Michael Jordan came joined the Bulls in 1984 as the third pick in the historic 1984 NBA draft. He was an instant sensation that went on to become a global icon but he needed help to win. He could only do so much and needed some extra firepower to help him get past the likes of the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference. That help came in 1987 when Chicago traded for the draft rights of Scottie Pippen, a silky-smooth small forward from Central Arkansas who they’d had their eye on for some time.
The duo finally led the Bulls past the two-time NBA champion Pistons in 1991 on the way to their own championship, the first of six that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen would share over an eight-year period. However, following their championship run in 1997-1998, the Bulls would fall apart as piece by piece, the dynasty was dismantled. Jordan would retire for the second time and Pippen would move on.
So when Michael Jordan returned to the NBA in 2001 with the Washington Wizards, fans couldn’t wait to see him match up with his former running mate, who was a member of the Portland Trailblazers. So what happened when Jordan and Pippen finally met up as opponents in the NBA?
Scottie Pippen left the Chicago Bulls following the 1997-1998 season
Even had Michael Jordan not retired following the 1997-1998 season, it’s a solid bet that Scottie Pippen would have left the Chicago Bulls. He constantly felt disrespected by ownership and general manager Jerry Krause and he was certainly never paid what he was worth by league standards during his time in the Windy City.
Pippen was traded to Houston ahead of the 1998-1999 lockout-shortened season but things never really clicked with the Rockets. Although he was fourth in the NBA in minutes played, he averaged just 14.5 points, his lowest output in more than a decade. He constantly battled with teammate Charles Barkley and was gone from the team after just one season.
Scottie Pippen was traded to Portland in October 1999 and spent the next four seasons with the Trailblazers.
Michael Jordan returned to the NBA in 2001
Following the Bulls’ sixth championship run, Michael Jordan retired from the NBA in 1998, determined to never return. He bought a portion of the Washington Wizards in early 2000 and also held the position of president of basketball operations.
However, the desire to play still lingered within Jordan and inspired by his good friend Mario Lemieux’s return to the NHL, he got himself ready for a return to the NBA as a player, debuting for the Wizards in 2001. All of a sudden, something clicked in the collective minds of NBA fans. Besides seeing MJ take on the newest generation of young stars, there was now a chance to see Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on the floor together once again, not as teammates but as opponents. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t happen in Jordan’s first year in Washington as he was forced to miss both games against the Trailblazers due to injury.
However, the situation finally arrived in late 2002.
Scottie Pippen got the best of Michael Jordan in an underwhelming battle
On Tuesday, December 10, 2002, the Michael Jordan vs. Scottie Pippen matchup finally took place as the Washington Wizards hosted the Portland Trailblazers. The two men who were teammates for more than a decade were finally going to hit an NBA floor as opponents. Unfortunately, the result was a bit underwhelming.
While everyone was hoping to see a crazy back-and-forth battle between Jordan and Pippen, that was never going to be the case. At that point in time, neither was the number one scoring option for their respective teams. Jordan took somewhat of a backseat (the best he could anyway) to Jerry Stackhouse and Pippen was actually the fourth scoring option for the Blazers that season behind Rasheed Wallace, Derek Anderson, and Bonzi Wells.
It’s not that either played poorly. It’s just that everyone wanted more, which was to be expected. Scottie Pippen had a nice overall game, scoring 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting with seven rebounds and five assists. At certain points, he looked like he did in his prime, directing traffic and whipping passes around while playing fantastic defense. Portland played well that night. Washington certainly did not and got blown out, 98-79. Michael Jordan scored just 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting. The two rarely guarded one another but did enjoy a playful moment when diving for a loose ball in the third quarter. There was some banter back and forth throughout the game but that was about it.
Despite the lack of excitement in the game itself, Scottie Pippen knew the game was special and commented afterward.
“I feel I was a little bit more ready for this game. I knew there was a lot of attention being brought to it, and I wanted to answer.”Scottie Pippen
Michael Jordan, who certainly never liked to lose, knew that he’d have to take a little heat following the loss to his former sidekick.
“I know Pip, and I know he wanted to come out and play well. Believe me, I wanted to come out and play well, too. His horses were ready, and my mules were sick. I have to take some razzing for the time being.”Michael Jordan
It might not have been the Michael Jordan vs. Scottie Pippen matchup people wanted to see but it was certainly great to see the two legends on the floor together. The two teams met again in March 2003 but Pippen missed the game due to injury and there was never another chance to see the two battle again. Jordan retired after the season and Pippen followed a year later after one more season with the Bulls in 2003-2004.