Pippen beefed with Bulls management over his contract for several years. He slammed Charles Barkley for an apparent lack of work ethic during their time with the Houston Rockets, a stance Pip reiterated just last month.
However, one of Scottie’s best conflicts came during the 1996-97 campaign, when he engaged in a war of words with the New York Knicks.
Knicks star forward Larry Johnson attempted to eradicate Scottie Pippen’s stardom
Larry Johnson starred in the original Space Jam alongside Michael Jordan on the silver screen, so he believed he knew a thing or two about being a co-star. He thought that label applied to Scottie Pippen, and then some.
Pippen had previously suggested the Knicks were a better team with Anthony Mason than with Grandmama. So after holding Pip to 14 points on 4-of-18 shooting in a March 1997 victory over the Bulls, Johnson let loose.
“[Pippen] needs to shut his mouth now,” Johnson said, via the New York Times. “All he needs to do is to give the ball to 23. That’s his best play right there. ‘Here, 23. Bail us out.’ He needs to shut his mouth.”
However, the 1991-92 Rookie of the Year wasn’t quite finished. Grandmama suggested Pippen’s game lacked juice without MJ on the floor.
“He’s a bum. He shut himself down. Mike gives all them boys guts over there. If it wasn’t for Mike … “–Larry Johnson on Scottie Pippen (1997), per the New York Times
It’s pretty curious Johnson would choose to go after Pippen for being a No. 2 when he — outside of maybe making All-NBA Second Team in 1992-93 — typically played the role of Robin to Alonzo Mourning’s Batman with the Charlotte Hornets and certainly served as second fiddle to Patrick Ewing during the 1996-97 campaign.
Plus, Scottie already proved he could thrive without a then-retired Jordan during a 1993-94 season during which he made All-NBA First Team. Alas, Pip hardly flinched at Johnson’s remarks.
Pippen fired back at Johnson before torching New York in the next Bulls-Knicks showdown
Scottie Pippen is not one to back down from a verbal altercation. He certainly would not let Johnson have the last word in this bout of sparring.
Just days after Grandmama fired his salvo at Pippen, the Bulls swingman made a belittling statement (h/t New York Times) about Johnson being a Knicks “cheerleader.”
“[Johnson is] garbage. He might as well have been sitting over there with Spike Lee. All he’s doing is being a cheerleader for them. He’s trying to get the monkey off his back.”–Scottie Pippen on Larry Johnson (1997), via NYT
But just as Johnson had other parting shots for Pip, Scottie continued, calling Grandmama the “worst” defender in the NBA and introducing a comparison of NBA resumes.
“I’ve accomplished things accidentally in my career more than he’s accomplished on purpose. His defense on me was nonexistent.”–Scottie Pippen (1997), via NYT
Sheesh. That’s a handful. Truth be told, though, Pippen’s assessment wasn’t inaccurate.
Whereas Scottie remained a perennial All-NBA player in 1997, the better seasons of Johnson’s career were well in the rearview mirror. Additionally, back injuries ultimately robbed Grandmama of the explosive athleticism that made him a star on a legendary UNLV team and, later, one of the NBA’s best forwards.
To show Johnson how good he was, Pippen hung 33 points on the Knicks the next time New York and Chicago squared off at Madison Square Garden on April 10. Message sent.
Jeff Van Gundy tried to defend Johnson after Pippen criticized JVG earlier in the season
A few months before Pippen and Grandmama got into it, Scottie also had words for then-Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy.
In January 1997, Van Gundy alleged that Jordan was a con man who goaded opponents into being friendly with him before crushing them on the hardwood. Mike famously responded by scoring 51 points against JVG and the Knicks, but Pippen also had words for New York’s frontman.
Pippen said (h/t the South Florida Sun-Sentinel) that Van Gundy was trying to live off the success of his predecessor, Pat Riley. The Bulls forward implored Riley’s old assistant to build something for himself.
In March, Van Gundy joined Johnson in his criticisms of Pippen. He reiterated Johnson’s stance about Pippen feeling extra confident with Jordan by his side.
Ultimately, Pippen decided to let bygones be bygones. He let his play do his talking, as he helped lead the Bulls to a fifth championship and nearly won NBA Finals MVP in the process. Still, the exchanging of barbs between himself, Johnson, and Van Gundy provided plenty of entertainment for fans in the 1990s.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.