One of the greatest debates that NBA fans love to argue about is the Greatest of All-Time discussion. Many believe that the title belongs to Michael Jordan who won six championships with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, instead of LeBron James, because he didn’t move franchises to search for rings.
One story that has been widely forgotten about is that Michael Jordan was 24 hours away from being apart of the New York Knicks in 1996. During free agency that year, the Knicks offered Jordan a massive 25-million-dollar contract which he then gave the Bulls just 24 hours to match it. When the Bulls called offering a 30-million-dollar contract, Jordan has his bags packed and was ready to leave.
At the time, this was all coming off the 1995-96 playoffs where Michael Jordan won his fourth championship in the league and the Chicago Bulls finished with a 72-10 regular-season performance. MJ’s contract was expiring as the 1996 season came to an end and he initially demanded 18-million for the following season which would have been the highest-paid contract in the league at the time.
However, the Bulls were forced to pay even more to hold onto the greatest NBA player that ever stepped foot in Chicago when the Knicks stepped in and offered an incredible deal.
The Chicago Tribune had this to say:
So how did they settle on a $30 million contract after Jordan had floated a trial balloon of $18 million during the 1995-96 playoffs?
At the time, Knicks center Patrick Ewing was playing a “balloon” season of $18 million, then the biggest one-year deal in NBA history.
That’s where Jordan started, and the Bulls were prepared to go to $20 million for one season as a sort of a one-year payback to Jordan for the previous seasons when he was “underpaid.”
But in stepped those dreaded Knicks, then owned by a partnership between ITT-Sheraton and Cablevision Inc.
The Knicks had maneuvered themselves well below the salary cap–about $12 million–and eventually signed free agents Allan Houston, Chris Childs and Buck Williams.
But the initial target was Jordan.
“We told them they could have all our cap room,” Madison Square Garden President Dave Checketts acknowledged.
But the talk was of a $25 million deal.
The key was ITT, which is now out of the picture in New York with Cablevision having extended its ownership share to about 90 percent of the Knicks and Madison Square Garden.
ITT owned the Sheraton hotel chain, and the plan hatched by Jordan’s agent, David Falk, was to get Jordan the Knicks’ $12 million in salary-cap money and perhaps another $15 million for being a spokesman for such ITT companies as Sheraton.
The NBA usually regards such outside arrangements as salary-cap avoidance, and any money paid in that manner counts against a team’s cap–unless it can be shown that the player’s market value as a spokesman is that high.
Because Jordan is such a huge commercial presence, his status was considered unique, and the NBA was prepared to allow the separate deal without the money counting against the Knicks’ cap.
The Bulls argued with the league, but Commissioner David Stern’s traditional reluctance to cut off such commercial opportunities changed the parameters of the Jordan negotiations.
The Bulls had believed no team could pay Jordan more than $10 million, perhaps $12 million, so their thinking was he had to return for their offer, whether it was $15 million, $18 million or $20 million.
That led up to an infamous phone call, supposedly from Falk to Reinsdorf.
Although neither side would reveal the exact wording, the message was clear: The Bulls had one hour, maybe the rest of the day, to beat a $25 million offer from the Knicks, or Michael Jordan was going to sign with New York.
Was it a bluff?
Would Jordan have left Chicago, with Jackson having re-signed and the team coming off a championship, to go play in New York?
It doesn’t seem likely, and some people close to Jordan say he would never leave Chicago.
But the Bulls were not willing to take the chance.
They knew the $25 million offer was a possibility because of the outside money from ITT.
The Knicks could well pay Jordan $25 million.
And Jordan said that with Ewing, he could win another title.
And how embarrassing would that be for the Bulls?
So they came up with the $30 million offer, and Jordan signed.
This at the time was a massive development, if Jordan had have left, he would be teaming up with Patrick Ewing in New York where the franchise would have had a chance at winning a championship.
It all worked out well for MJ who won the next two championships with the Bulls, completing his second three-peat in the same decade. The Hall of Famer would eventually finish his career in Washington but everyone knows him as a loyal Bulls member who gave the city so much joy.
As for the Knicks, it’s another offseason gone wrong, the franchise has missed out on a lot of the biggest stars in the game including players such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard all in the 2019 offseason. This may hurt a little more for New York fans as they know that in an alternate timeline, Michael Jordan could have been a Knick.