NBA

Scottie Pippen Just Fired Shots at the NBA Bubble and Rajon Rondo: ‘The Bubble Makes the NBA Easy’

When Scottie Pippen speaks, people listen. The six-time NBA champ earned respect the hard way as the chronically underpaid Chicago Bulls’ No. 2. Pippen knows the game, so his take on the bubble is worth parsing. He thinks the NBA’s bubble season is simply incomparable to prior years. Pippen even called out Rajon Rondo for an unearned explosive performance. Should we take Pippen seriously?

Scottie Pippen’s take on the bubble

NBA player Scottie Pippen
Former NBA player Scottie Pippen before to a game | Steve Dykes/Getty Images

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In an interview on the Calm podcast, Pippen opened up on a variety of topics. Most were in the abstract, focusing on how important relaxation, rest, and recovery is for performing at an elite level. He had a lot to say about mindfulness. He also got a bit more pointed during the interview, in particular on the subject of the NBA bubble.

“It’s not NBA basketball,” Pippen opined. “It’s not the hard grind. It’s not the travel. It’s not the fans. It’s not the distractions. […]It’s pickup basketball.” Harsh words, that perhaps seem out of sync given the heroic Jordan-esque performances Jimmy Butler is putting up in the Finals right now. At the same time, he has a point.

Fans have close access to players in a way few sports do. It’s a huge part of the game that’s completely absent in the bubble. The challenges of planning out rest, exercise, and constant travel are not an issue. Given the high level play, it’s hard to think of this season as “pickup basketball,” but it’s just as difficult to claim that it’s equivalent to any other season.

Pippen is unimpressed with Rajon Rondo’s performance in the bubble

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Taking Pippen at his word, how does the reality of life in the NBA bubble affect the games? His evidence, as told to Business Insider, is in the wild player redefining performances that have popped up several times. Case in point: the much-vaunted “Playoff Rondo.”

Rajon Rondo has absolutely exploded in the playoffs. He’s always been underrated, and many predicted he’d find his rhythm under the pressure of crucial postseason games. But Pippen thinks there’s something off about just how good he’s been.

“Rondo ain’t made three-pointers in his whole NBA career,” Pippen said. “Now, all of a sudden, he’s in a bubble, he’s probably a 50% three-point shooter.” Slam Online reports that Rondo has always been better in the playoffs, but Pippen is right. He’s shooting threes when he was never that type of player in the past. Whether or not Pippen’s take on the cause of his increase is true, it’s certainly enough to raise one’s eyebrows.

What fellow ’90s Bulls great Steve Kerr thinks about the bubble

Pippen’s feelings on the bubble are, at the very least, supported by some facts. For the counter-narrative, there’s no better place to look than another member of the Bulls championship dynasty: Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.

For all Pippen’s talk about mindfulness, he mostly focused on the ways bubble life makes playing easier. Kerr, in conversation with Doc Rivers on his podcast, takes a look at the other side of the mindfulness issue. He thinks that the benefits of playing many games in a row with few distractions comes with its own set of issues.

“There’s a chance you don’t see family members for a month, two months,” Kerr told Rivers. “It’s gonna take more [out of players] than normal. Like a focus, patience.” He also pointed out that playing more games closer together means less chance for bodies to recover — incidentally, the exact issue Pippen talked about on his podcast. For Kerr, at least, there is no need for an asterisk. For every benefit of the bubble, there is a difficult new problem for players to overcome.