Scottie Pippen Changed His Mind About Playing for Bulls in 97-98 After He Knew They Wouldn’t Honor His Trade Request: ‘They Would Start to Fine Me Probably, so I Wasn’t Gonna Let Them Benefit in That Way’
Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen missed the first 35 games of the 1997-98 season recovering from ankle surgery. The small forward opted to undergo surgery during the season instead of the offseason on purpose as his way of thumbing his nose at the Bulls, who tried to trade him several times behind his back and never gave him a contract extension.
Pippen was so upset with the Bulls that he requested a trade while rehabbing his injury. He said he would never put a Chicago uniform on again and was dead set on playing somewhere else.
However, the do-it-all swingman was smart and knew the Bulls wouldn’t trade him, which is why he changed his mind about playing for them since he didn’t want to get fined.
Scottie Pippen: I wasn’t going to let the Bulls get money from me
In Episode 3 of ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries, Pippen sits in his hotel room on the road while the camera crew interviews him. The NBA icon told the interviewer that he changed his mind about playing for the Bulls again since he didn’t want to lose money via fines.
“I knew that it was probably gonna come down to me and the team trying to play hardball, and I would lose in that situation because they would start to fine me probably,” Pippen said. “So I wasn’t gonna let them benefit in that way.”
Pippen also said during the present-day interview in The Last Dance that he was willing to accept a trade but knew the Bulls wouldn’t honor his trade request: “Bottom line is, I was willing to accept a trade if they did it, and I knew they wasn’t gonna do it.”
The Bulls went 24-11 without Pippen to begin the 1997-98 season. The Arkansas native made his season debut on January 10 against the Golden State Warriors and played in 44 games.
Scottie Pippen averaged 19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists
Pippen averaged 19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 5.8 assists while shooting 44.7% from the field, 31.8% from beyond the arc, and 77.7% from the free-throw line after returning from his injury. The Bulls went 36-8 with him in the lineup and finished the season with a stellar record of 62-20.
Behind Pippen, Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, and Toni Kukoc, the Bulls advanced to the 1998 Finals after winning the East. Pip received a lot of flak for delaying his surgery on purpose, but he wrote in his memoir, Unguarded, that he made the best decision for himself.
“Fortunately, I’d gotten a bit of a rest that offseason by delaying surgery on my right ankle and left wrist,” Pippen wrote. “This was the same ankle that had been bothering me since the Knicks series in 1992. I waited until the end of August, as I felt it was time I made a decision for myself, and not for the Chicago Bulls. I’d given enough to them already. Surgery would have meant another lost summer and being on crutches for weeks. That ain’t resting. That’s struggling.”
Pippen may have been selfish to begin the 1997-98 season. However, he was the ultimate teammate at the end of the Finals.
Bulls legend played through serious back injury in Game 6 of the Finals
Pippen played through a severe back injury in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals against the Utah Jazz. He kept going back to the locker room for treatment during the game and could barely run up and down the floor. Pippen showed tremendous strength by playing 25 minutes.
Not only did Pippen put up eight points, three rebounds, four assists, and two steals on a bad back, but he also registered a plus-minus rating of +16, the highest on the team. Even though Jordan scored 45 points and hit the game-winning shot, the Bulls probably don’t win Game 6 if Pippen doesn’t gut it out.
In the summer of 1998, Pippen was traded to the Houston Rockets in a sign-and-trade deal, ending his stellar run with the Bulls. The seven-time All-Star won six championships in Chicago and is one of the best players in NBA history. He didn’t always say or do the right things in the Windy City, but Pippen’s impact on winning was astonishing.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference