Credit: Reuters - Scanpix | BasketNews/A.Zaikauskas illustration
Credit Reuters - Scanpix | BasketNews/A.Zaikauskas illustration

What if? One of those questions that always turn our imagination on. At the same time, it's one of the most-asked questions by GMs before making important decisions.

Michael Jordan

Michael  Jordan
Position: SF, SG
Age: 58
Height: 199 cm
Weight: 98 kg
Birth place: United States of America

The free agency period is getting hotter and hotter here in Europe. Best players and coaches are getting new deals every week, constantly changing the picture of European basketball. It’s that time of year – taking risks and waiting for them to pan out or being judged at the end of the season.

During the upcoming weeks, will remind you of some of the wildest free agency stories, which never happened, but could have changed everything.

12M hopes of Michael Jordan

"The day Michael Jordan was able to play in Estudiantes". It may sound like a joke to you, but that‘s an actual "Gigantes" magazine cover from 21 years ago.

Credit "Gigantes"

After The Last Dance of his glorious career with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan was invited for one more bolero. During the NBA lockout in 1998-99, Adecco Estudiantes Madrid tried to persuade Michael Jordan to come to play in Spain.

According to "Gigantes", Estudiantes were ready to offer "His Airness" a 12M contract for the remaining four months of the ACB season. There was an interesting bonus option included – private golf lessons with Severiano Ballesteros, a legendary Spanish golfer. Basically, MJ was supposed to play golf from Monday to Friday and then some basketball on weekends.

Credit AFP-Scanpix

The Adecco Group, which is the world‘s second-largest Human Resources provider and temporary staffing firm, approved this 12M investment at its headquarters in San Francisco.

As "Gigantes" reported, Jordan‘s agents were already valuing the offer and both parties were close to signing a deal. But the lockout ended before Estudiantes dream could become true. Jordan retired for the second time on January 13, 1999. A year later MJ made the NBA comeback as a part-owner and president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. 

Dirk's mystery

The biggest mistake of the Barcelona basketball department, or just a chain of coincidences? Dirk Nowitzki, one of the best European players in history, was close to signing with Barcelona more than 25 years ago.

Credit USA Today – Scanpix

Former general manager of Barcelona Antonio Maceiras discovered Nowitzki at the Junior European Championship in 1996. All eyes were on prospects like Igor Rakocevic, Hidayet Turkoglu, Jerome Moiso, or Josip Sesar. While an 18-year-old kid from Wurzburg was splashing for a mediocre German team. Nowitzki averaged 18.6 points per game and introduced himself to European basketball scouts as the 4th best scorer of the tournament.

As Mundo Deportivo reported in 2011, Maceiras reached out to Dirks' parents, who ran a metalwork business in Germany back then. They appreciated Barcelona's interest but wanted their son to finish German high school first.

Barcelona didn’t stop persuading Dirk. They invited him and his family to Barcelona to see the facilities and to meet with the coaching staff in December 1996.

And that's where the mystery begins.

Few sources insist that Dirk didn’t pass the individual workout set by Barcelona’s coaches. According to the sources from Spain, Barcelona was about to offer him a roster spot only on a lower division. People from Barca considered Dirk as a nice prospect but weren’t convinced enough that he was going to be a superstar.

Meanwhile, Maceiras told "La Vanguardia" that Barcelona intended to sign Nowitzki, but he couldn’t join the organization due to military service obligations.

According to Maceiras, Barca was willing to wait for him one more year. But later Dirk blew up for 33 points and 14 rebounds on the Nike Hoops Summit. It was clear German was packing up for the NBA, not Barcelona.

Dirk was taken as the 9th pick of the NBA Draft 1998, started his journey with Dallas Mavericks and the rest is history.

The Glide through Zalgiris

NBA Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler was also known by the nickname The Glide. As smooth as he was moving on the NBA courts, he gracefully tried to sign with Zalgiris Kaunas.

Back in 2001, just before the EuroLeague season, Zalgiris front office received nine-page fax from Clyde Drexler‘s agent.

Arvydas Sabonis, a former Portland Trail Blazer, was about to return to his grassroots team Zalgiris. Drexler’s camp was aware of this move and informed Zalgiris they were very intrigued to join forces with another future Hall of Famer from Portland.

Credit Õhtuleht – Scanpix

Sabonis and Drexler didn't share the same Trail Blazers locker room. The same year Sabas finally made his NBA debut as a Blazer in 1995, Drexler was traded to the Houston Rockets. Yet, Drexler’s camp thought that this Portland connection will be a great marketing move.

A 14-year NBA veteran was already retired and started a head coaching career. Although 39-year-old former NBA champion was not very successful with the University of Houston, compiling a 19-39 record in his two seasons with his alma mater. Drexler's camp informed Zalgiris that Clyde was getting back in shape and was seeking a comeback three years after retirement.

Credit AP

However, the end of that nine-page fax made Zalgiris front office guys smile. Drexler’s agent requested 5 million dollars for the season. Zalgiris politely answered that the interest of such a high-profile player like Clyde Drexler was a very pleasant surprise, but they couldn’t afford him at $5M.

Drexler’s camp showed empathy and lowered their offer to $2 million per season. But the problem was that 2 million dollars were more than the total Zalgiris budget back then.

The deal didn’t happen and Drexler never came back from retirement.


PART II: Wild free agency stories: Kobe to Turkey, Giannis to Spain, and Manu to OLY

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