bandied about, Michael Jordan is the best player and has been for the last eight to 10 years in this league. If Sylvester Stallone's getting $20 million for a movie, I can't imagine why Michael won't get $20 million for a season."
When Jordan gave the Chicago Tribune the $36 million figure during an interview, he said that the amount was the "absolute bottom figure". And although he said he preferred to remain a Chicago Bull, Jordan threatened to leave the Bulls by saying he and his family were ready to go if Jerry Reinsdorf didn't give in to his demand.
"I don't want that to happen, by no means," added Jordan. "I'd like to be right here in the city of Chicago. This is where I started and this is where I want to finish. It's very easy to understand that."
Of course, staying was a no-brainer. However, a $36 million contract in 1996 was already massive, even if you were paying Michael Jordan. While Reinsdorf was weighing his options, the New York Knicks came in with a $25 million offer, and suddenly, the Bulls were faced with the possibility of really losing Michael Jordan.
Jordan had been underpaid for the last couple of seasons, owning to an 8-year $25.7 million contract he signed in 1988. MJ never complained when he was underpaid, but when it was time to negotiate a new deal, he wanted to make up for whatever money he lost out on his long-term contract.
"If they mess around with me here, which I don't think they will, I'll go elsewhere for whatever," Jordan told the Tribune. "I'll play on another team for $10 million less if I have to, just on principle. They've made a lot of money here, and it's time to give a little back."
Jordan would later say that he already assured the Knicks that he would sign with them if the Bulls didn't give him what he wanted. MJ said he was 30 minutes away from signing with the Knicks. Fortunately, the phone rang, and the Bulls offered MJ a one-year $30 million contract, making him the highest-paid player in the NBA that year.