Playoff games during the dynasty were spent in driveways. Either the neighbor’s or my family’s driveway was transformed into a sort of makeshift theater for the Bulls. That was the cinema of choice during the nineties. Which ever house owned the driveway of choice that day had its best TV shimmied from its entertainment center home and transported to a folding table sheltered by the opening of the garage. Bulls flags and posters were displayed around the bulky 27’ screen as a sort of shrine to Chicago’s favorite team of the decade. Or more accurately, it was a shrine to one player first, followed by some other personal favorites (all of which were running several lengths behind).
To generalize, a Bulls fan of this time put Jordan on his rightful pedestal, and largely blamed everyone else for any of the team’s shortcomings (a practice Jordan would have very much agreed with). Who received the majority the blame? Naturally the player who was Arthur to Jordan’s The Tick, Mr. Scottie Maurice Pippen. If the Bulls were down and Pippen missed a shot, the driveway’s majority would blow up in groans, curses, and questions of why he even plays. During such a stretch, a Jordan missed was meant with under-the-breath mumblings or a, “Well, someone else needs to help out.” I am in no way discounting the magic of the greatest player of all time. I am only acknowledging a true great of the game who is about to enter the sacred NBA Hall of Fame tomorrow.
To say that Scottie Pippen is just one the greatest small forwards to play the game is selling him short. Pippen was able to play anything from the three to the two guard positions, and even pitch in at power forward in a pinch. Pippen first developed this ability playing college ball at Central Arkansas. Being the best player on his team Pippen had to fill in everywhere, including center.
Pippen went from being the alpha dog at CAU to raw-potential rookie on the Bulls. Pippen’s versatility may have initially hurt him in the NBA. He entered the 1987-88 season as an enigmatic player with undeniable athletic skills, yet, in Jerry Reinsdorf’s words, had “a bad habit of dribbling the ball too high, so it was easy for defenders to take it away from him,” adding, “He wasn’t much of a shooter that year either.” Pippen worked on his game throughout that trying first season and did not earn a start until the final game of the playoff series against the Cavaliers. A game that will forever be known for Jordan’s game winning shot. It is almost as if that first start was a metaphor for Pippen’s career.
After helping the Bulls win their first three championships, Pippen saw Jordan retire and the team’s leadership passed onto him. Not pulling any punches, the Bulls lost the greatest player of all time, yet Scottie lead the Bulls to 55 regular season victories. While accumulating these wins, Pippen was injured early in the season, including the Circus Road Trip (at one point the Bulls endured a 1-7 stretch during his injury). The team pushed on to the conference finals, only to fall short to the Kinckerbockers and Magic in two consecutive seasons.
The return of Jordan meant another three consecutive championships. With Scottie teamed up with Jordan for a second go-around, the Bulls seemed even more unstoppable than before. Their first full season together saw the Bulls set the record for regular season wins and let the league know that as long as they were on the same team, there was little the rest of the league could do about it.
After their last game together, in the City of the Great Salt Lake, management (led by something resembling a tired toad-man) broke up the team in the name of the future.
Pippen went on to play in Houston for a year and then Portland. In Portland, Scottie almost made it back to the NBA Finals, losing in a very controversial seventh game in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers. After spending four years in the City of Roses, Pippen played his last season with a young and erratic Bulls team in the 2003-04 season.
Scottie Pippen began his career as a raw rookie who the Bulls were initially hoping to develop into a solid role player. Through his tireless work ethic, Pippen took his raw talent and molded it into a Hall of Fame career. Never one to cop an attitude about being in Jordan’s shadow, Pippen gave it his all on the court and will be recognized tomorrow. And to show his respect to the greatest player of all time, Pippen chose the very player who often overshadowed him to handle his introduction into the mecca of basketball.