Brightest stars in NBA history top list of strangest contracts ever signed
The NBA is a great league.
NBA culture is filled with odd quirks and crazy stories. In fact, Aug. 25, 2015, marks the 50-year anniversary of another great NBA moment: When Bill Russell signed the richest contract in basketball, a deal that just happened to be worth one dollar more than Wilt Chamberlain's salary.
That’s right, Bill Russell—11-time champion and namesake for the NBA Finals MVP award—was also a giant troll. Now, Russell had his reasons for wanting more money than Wilt. The two had an epic rivalry, one that Russell dominated in terms of team success, but lost in terms of name recognition.
Russell asking to be paid more than Chamberlain got us thinking of other great contract stories from NBA history. Here are just a few of our favorites:
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Perhaps the most famous contract clause in the NBA: Michael Jordan’s “For the Love of the Game” clause. The Bulls were never really in a position to negotiate with the greatest player to ever dribble a basketball. Jordan asked for a clause allowing him to play basketball any time, anywhere, because he just loved hooping that much.
The clause is no joke. NBA teams often try to stop players from engaging in physical activity in the off-season. (You may remember Monta Eliis earning a 30-game suspension from who else, the Warriors, after a moped injury in the off-season.) But no one stops Michael Jordan from stepping on a basketball court.
In 1981, Magic Johnson signed a 25-year, $25 million extension with the Lakers. The crazy deal was to keep Johnson a Laker for a long, long time, running from 1984 to 2009. Johnson would eventually sign new deals with Los Angeles, to compensate for the years he wasn’t the highest paid player in the league. The deal—thought up by the late, great Jerry Buss—certainly helped keep Magic a Laker for life.
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Chris Webber left his Fab Five teammates at the University of Michigan early so he could join the NBA before it instituted a cap on rookie salaries. As a result, Webber signed one of those ridiculous '90s rookie contracts, a 15-year, $74 million deal with the Golden State Warriors. However, Golden State gave Webber a player opt-out after one season.
It was a huge mistake. Webber hated playing center for coach Don Nelson. He immediately used his opt-out as leverage, and forced a sign-and-trade after one season in Golden State. And the Warriors didn’t fully recover until Stephen Curry got to town.
The Timberwolves may have never lost Kevin Garnett if it weren’t for Joe Smith. The Timberwolves signed Smith to a one-year deal worth less than $2 million after the 1999 lockout, a weird deal considering Smith had an $80 million offer from the Warriors, where he played his first three seasons. As it turns out, Minnesota planned on signing Smith to three one-year deals, maximizing cap space, and using Smith’s Bird Rights after the third year to sign him to a large extension.
The NBA found out about the under-the-table agreement. The Timberwolves lost multiple first-round picks. Smith’s contracts were voided, taking away his Bird Rights, and eventually causing his departure from Minnesota. The Timberwolves couldn’t restock their roster for much of the mid-2000s, and soon Garnett was gone.
Another story that changed the course of NBA history. In June 2003, point guard Anthony Carter’s agent Bill Duffy forgot to file Carter’s opt-in clause with the Miami Heat. Carter went from making $4.1 million to nothing overnight, as he became a free agent, where his market value was much less than his Heat contract.
The Heat were gifted a huge jump in cap space, which they used to sign free-agent forward Lamar Odom. Odom joined rookie Dwyane Wade to lead the Heat to the playoffs. The next year, in 2004, Odom was part of a trade with the Lakers that sent Shaquille O’Neal to Miami.
Shaq won his fourth and last championship in Miami. Odom was a key player in Kobe Bryant’s fourth and fifth championships. And all because Anthony Carter’s agent forgot to file some paperwork.
Looking at Chandler Parsons, you would not be surprised to hear the man enjoys a night or two out on the town. And that’s exactly where Parsons was when he signed his three-year offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks in 2014. Somehow, Parsons signing his contract at the club while partying with Mark Cuban is only the second-most bizarre free-agent story the two have been a part of, as both factored heavily in this year’s DeAndre Jordan saga.
In the aftermath of their NBA championship, it’s easy to forget how bleak the Warriors’ existence used to be. Their future looked a little bright in the early 2000s, when second-round pick Gilbert Arenas proved to be a draft steal. But Arenas’ second-round status meant Golden State didn’t have control over him like they would a first-round pick.
In 2003, Arenas became a free-agent and signed a six-year, $80 million deal with the Wizards. The Warriors couldn’t match the deal. The situation led to a new rule, known as the Gilbert Arenas Provision, making it much easier for teams to retain their successful second-round picks.