Back in the day, there was no Salary Cap. Players got way less money than what they get nowadays unless they were Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
Jordan, being the greatest player in the world, obviously amassed more than double of the rest of the players in the league during his last couple of seasons in the NBA, with 30 and 33 million contracts from 1996 to 1998. However, it seems like Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf wasn't that sure about paying him that much money, according to Author Roland Lazenby:
"Michael is bitter at Jerry because when Jerry agreed to pay him the $30 million, Jerry told Michael that he would regret it. Michael stood in the training room one day the next fall and told all his teammates, 'You know what really pissed me off? Jerry said, 'You know what, Michael? I'm gonna regret this.
Michael said, 'What the f--k? You could say, 'You deserve this. You're the greatest player ever, you're an asset to the city of Chicago and the organization. And I'm happy to pay you $30 million," according to Lazenby in his book Mindgames: Phil Jackson's Long Strange Journey, as quoted by Bleacher Report.
Needless to say, Jordan ended up paying Reinsdorf and the Bulls back every single penny, as they are still profiting out of his name and image up to this day. However, it did seem crazy at the time.
To put it in context, imagine there's no salary cap today. Stephen Curry is currently the league's highest-paid player at $40,231,758. Well, Jordan's deal would be worthy of over $82.000.000 then, which is not only unprecedented but also insane.
It wasn't enough for Jordan to know that he was better than anybody else. He wanted to live by it, to demonstrate it. He wanted to be reminded of his greatness on every paycheck, and he truly earned that right.