Chicago Bulls icon Scottie Pippen made headlines in 1997-98 when he opted to undergo ankle surgery during the season instead of the offseason. The Hall of Famer delayed his surgery on purpose as his way of thumbing his nose at general manager Jerry Krause, who tried to trade him several times behind his back and never extended his contract.
Pippen is mad at Michael Jordan because MJ called him “selfish” in ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries for purposely getting his surgery late and requesting a trade during the 1997-1998 season. Pippen, who has been bashing Jordan left and right ever since The Last Dance came out in April 2020, talked about his decision to delay his ankle surgery in his highly controversial memoir, Unguarded.
Scottie Pippen: I didn’t want to be on crutches during the summer
In his book, Pippen says he made the best decision for himself by delaying his ankle surgery. The seven-time All-Star played through the injury since 1992 and decided it was time for him to look out for himself since he knew Krause would break up the Bulls after the 1997-98 season.
“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.”
While rehabbing his ankle, Pippen said he would never play for the Bulls again and publicly demanded a trade. However, Chicago never traded the do-it-all small forward, who made his 1997-98 season debut on January 10 against the Golden State Warriors and put up stellar numbers in the 44 games he appeared in.
Scottie Pippen was his usual stellar self in 1997-98
Pippen averaged 19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 5.8 assists for the Bulls in 1997-98 while shooting 44.7% from the field, 31.8% from beyond the arc, and 77.7% from the free-throw line. Chicago went 36-8 with him in the lineup and finished the season with 62 wins.
The Bulls defeated the New Jersey Nets, Charlotte Hornets, and Indiana Pacers in the 1998 Eastern Conference playoffs to advance to their sixth NBA Finals. Pippen averaged 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists and played spectacular defense.
The Utah Jazz were the Bulls’ opponent in the 1998 Finals. Chicago defeated Utah in the 1997 Finals in six games, so the Jazz were motivated to get revenge against the Bulls. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any answers for Jordan and Pippen.
Bulls beat Jazz in six games
Behind Jordan and Pippen, the Bulls beat the Jazz in the 1998 Finals in six games. Jordan averaged 33.5 points and won his sixth Finals MVP, while Pippen put up 15.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Jordan retired after the 1997-98 season, and Pippen was traded to the Houston Rockets in a sign-and-trade deal. The two NBA legends may not be friends anymore, but they will forever be linked due to their success in the ’90s. Jordan and Pippen went 6-0 in the Finals and three-peated twice. They also never played in a Game 7 in the Finals.
Pippen played for the Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, and Bulls one more time before retiring from the NBA in 2004. Meanwhile, Jordan played two seasons with the Washington Wizards in 2001-02 and 2002-03 before calling it quits for good. Both guys are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and were named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference