During his time with the Chicago Bulls, Scottie Pippen was a key part of one of the greatest squads in NBA history. The forward wasn’t just Michael Jordan’s sidekick. He was a capable offensive threat and, more importantly, a lockdown defender capable of taking just about any opponent out of the game. Even with that skill set, though, Pip still wasn’t too keen about facing off against a young Shaquille O’Neal.
In fact, Pippen went on the record in 2019 and paid Shaq quite the compliment. While the forward insisted that he didn’t fear many opponents, O’Neal was more than capable of scaring the Bulls’ defensive stopper.
As a member of the Chicago Bulls, Scottie Pippen didn’t have much to fear
It goes without saying that most professional athletes are incredibly confident in their own abilities. During his time with the Bulls, though, Pippen had a couple of extra reasons to feel good about his situation.
First and foremost, the Chicago squad was one of the best that basketball has ever seen. While Jordan stole most of the spotlight — and he admittedly could cover up for plenty of deficiencies — the Bulls weren’t a one-man show. As mentioned above, Pippen was a capable offensive option and a tough defender. Phil Jackson also made good use of his signature triangle offense and had a knack for making good use of role players, like Dennis Rodman.
On a less positive note, working alongside His Airness also prepared you to deal with just about anything that could happen on the court. MJ was known for pushing his teammates to the limit, talking trash, and, on some occasions, even throwing punches. While that didn’t create the ideal work environment, it theoretically helped the Bulls play without fear. If you could handle Jordan badgering you during practice, a clutch jump shot wasn’t that intimidating anymore.
Scottie Pippen did come to fear Shaquille O’Neal on the court
While those experiences in Chicago would have given Scottie plenty of confidence, everyone is still bound to have some nerves once in a while. For the forward, those kicked up when he had to face Shaquille O’Neal.
“It wasn’t fun. It was not fun playing against Shaq. You know, I didn’t fear too many players during my career, but Shaq was one of those guys that I feared,” Pippen explained on a 2019 episode of ESPN’s The Jump. “And the fact that you had to come down and double team on him. He had the speed, the power, the spins. He was just a difficult guy for us to defend as a team. Not for me as an individual, but I had to come down and double team.”
Beyond those defensive challenges, Pip also noted the physical issues that came along with defending the massive center.
“He was swinging with his arms,” the former Bull continued. “Yeah, he had a temper, but, you know what, even if he turned and hit you, he’d like give you a look. … But he was just such a dominant player. …Our whole game plan was if you’re going to double-team Shaq, you better get there before the ball gets there. If you get there after, it’s just, you just gonna be part of a poster.”
Pip did have a point about a young Shaquille O’Neal
These days, it’s easy to remember Shaq as a big man who simply bullied everyone else out of the way. While size and strength were key weapons in his arsenal, that wasn’t the entirety of O’Neal’s game. As Pippen noted, the center had the whole package.
Especially during his younger days, the Big Aristotle stood tall as an incredible athlete. In addition to his dominant offense game — he averaged 23.4 points as a rookie and only improved from there — Shaq possessed surprising mobility. Take, for example, the highlights from blocked 11 shots during an NCAA Tournament triple-double. While his size obviously helped, O’Neal was clearly a legitimate athlete.
Over the course of his legendary career, the big man built up quite the resume. He averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per outing in the NBA, took home four championships, and earned a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Beyond those accomplishments, scaring Scottie Pippen isn’t anything to sneeze at, either.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference