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Brightest stars in NBA history top list of strangest contracts ever signed

Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and many others are among players who have signed some of the NBA's strangest contracts. 

The NBA is a great league.

What other sport gives us fashion icons, reality TV stars, potential hostage situations and that unforgettable Mark Madsen dancing moment?

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.

• MORE NBA: 30 best contracts in the NBA | Worst deals in free agency

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:

Michael Jordan

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• MORE NBA: 2015 free agent grades for every signing

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.

Magic Johnson

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.

Chris Webber

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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.

Joe Smith

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.

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