Scottie Pippen was as good as it gets in terms of being a no.2 star in the NBA, forming the most formidable tandem in the '90s alongside Michael Jordan, winning six NBA championships.
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However, entering the 1997/98 'Last Dance' season, Pippen earned just $2,775,000, good enough for the sixth-highest salary on the Bulls roster.
Comparatively, Jordan earned an eye-watering $33,140,000 that season, over half of the team's salary and as Pippen grew frustrated with management over his contract situation, trade talks intensified.
"Scottie Pippen was the underrated, under-appreciated Robin to Michael's Batman," journalist Michael Wilbon says in The Last Dance.
Pippen led the team in assists and steals, and was second on the Bulls in scoring, rebounding and minutes, averaging 19.1 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.2 rebounds per game in 44 regular-season appearances, with Jordan describing him as the "best teammate of all-time."
"I would never be able to find another tandem, another support system, another partner in the game of basketball like Scottie Pippen," Jordan says in The Last Dance. "He was a pleasure to play with."
MORE: Appreciating the defensive dominance of Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen
Pippen delayed having foot surgery till just before the season tipped, sidelining him for the first 35 games as the Bulls struggled out of the gate. As his standoff with management intensified as he sought his well-earned payday or a move somewhere else that would compensate him accordingly.
"I'm one of the best players to ever play the game, I understand what my value is to this game," Pippen said in The Last Dance.
The then five-time champion was entering the final year of a seven-year, $18 million deal he signed in 1991, a deal Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf described as a mistake in the documentary.
"'If I were you, I wouldn't sign this contract. You may be selling yourself too short. It's too long a contract you're locking yourself in for,'" Reinsdorf says in The Last Dance.
As Pippen explains in the documentary, the fear of a career-ending injury gave him comfort in signing such a long deal: "I felt like I couldn't afford to gamble myself getting injured and not being able to provide," he said.
"I needed to make sure that people in my corner were taken care of."
1997/1998 Chicago Bulls salaries
While revenue exploded and salaries followed suit, Pippen was just the 122nd highest-paid player in the NBA at the time, a number that seems absurd given his contributions to the Bulls dynasty.
Ahead of their opening game of the season, Pippen addressed the Chicago crowd during the championship ring ceremony, indicating his time as a Bull was coming to an end.
"Thank you for all the wonderful moments that the fans here in this city have shown me and my teammates for ten long seasons," he said.
"I've had a wonderful career here, and if I never have the opportunity to say this again; thank you."
He, of course, went on to help the Bulls win their sixth NBA championship that season, before leaving for the Houston Rockets in 1998/1999. He played one season there, before joining the Portland Trail Blazers for four seasons, before briefly returning to the Bulls in 2003/2004.
The Last Dance 10-part documentary premieres Monday, April 20 on Netflix, with two episodes to air every week following.
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