Opening night of ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary on the Chicago Bulls told basketball fans quite a bit about Scottie Pippen, who went from an NAIA college career to Michael Jordan’s wingman on an NBA dynasty.
As noted in the second part of the eagerly anticipated series, Pippen was badly underpaid because he chose the security of a long-term contract. That gave fans insight into one of two highly selfish episodes in Pippen’s generally stellar career.
Scottie Pippen chose himself over the Bulls by delaying surgery
The opening two episodes of The Last Dance featured several interesting revelations related to the Chicago Bulls’ great run of six NBA championships in eight seasons. None topped the story behind Scottie Pippen’s late start to the 1997-98 season.
Pippen ruptured an ankle tendon in the 1997 NBA Eastern Conference finals but managed to keep playing and averaged 20 points and eight rebounds in the title series against the Utah Jazz. He stayed on the court for more than 40 minutes a night.
As stand-up as that effort was, what ensued was selfish on Pippen’s part. The 6-foot-8 forward was already feuding with Jerry Krause over the general manager’s refusal to renegotiate Pippen’s contract. Rather than have the ankle repaired immediately after the fifth Bulls championship in their memorable run, Pippen decided he wasn’t “gonna (expletive) my summer up” and delayed the surgery, which Michael Jordan termed selfish.
Pippen did not return to the court until Jan. 10, 1998. He went on to appear in 44 regular-season games, averaging 19.1 points and 5.2 rebounds, but he shot just 44.7% from the field – his career-low figure up until that point. His ensuing playoff production was Pippen’s lowest in nine seasons, but the Bulls nevertheless completed their second three-peat.
The night Scottie Pippen quit in a playoff game
As bad as the surgery episode was, Scottie Pippen’s decision to quit on his team late in Game 3 of a playoff series the year they Michael Jordan had gone off to play baseball was exponentially worse.
Pippen and the Chicago Bulls were down two games to none in their 1994 playoff series against the New York Knicks, and Patrick Ewing had just tied Game 3 with 1.8 seconds left. Bulls coach Phil Jackson called a timeout and designed the final play for Toni Kukoc, whose contested miss moments early had paved the way for Ewing’s bucket.
Pippen was infuriated by Jackson’s instructions to get the ball into Kukoc’s hands and stayed seated on the bench as the timeout ended. He remained there as shocked teammates tried to coax Pippen back into the game, and Jackson had to use another timeout.
Pippen didn’t relent, Pete Myers was subbed into the game, and the Bulls averted disaster as Kukoc connected for the game-winning field goal.
Pippen apologized to teammates in the locker room in the aftermath of the victory, but the episode absolutely tarnished his Hall of Fame career and contributed to him being tagged with the nickname “Sitting Bull.”
A long and strong NBA career
Basketball fans are sure to hear more about Scottie Pippen throughout the ESPN documentary series, but he left fans plenty to remember over 17 seasons that earned the seven-time all-star a place on the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1997.
Pippen made the NBA All-Defensive First Team eight times and handled the ball as well as any forward of his generation. He has been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame individually and as a member of the Olympic Dream Team.
Pippen’s final NBA numbers included averages of 17.5 points and 7.6 rebounds a game.