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The Legacy Of Scottie Pippen

With the official retirement of Scottie Pippen, 39, this year at the beginning of training camp, the NBA has lost one of its most versatile and perplexing stars after 17 seasons.  Chicago’s incredible run of six championships in eight years, when Pippen teamed with Michael Jordan to form on the league’s greatest duos, is the highlight of Pippen’s career.   

Scottie Pippen’s rise to a NBA future hall-of-famer is a compelling and motivating story.  Born and raised in Hamburg, Arkansas, Pippen entered college at Central Arkansas not as a highly touted basketball player, but as the team manager relegated to tasks such as handing out towels to the varsity players.  However, during this time, he worked hard on the court and began learning the game at a precocious rate to compliment his awesome athletic potential.  After his freshman season, he was awarded a scholarship through his noticeable play with friends on the playground.   

By the time he was a senior, Pippen had become the star player putting up tremendous numbers – 23.6 points per game and 10 rebounds per game.  Despite his small-college background, Pippen impressed NBA scouts with his play in the postseason Aloha Classic, where he was named to the all- tournament team and won the dunking contest.  In the summer he was drafted fifth overall by the Seattle Supersonics.  He was very shortly traded, as the draft progressed, to the Chicago Bulls who sent their eight pick, Olden Polynice, over to Seattle for Pippen.  This setup marked the beginning to Chicago’s rise to dominance, and a dynasty was born.     

When Pippen arrived for the 1987-1988, Chicago was essentially a one-dimensional team.  Michael Jordan was already a superstar, and the main offensive weapon on the team.  Despite his burgeoning greatness, the Bull’s were relatively easy to stop during the playoffs, as teams realized that if they could limit the effectiveness of Jordan’s teammates, they would stand a good chance of winning the ballgame, even if Jordan got his usual plate-load of points. 

For his rookie season, Pippen’s role was that of a 6th man – coming of the bench to provide a spark.  In his rookie season, Chicago was finally able to proceed past the first round of the playoffs to make it to the Conference semi-finals where they succumbed to Detroit.  The next year, Pippen cracked the starting lineup mid-season and Chicago was able to make it to the Conference Finals, but yet again, was defeated by Detroit.  The following year, the Bulls had hired a rookie head coach named Phil Jackson, and another vital piece of the puzzle was added.  That year, Pippen’s third, the Bulls revisited the Conference Finals against the Pistons, but were just edged as the Pistons advanced onto the NBA Finals, and capturing their second consecutive title.

During his first three years, Pippen had made significant improvements to his game and became noted as a superb all-round player, providing a secondary scoring punch to Jordan’s, as well as being a deft ball handler and rebounder, and a relentless defender.     

It was during the 1990-1991 season that the Bull’s put it all together as they embarked on their first of six championships.  It was also the season where Pippen broke out and established himself as a premier player, although he remained overshadowed by Jordan’s presence.  Pippen played in his first all-star game that year.  During the finals, it was Pippen who was assigned to guarding LA’s Magic Johnson, effectively shutting him down, and thus paralyzing the Laker’s offense.  This allowed the Bulls to cruise to an easy series victory.  For his efforts, Pippen was named on the 2nd All-NBA Defensive Team. 

During the next two championship seasons, the Bulls became a formidable powerhouse, as teams realized how difficult it was to contend with Jordan’s usual greatness and Pippen’s superb all-round play.  During this time, Pippen continue to garner accolades, playing in the all-star games and consistently being named onto the All-Defensive Teams.  His numbers continued improving as he remained committed to doing all the intangibles that made the team great – running the famed triangle offense, playing unbelievable defense as the Bull’s cruised towards winning those championships.  It was not unusual seeing Pippen defending the opposing team’s point guard and power forward within the same game!

Then after the team’s remarkable three-peat, the sporting world was shocked by the retirement announcement by Michael Jordan, as he wished to pursue his other dream of becoming a professional baseball team.  Now, the Bull’s became Pippen’s team as he began the new season amidst a bevy of critics that predicted the team’s demise to mediocrity now that Michael Jordan was no longer on the team.  

Pippen responded by seizing the opportunity to shine without Jordan, to dispel the criticism that he was only effective because of Michael Jordan.  With Pippen, the Bulls were still able to remain a regular season power, finishing with 55 wins without Jordan.  He was selected the MVP of that year’s all-star game and was a contender for the MVP for that season.  However, the Bull’s fizzled in the playoffs, losing the Conference semifinals against New York in seven games.  It was during this series that saw another defining moment in Pippen’s career, one that would leave him designated as a moody, selfish player. 

