Former Chicago Bulls teammates Michael Jordan and Steve Kerr have had their disagreements before, but this one probably won’t end with anyone getting punched in the face.
Jordan took an unflinching stance in Episode 2 of the documentary series “The Last Dance” when addressing then-teammate Scottie Pippen’s decision to delay foot surgery until shortly before the 1997-98 season.
“Scottie was wrong in that scenario,” Jordan said in the episode, which debuted Sunday night on ESPN. “He could’ve got his surgery done as soon as the season was over and be ready for the season. What Scottie was trying to do was trying to force management to change his contract. And [owner Jerry Reinsdorf] was never going to do that.”
However, Kerr, who famously tangled with Jordan in a 1995 training camp, disagreed with Jordan’s position in an interview with Rachel Nichols that aired Tuesday on ESPN’s “The Jump.”
Asked whether there was resentment from other Bulls players over Pippen’s decision, Kerr said, “No, not at all.”
“Everyone respected Scottie so much,” Kerr said. “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 him, 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.”
Pippen, the clear No. 2 on the Bulls, ended that 1997-98 season as only the sixth-highest-paid player on the team, playing out an $18 million extension he had signed after Chicago won its first championship in 1991. Even Reinsdorf told Pippen that deal wasn’t in his best interests. The contract situation and various trade talks led to a soured relationship between Pippen and the team.
“I decided to have surgery late because I was like, ‘You know what, I’m not going to f— my summer up,'” Pippen said in the documentary.
Kerr also addressed the different scrutiny faced by those Bulls and his similarly dominant Golden State Warriors team in an era of 24-hour media and Twitter.
“I think [Jordan] would have acted differently,” Kerr said. “I think he would have adapted to the scrutiny that he was facing.”
But Kerr also pointed to the toll that attention can take on a player.
“I always will maintain that the reason he went and played baseball was because he was fried emotionally from the scrutiny that really only he felt,” Kerr said. “Watching him, by the time that I got there, and the life compared to everyone else. … It was insane. So I think he had had enough and just stepped away for a little while, came back and was ready to roll.”