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The Highest-Paid Players In The 1989-90 NBA Season: Michael Jordan Was 6th With Only $2.5M

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The Highest Paid Players In The 1989-90 NBA Season: Michael Jordan Was 6th With Only $2.5M

At the end of the day, basketball is a business. We can scream as much as we want for our favorite players at home, but we have to remember this is their profession. They get paid, quite well these days, to play this sport. With today’s salaries topping over $50 million for some of the best players in the world, it has shown what inflation and the brand has done in the last 30 years.

An article from the Orlando Sentinel recently published a partial clipping of the 1989-90 NBA season and their salaries. Basketball-Reference only shows salaries for NBA players back to the 1990-91 season. While these salaries are somewhat estimated, there is one glowing omission. Isaiah Thomas, the Finals MVP of the repeat champion Detroit Pistons, was not a top-10 highest-paid player.

Who was? We look at that now. These are the 10 highest-paid players from the 1989-90 season.

10. Pervis Ellison - $2.40 Million


Ellison was compensated well after being the No. 1 overall pick in 1989. Without playing a single game, he was immediately vaulted into the top-10 with his contract. He was coming off a college career that saw him lead Louisville to the NCAA title and was named the 1986 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player. After earning Consensus First-Team All-American honors in 1989, he entered the draft where the Sacramento Kings selected him.

His first season saw him average 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in 34 games. He made 22 starts and played 25.5 minutes per night. He shot 44.2% from the field and 62.8% from the free-throw line. Ellison didn’t have a strong season until his third year in the league, but even so, based on the money and draft selection, he was somewhat of a bust.

9. Wayman Tisdale - $2.50 Million

Wayman Tisdale

Tisdale was traded to the King's midseason the year before. He came from the Pacers after spending 3.5 seasons after being the No. 2 overall pick in 1985. Tisdale was solid in his first season with the Kings. He averaged 19.8 points and 9.6 rebounds. He also shot 52.5% from the field.

Despite having two of the highest-paid players in the league, the Kings finished with the worst record in the Western Conference and won just 23 games. Considering what kind of bill the team was fronting, you would have expected the team to have more wins. Instead, it was just a lump sum for not a lot in return.

8. David Robinson - $2.50 Million

David Robinson

Robinson was the No. 1 overall pick from 1987 but did not begin his playing career until this season. He proved that the first two years of waiting were worth it for the San Antonio Spurs fanbase. Robinson won Rookie of the Year with a stellar stat line.

Robinson averaged 24.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks per game. Robinson was second in the league in rebounds, third in blocks, and 10th in the scoring race. Robinson was one of four players getting paid around $2.50 million and he was worth the money.

7. Hakeem Olajuwon - $2.50 Million

Hakeem Olajuwon

Speaking of worth the money, Olajuwon was right there too. Olajuwon led the league in blocks with 4.3 per game and rebounds with 14.0. He led the league in total rebounds and total blocks. His defensive rating and defensive win shares led the NBA, but he did not win the Defensive Player of the Year Award, which went to Dennis Rodman.

Olajuwon was skilled offensively as he was ninth in the scoring race with 24.3 points per game. However, his defense was superb, making him worth the complete package. One could argue that he should have been DPOY this season.

6. Michael Jordan - $2.50 Million

Michael Jordan 1990

For his efforts, one could have argued that Micahel Jordan was the best player in the NBA and should have been paid like it. Instead, he was the sixth highest-paid player that won the scoring title with 33.6 points per game. Jordan led the league in win shares with 19.0 as well. Without Jordan, the Bulls would have been nowhere near a contender.

Jordan led the league in total steals and steals per game with 2.8. He also led the league in making field goals, specifically two-point field goals, and attempts in both categories. He had the most wins above a replacement player and had the highest player efficiency rating. Despite all of this, he was not named the MVP.

5. Larry Bird - $2.75 Million

Larry Bird's Legendary 47-Point 'Left-Handed' Game: “I’m Saving My Right Hand For The Lakers.”

Credit: Getty Images

Given what Larry Bird had done up to this point, it was worth the investment. Bird had won three straight MVPs and had the Celtics in the NBA FInals nearly every year during the 80s. He led the team to three championships and was probably the greatest player of this decade. Despite him not having the best individual season for $2.75 million, it’s the cost of doing business on the backend of a massive contract.

Bird did have a respectable season with 24.3 points, which was 11th in the league, 9.5 rebounds, which was 13th, and 7.5 assists, which was 12th. Was this a stat line worth being paid the top-5 player in the league? Probably not, but again, you look at what he did before and it justifies every cent.

4. Charles Barkley - $3.0 Million

Charles Barkley

Barkley was one of four players that were paid at least three million dollars this season. Barkley averaged 25.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. His scoring numbers were sixth in the league, while his rebounding was third. Barkley led the league in converting two-point field goals with a 63.2% rate, as well a true shooting percentage of 66.1. His offensive rating was the best in the league as well.

Barkley helped the 76ers win 53 games and the Atlantic Division title. It was the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Altogether, all you could ask for is an NBA championship, which the team did not win. This was a deal that lived up to its standards.

3. Magic Johnson - $3.10 Million


Johnson was paid like a top-3 player and he was the best player in the league. Johnson won the MVP Award for his efforts this season. Johnson averaged 22.3 points and 11.5 assists per game. Johnson was second to John Stockton for the assists title. He also shot 89% at the free-throw line.

From a team standpoint, he led the Lakers to a 63-19 record, which was the best in the NBA. The Lakers fell short in the playoffs by falling to the Suns in the second round. With that said, Johnson was paid to be a top player in the league and he was.

2. Chris Mullin - $3.33 Million

Chris Mullin

Mullin averaged 25.1 points, shot 53.6% from the field, and shot 88.9% from the free-throw line. The Warriors won 37 games and missed the playoffs. It’s hard to justify this deal given the lack of individual and team success, but Mullin was entering a stage of his career where he was a top guard in the league.

Mullin averaged at least 20 points per game for six years straight with the Warriors. This was the third time that he had done it. While one could argue that he should not have been paid more than others on this list, the Warriors did have a top player on their roster, but they probably could have paid $1 million less for him.

1. Patrick Ewing - $3.75 Million

Patrick Ewing

When you play in a big market like New York back in the day, it’s only fitting that the city paid their best player with the most money. Ewing lived up to expectations by averaging 28.6 points and 10.9 rebounds. He ultimately finished third in the league in points and fifth in rebounds.

The Knicks won 45 games and made the playoffs. The team made the second round of the playoffs before losing to the Detroit Pistons in five games. Ewing played like a top player in the league but was not able to lead the team past the dynasty that was Detroit. It’s just a reminder that the Pistons were so good back then, but didn’t have a single-player paid in the top-10. 


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