Skip to main content

Sportscasting | Pure Sports

It’s a common misconception that Michael Jordan was always the highest-paid player in the NBA during his days with the Chicago Bulls. That did end up becoming the case, but that didn’t happen until his final two seasons in the Windy City. For years, Jordan was drastically underpaid, having to stick to the terms of an eight-year deal he signed ahead of the 1988-1989 NBA season worth around $25 million as Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf wasn’t the type to restructure deals.

It’s true that Michael Jordan was making way more money than anyone else off the court, which is one of the reasons he’s worth more than $2 billion today. However, it’s interesting to go back and look at some of the guys that made more money than His Airness back in the day. With The Last Dance getting very close to discussing the record-breaking 1995-1996 season in which the Bulls went 72-10 in the regular season and 87-13 overall while winning their fourth NBA title, I decided to go back and look at the top salaries from that season and what I saw was absolutely astounding.

Michael Jordan was ranked No. 32 in NBA salary in 1995-1996

In 1995-1996, Michael Jordan won his fourth NBA MVP and led the Chicago Bulls to a 72-10 record, at the time the best regular-season mark in NBA history. The team then went 15-3 in the playoffs and beat the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA Finals, giving the Bulls an 87-13 overall record for the year and a fourth NBA crown. Jordan had yet another brilliant season, winning an eighth scoring title with 30.4 points per game while also adding 6.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists. And he did all of this while earning just $3.85 million on the court, good for 32nd in the NBA in salary. Now take a look at the list of 31 players who made more money than Michael Jordan that year, a list obtained from the great folks over at

  1. Patrick Ewing: $18,724,000
  2. Clyde Drexler: $9,810,000
  3. David Robinson: $7,700,000
  4. Chris Webber: $7,000,000
  5. Joe Dumars: $6,881,000
  6. Danny Manning: $6,833,000
  7. A.C. Green: $6,473,000
  8. Shaquille O’Neal: $5,700,000
  9. Derrick Coleman: $5,476,000
  10. Sean Elliott: $5,333,000
  11. Hakeem Olajuwon: $5,305,000
  12. Anfernee Hardaway: $5,230,000
  13. James Worthy: $5,150,000
  14. Detlef Schrempf: $5,000,000
  15. Sam Bowie: $4,800,000
  16. Charles Barkley: $4,760,000
  17. Brad Daugherty: $4,700,000
  18. Danny Ferry: $4,643,000
  19. Alonzo Mourning: $4,560,000
  20. Clarence Weatherspoon: $4,500,000
  21. Tom Gugliotta: $4,500,000
  22. Shawn Bradley: $4,320,000
  23. Larry Johnson: $4,295,000
  24. Brian Shaw: $4,250,000
  25. John Williams: $4,151,000
  26. Dale Davis: $4,050,000
  27. Grant Hill: $4,050,000
  28. Benoit Benjamin: $3,975,000
  29. Sam Perkins: $3,967,000
  30. Christian Laettner: $3,910,000
  31. Kenny Anderson: $3,898,000

And then you have Michael Jordan at $3,850,000, which was actually just $50,000 ahead of No. 33 on the list, Chris Dudley, which is just laughable.

It’s crazy to think that Sam Bowie made more money than Michael Jordan in 1995-1996

Trust me, I could write 31 different articles taking issue with every name on that list above. At least some were actually worth what they were getting and you can’t fault anyone there for getting paid. But Shawn Bradley? Benoit Benjamin? Danny Ferry? Clarence Weatherspoon? Sam Perkins? Come on now. But there’s one name on that list that stands out more than the rest at No. 15, Sam Bowie. Yes, the same Sam Bowie that was taken right before Michael Jordan in the famed 1984 NBA draft.

Actually, both players taken ahead of Jordan appear on this list. Hakeem Olajuwon, who was taken No. 1 overall in 1984, was 11th on the list at $5.305 million, which still seems low for a two-time NBA champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, and the 1994 NBA MVP. But Sam Bowie at No. 15? Are you kidding me? And you want to know the craziest part of that? Bowie had already retired after yet another injury-plagued season in 1994-1995 for the Los Angeles Lakers. Such is the beauty of guaranteed contracts. But just think about that. Sam Bowie, who didn’t play a single minute in 1995-1996, made close to a million bucks more that season than did Michael Jordan.

MJ finally got his due from 1996-1998

While Michael Jordan was No. 32 on the NBA salary list in 1995-1996, he finally reached the No. 1 spot in 1996-1997 by a wide margin. His longtime agent, David Falk, put together a deal that almost saw Jordan sign with the New York Knicks, which essentially forced Jerry Reinsdorf and the Chicago Bulls to pay up. MJ made $30.14 million that season and $33.14 during “The Last Dance” season of 1997-1998, which would have put him at No. 10 on the salary list in 2019-2020.