Jordan’s reaction to teammate Scottie Pippen’s contract-related unhappiness “disappointed” Green, he said in comments posted online by Uninterrupted’s “WRTS: After Party.”
As recounted in Part 2 of the documentary, Pippen entered the 1997-98 season as arguably the most grossly underpaid athlete in professional sports. His salary of approximately $2.8 million for that season was not only less than a 10th of what Jordan would make, but it only amounted to the sixth-highest salary on the Bulls and a lowly 122nd-highest in the entire NBA.
Bulls management, led by owner Jerry Reinsdorf and General Manager Jerry Krause, made it clear that they were opposed to any renegotiation of the contract extension Pippen signed in 1991, despite his crucial role as the No. 2 star of a dynasty that had racked up five championships over the previous seven seasons.
Knowing he was much closer to getting traded than to receiving a well-deserved raise, Pippen decided months earlier to delay foot surgery until the start of the 1997-98 campaign. With the seven-time all-star out for the first two months, Chicago got off to a slow start that left the hypercompetitive Jordan fuming, and more than two decades later Jordan saw fit to criticize Pippen’s decision as “selfish.”
“Me as a teammate, if Scottie Pippen does that, I’m not going to be mad at Pip,” Green told Uninterrupted’s viewers, saying he “had no issue” with Pippen’s absence from the start of that season. “Because I understand what you’re doing, and at the end of the day, I’m rolling with you. Because when it all boils down to it, clearly that [Bulls] organization showed they’re going to take care of themselves. They’re not going to take care of [the players].”
Jordan also offered effusive praise of his longtime former sidekick, declaring he “would never be able to find another tandem, another support system, another partner in the game of basketball like Scottie Pippen.”
“Whenever they speak Michael Jordan, they should speak Scottie Pippen,” Jordan added. “Everybody says I won all these championships. But I didn’t win without Scottie Pippen. That’s why I consider him my greatest teammate of all time.”
However, of Pippen’s gambit in showing the Bulls’ front office what it was missing, Jordan said, “Scottie was wrong in that scenario.”
“He could’ve got his surgery done as soon as the [previous] season was over and be ready for the season,” Jordan added. “Scottie was trying to force management to change his contract, and Jerry [Reinsdorf] wasn’t going to do that.”
“I was kind of a little disappointed when Mike, still to this day, is like, ‘Scottie was wrong.’ Like, no. You roll with your dogs, because they ride with you,” Green said Monday. “You’re making $36 million, and this guy is making $2 [million], yet you’re saying that when you mention [Jordan’s] name there’s no way you cannot mention Scottie Pippen’s name? And he’s just supposed to sit there? That don’t make sense. … That’s crazy.”
Steve Kerr, another player on those Bulls who went on to coach Green and the Warriors to three titles in five NBA Finals appearances between 2015 and 2019, did not recall Pippen’s absence causing much angst in Chicago’s locker room.
“Everyone respected Scottie so much,” Kerr said Tuesday (via ESPN). “We felt his frustration. He probably should have been the second-highest-paid guy in the NBA, or definitely top five. So we all felt for [Pippen]; nobody resented him for having that surgery. Later, we all understood, let’s give him his space, and he’s going to be there for the second stretch of the season for us.”
Kerr’s presence was among the ways Green said he was struck by the similarities between the 1997-98 Bulls and his 2018-19 Warriors, who were also going for a third straight championship. That Golden State team, though, was crippled by major injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in the Finals and suffered an upset loss to the Toronto Raptors.
There was another major difference for Green, though — one that led him to reveal he’s still unhappy with Durant, who departed for the Brooklyn Nets last summer.
The Bulls knew their season would be their “last dance,” as then-coach Phil Jackson dubbed it before it began, because he was assured of being in his final season with Chicago and the organization also appeared intent to move on from Jordan and Pippen.
By contrast, according to Green, Durant’s impending free agency led to uncertainty among the 2018-19 Warriors about what the future held for their championship nucleus.
Describing Durant’s refusal to clarify whether he planned to re-sign with the Warriors “the elephant in the room,” Green claimed it resulted in constant, distracting questions from reporters.
“Every time we spoke to the media,” Green said, “Klay and myself was asked about our contracts and it was strictly due to Kevin, because while that was going on, Klay was saying: ‘I want to be a Warrior forever. I want to be here; we started this thing. This is where I want to be.’ I’m saying: ‘I want to be here for my career. We started this; we built this. I want to finish my career here with the guys I started it with.’
“And then you kind of had Kevin [saying], ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do next year,’ and it don’t matter, but it does matter because you’re not the only person that has to answer that question,” Green continued. “And to be quite frank with you, you’re honestly the last person that has to answer that question because you don’t really say [expletive], like you don’t say much to the media.
“If anything, you tell them to ‘shut the [expletive] up.’ Well, I don’t tell them to ‘shut the [expletive] up.’ I kind of have a conversation. So I’m stuck answering that question all the time.
“And due to that, there was always an elephant in the room amongst us as opposed to [the Bulls],” Green added. “They didn’t have that elephant.”
The three-time all-star, who has something of a Pippen-like role with the Warriors as a defensive stalwart with playmaking ability, said “The Last Dance” was providing him more than just a greater appreciation for his predecessor.
“I’m definitely enjoying watching this, and in a weird way it’s kind of motivating, to try to go win more,” Green said. “They’ve done some great [expletive], so just watching this I’ve gotten some more motivation to get back to work and try to get more done. Because this [expletive] is legendary.”
Green also said the series served as a reminder to him of “how [expletive] hard it is to win.” To emphasize that point — which probably had something to do with Jordan’s irritation at Pippen’s absence to start that season — he repeated, “It’s [expletive] hard to win.”