It was Game 3 against the Knicks, with the Bulls down 0-2 in the series.  Coach Phil Jackson had designed a play for Toni Kukoc with 1.8 seconds remaining.  Pippen was so disgusted that the play wasn’t called for him that he refused to enter the game.  Kukoc hit the shot to that gave the Bulls victory, but Chicago fans never forgot the moment that branded Pippen a quitter to many.

The following season, Chicago finished with a very respectable 47 wins as a rusty Jordan returned to the game with 19 games remaining.  The Bulls entered the playoffs with high hopes but lost in the Conference semi-finals against the Shaq and Penny Hardaway-led Orlando Magic.   

The following three seasons after that saw Chicago rising again like the Phoenix.  The 1995-1996 saw one of the greatest seasons in sports history as the Chicago romped through their oppositions easily, on their ways to a dominating 72-10 regular season.  The combination of Jordan and Pippen, both in their prime, struck fear into the opposing teams, and many noted that many teams were destined to lose even before they stepped onto the court, with the intimidating, invincible aura that the Chicago Bulls possessed.  During their run of their next three-peat, Chicago had won 45 games, while losing only 13.   

Following their 6th championship together, Michael Jordan retired again (not the last time), and Scottie Pippen became disenfranchised with owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause, and signed a lucrative contract with the Houston Rockets.  And with that, one of sports greatest franchise had come to an end. 

With the end of his career with the dominating Chicago Bulls of the 90’s, so came the tell-tale signs of a player’s gradual demise.  With Houston, Pippen was teamed with hall-of-famers Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler, to form a formidable threesome.  However, they had a disappointing season as the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.  During that season, Pippen seemed out of sorts with coach Rudy Tomjanovich’s system, although he continued posting respectable, albeit deteriorating, numbers.   

The next year, Pippen was traded to the Portland Trailblazers where he continued to play significant minutes, although his role was reduced to directing the offense with his immense experience.  During his first season in Portland, the Trailblazers were within sight of advancing to the NBA finals as they were on the verge to defeating the Los Angeles Lakers.  However, a late quarter meltdown allowed the Lakers to climb out of their double-digit deficit and pull out a victory in the decisive seventh game. 

Pippen played three more seasons with the Blazers although his role diminished with every passing season.  He always seemed to be plagued by a variety of injuries and the Blazers would not be able to advance past the first round of the playoffs during this time. 

His last season saw Pippen returned back to Chicago to serve as an elder statesman to help mentor the multitude of young players that constituted the team.  Injuries had limited him to only 23 games that year, and the Bulls failed to make the playoffs.  This was the first time that Pippen would not be playing in the post-season in his career. 

And with that, Pippen’s distinguished career was over.       

So what was Pippen’s legacy? 

Scottie Pippen’s career was best summed up by the 1993-1994 season, the year where Pippen had the Bulls to himself, following Jordan’s first retirement.  That year the Bull’s season were a direct reflection of his personality and game.  His unselfish nature led to a wonderful season of distributing the ball, directing the Chicago offense and helping the Jordan-less squad to 55 wins.  Despite his outstanding season, he will forever be remembered for his refusal to enter the crucial game because the play was not called for him.   

But I say with his retirement, Pippen should receive his due props.  His numbers are amazingly well-rounded – a career 16.1 points per game average, 6.4 rebounds per game, 5.2 assists per game, and 2.0 steals per game.  He was the ultimate supporting player, the perfect complement, and a fierce defender, regularly shutting down the opponent’s best player. 

Many people remark that he wouldn’t have won any championships without Michael Jordan, to which Pippen aptly responds, As I look back, I don’t think Michael had any championship trophies without me.

Here are some of the accolades of Pippen’s career:

  • 6 NBA Championship Rings
  • 8 straight NBA all-defensive Team (7 times on 1st team; once on 2nd team)
  • 6 all-NBA team (3-time 1st team; 2-time 2nd team; 1-time 3rd team)
  • 7 times NBA all-star
  • MVP of 1994 all-star game
  • Gold Medal - 1992 USA 1st Dream Team Member
  • Selected as one of the 50 greatest NBA players