During the 1993-94 NBA season, Michael Jordan watched Scottie Pippen lead the Chicago Bulls to 55 wins as the team leader while he played baseball for the Birmingham Barons. Pippen stepped out of Jordan’s shadow and put the Bulls on his back.
However, while he had a banner campaign and one of the best dunks in NBA history in the 1994 playoffs against Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks, Pippen had a damaging play in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals without Jordan by his side.
Scottie Pippen put up MVP numbers sans Michael Jordan
Jordan retired from the NBA in the summer of 1993 following the tragic murder of his father. He decided to play baseball since he no longer had any motivation to play basketball.
Pippen became the Bulls’ best player in the absence of Jordan in 1993-94. The do-it-all forward not only put up MVP numbers, but he also led Chicago to the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
In 72 games in 1993-94, Pippen averaged 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 2.9 steals while shooting 49.1% from the field, 32.0% from beyond the arc, and 66.0% from the free-throw line. He finished third in MVP voting behind Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.
The Bulls faced the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the 1994 playoffs and swept them in three games. Pippen led the way by averaging 25.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists.
Chicago met Ewing and the Knicks in the second round. It was during that series Pippen embarrassed himself and thought he was bigger than the team.
Scottie Pippen refused to go into Game 3 vs. Knicks on final possession
The Knicks and Bulls were tied at 102 with 1.8 seconds left in regulation in Game 3 of their second-round series. New York was up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
With no Jordan around, Bulls head coach Phil Jackson drew up a play for Toni Kukoc, and Pippen was upset. The All-Star swingman thought he should have been taking the shot since he was the most dangerous player on the team.
Pippen refused to go into the game after the timeout. Jackson said, “Fu*k him” in reference to his star player and subbed Pete Meyers in. Bulls veteran Bill Cartwright tried to calm Pippen down on the bench, but he was visibly agitated.
Luckily for the Bulls, Kukoc hit the game-winner at the buzzer to give Chicago the win. However, all anyone on the team could think about was Pippen quitting on them.
Jackson and Cartwright addressed the situation in the postgame locker room, and Pippen began to cry. He knew he made a mistake and got caught in the heat of the moment.
Jordan called Jackson the next day and said Pippen would never be able to get that stain off his legacy. He went into greater detail about the incident in 1995 during an extensive interview with Andrea Kremer of ESPN.
Michael Jordan talks about Pip
When Kremer asked Jordan what would have happened if Pippen refused to go into a game if he was on the team, the MVP said, “He wouldn’t have sat.”
“I think that was a part of Scottie in his maturity in a sense of where he thought he was,” Jordan said. “He wanted that last-second shot. He thought he earned that respect because at the time that I was here, he was throwing the ball in. So when I left, it’s like we should switch places, he should take that shot.”
Pippen apologized to his teammates after Game 3, and the Bulls took the Knicks to seven games. New York won Game 7 at home, with Jordan watching his former team lose on a TV in the Birmingham Barons’ clubhouse.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.