Every summer, after a new champion has been crowned, the NBA begins its second season: free agency. For better or worse, the frenzy of player movement has become a giant spectacle that rivals the actual play on the court. While the breathless coverage is new, it's always been a dramatic time.
For proof, look no further than Michael Jordan's short-lived flirtation with the New York Knicks back in 1996. Everything Jordan related is back in the news because of "The Last Dance," and this lesser-known incident is no exception. During an interview on Thursday with Sirius XM Radio, his agent David Falk said it was "unlikely" that Jordan ever would have left, but notes they were preparing for that possibility, and hinted at teaming up with Patrick Ewings -- another Falk client.
Anything is possible. MIchael is an extremely loyal guy. He wanted to play for one team his whole career. He was loved in the city of Chicago, he had tremendous business relationships in the city of Chicago. I think it would have taken something -- it would have taken a disaster in the discussion with Chicago for that to happen.I wouldn't say it was impossible.
We obviously had to do our due diligence in the event that a disaster did happen, you don't want to be unprepared. But I think the chance of him leaving Chicago for any team were unlikely.
Now for me, obviously in 1996 representing both Michael and Patrick [Ewing]. If they both could play for the same team on the moon it would've been amazing. Michael would've given Patrick the championship he craved, you would've had the most dominating big man in the league and the most dominating wing player in the league on the same team. It had nothing to do with being in New York, it could have been on the moon.
No one but Jordan and Falk will ever know how close he was to actually leaving the Bulls, but the Knicks were certainly pulling out all the stops to try and sign him back in 1996. According to Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune, the Knicks sketched out a creative idea that would have paid Jordan both for his basketball abilities, and marketability.
But in stepped those dreaded Knicks, then owned by a partnership between ITT-Sheraton and Cablevision Inc.
The Knicks had maneuvered themselves well below the salary cap--about $12 million--and eventually signed free agents Allan Houston, Chris Childs and Buck Williams.
But the initial target was Jordan.
"We told them they could have all our cap room," Madison Square Garden President Dave Checketts acknowledged.
But the talk was of a $25 million deal.
The key was ITT, which is now out of the picture in New York with Cablevision having extended its ownership share to about 90 percent of the Knicks and Madison Square Garden.
ITT owned the Sheraton hotel chain, and the plan hatched by Jordan's agent, David Falk, was to get Jordan the Knicks' $12 million in salary-cap money and perhaps another $15 million for being a spokesman for such ITT companies as Sheraton.
Those types of contracts that circumvent the salary cap are typically not allowed by the league, but then-commissioner David Stern was prepared to allow it due to Jordan's marketing presence, according to Smith.
Again, as Falk notes, Jordan was loyal to the Bulls, and didn't want to leave Chicago. From the outside, it would seem like this was just a negotiating attempt to drive up the price and get Jordan a bigger contract. Still, the fact that it got as far as Jordan considering the Knicks' unique offer is pretty fascinating.
There are a million what-ifs that could have changed the course of NBA history, but few are bigger than if Jordan had actually left the Bulls to team up with Patrick Ewing at Madison Square Garden.