We all know Michael Jordan to be the greatest basketball ever and arguably the biggest star of the NBA due to his instrumental role in the globalization of basketball in the 90s. Jordan set numerous records throughout his career and raised the bar for players who aspired to be the future superstars of the NBA. Today, many of his records have already been either matched or broken, but an unlikely record still belongs to His Airness in 2021.
"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."
For all Jordan's contributions to the Chicago Bulls organization, MJ signed a one-year $33.1 million deal for what promised to be his last season with the team. At that time, Jordan's one-year deal was the most a player had been paid in a single season. With the landscape of today's NBA, many players on maximum contracts have already eclipsed this figure. One franchise that has yet to do so is Jordan's former team, and by failing to create the cap space to offer Zach Lavine an extension this season, Jordan's odd streak is set to continue.
An extension would allow Lavine to make $33.7 million next year, which would eclipse Jordan's number from 1998, but given the big moves the Bulls made in free agency, it seems that the offer will not be coming Zach's way. Player contracts have come a long way since the 90s, but perhaps the Bulls have some extremely high standards for max players, given that the last player they paid that much money gave them six championships while elevating the Bulls to premier franchise status.
As a team in one of the largest markets, the Bulls have always frustrated their fans and the league with their, let's say, very conservative spending. The Reinsdorfs primarily see the team as a profit-creating business. The Last Dance revealed moments that planted the seed of frustration and they often revolved around (lack of) spending.
In the Bulls' defense, it's not hard to imagine why they would be reluctant to commit that much money to Zach LaVine when your standard-bearer is the GOAT. It took Jordan five championships and five finals MVPs to secure that bag from the Chicago Bulls. With Lavine, the Bulls have not even sniffed the playoffs or the recently-instituted play-in tournament, giving the franchise little reason to commit to Lavine long-term. Zach is a highly talented player, but winning matters in Chicago and previous seasons did not point toward the Bulls moving in that direction.
In the end, the fact the Bulls haven't paid anyone more than MJ in an era when the salary cap is 4 times larger than in 1998 lets you know everything you need to know about the state of the organization in the post-MJ era. Apart from a short Derrick Rose flash, it's mostly been mediocre basketball at best. With all their additions in the first two days of free agency, that may finally change.