Michael Jordan's $33 million salary in '98, when adjusted for inflation, is equivalent to $51 million today. Fine. But the crazier number is that it was 123% of the '98 salary cap. That's equivalent to a $122 million single-season salary today.
Although this sounds like an absolutely insane amount of money, it's not so crazy if you look at how massively underpaid MJ was up to that point in his career. Prior to the 1996-97 season, Jordan had made just $24,925,000 in his nine previous seasons combined.
To put it into perspective with the rest of the league — Michael Jordan was the 11th highest-paid player in the 1995-96 All-Star Game, and was making nearly $15 million less than Patrick Ewing.
Even with those two huge $30m+ seasons, Jordan only averaged about $6.9 million per year over the course of his career. Put that alongside some of his peers such as Pat Ewing ($7.5 million/yr), Scottie Pippen ($6.4 million/yr), Hakeem Olajuwon ($6.3 million/yr) and Karl Malone ($6.1 million/yr), and it's not that crazy at all, especially considering his GOAT status.
I guess we have to think of it more as back pay than anything else.