In an appearance on NBC Sports Chicago’s Bulls Pregame Live, Chicago Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf refuted a claim by Tracy McGrady that Michael Jordan threatened to retire to shoot down a 1997 trade that would have sent Scottie Pippen to the Celtics and McGrady to the Bulls.
“I understand that there's a lot of truth to this story,” Reinsdorf said on the broadcast. “But the one part that's not true is that Michael Jordan in any way communicated with the Chicago Bulls his displeasure over the trade.”
Reinsdorf says it was he who vetoed the trade — not Jordan — because he wanted the Bulls to compete for a sixth championship the following season. The trade proposal was tied to the 1997 draft, which occurred just 12 days after the Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz in six games to clinch the franchise’s fifth NBA title.
“We had won five championships at that point, and Krause came to me and said: ‘Look, I'm not sure I can guarantee — I don't know how strong I feel about winning a sixth championship. But I have a chance to trade Scottie Pippen to the Boston Celtics for two very high picks (No. 3 and 6 in the 1997 draft),’” Reinsdorf said. “And Krause, if we had done that deal, he was going to take Tracy McGrady and he was gonna take Ron Mercer.
“I thought long and hard about it, but my decision came down to this: ‘What would our fans want us to do?’ And I concluded that our fans would want us to win a sixth championship, even if it meant we weren't going to be that good afterwards. And that's why I vetoed the trade. I never heard from Michael Jordan about it. If Krause heard anything from Michael Jordan, he would've had to have told me about it.”
Indeed, Krause, in an attempt to position the team for post-dynasty success, worked out an agreement with the Celtics that would send the No. 3 and 6 picks in the 1997 draft to Chicago and Pippen to Boston. With those draft choices, Krause intended to select McGrady and Mercer.
But the deal was never consummated, leaving the Celtics to draft Chauncey Billups and Mercer, and the Raptors to nab McGrady with the ninth pick. The Bulls, meanwhile, forged ahead with their core intact and won a sixth championship the following June (although Pippen didn’t play until Game 36 of the regular season after delaying a necessary ankle surgery to October 1997, pushing his rehab into the season).
Those are the facts at hand. The dispute between Reinsdorf and McGrady’s versions of events derives from McGrady contending on multiple occasions that he knew he was close to being traded for Pippen — before Jordan stepped in and killed the deal by threatening to retire.
“Draft night I almost got traded for Scottie,” McGrady said in a recent appearance on the Knuckleheads Podcast hosted by Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles. “The night before the (1997) draft, Jerry Krause called my agent, got me up — 12 o'clock at night — had me go to a secret location to take a physical. It was about to go down, but MJ made the call and was like, ‘Yo, if y'all do that, I'm retiring.’ So, he (Jordan) stopped that real quick.”
That squares with McGrady’s recounting of the event going back as far as 2016, when he said on ESPN’s The Jump that Krause was trying to make the trade, but Jordan “axed” it.
But Reinsdorf added in his sitdown that he reached out to Jordan after hearing the most recent re-telling of the story, and Jordan concurred with his version of events.
“After this podcast, I contacted Michael Jordan, and asked him if there was any truth, and his reply to me was ‘BS.’ And that’s the case,” Reinsdorf said. “I don’t even know if Michael was aware of it (the trade). But he certainly never communicated to us, never threatened to retire. And the only reason that trade didn't go through is I felt our fans wanted a sixth championship, and I wanted a sixth championship.”
There’s no doubt Krause coveted McGrady, as evidenced by the fervent free-agent pursuit the Bulls launched in an attempt to land his services 2000. The near-trade with Boston has been widely-reported on since the time it happened.
But on the issue of Jordan’s involvement, Reinsdorf desired to correct the record.
“I don't doubt that somebody told Tracy that Michael Jordan had something to do with killing the trade with Boston,” he said. “I'm sure Tracy wouldn't deliberately lie. But the fact of the matter is: It never occurred. It never happened.”